Culture Trip’s Feel-Good Places to Visit in 2021 – Rotorua

Lake Tikitapu is one of many lakes to explore in the Rotorua region
Lake Tikitapu is one of many lakes to explore in the Rotorua region | © Koon Chakhatrakan / Unsplash

Editorial Manager

New Zealand has been in the news for its tremendous efforts in combating the Covid-19 global pandemic and can rightly be considered one of the safest places to visit once travel restrictions are lifted. Here’s a closer look at a destination you should think about exploring as soon as possible.

Embracing manaakitanga – the traditional spirit of kindness and generosity – Rotorua, whose name comes from the Māori word for “second lake”, has been welcoming visitors since the 1800s and has developed a reputation not just as a fantastic place to live and work but also a great place to visit. The name Rotorua is quite apt, too, given the amount of water you’ll see in the area, with dense forests and geothermal geysers adding to the dramatic landscape.

Geothermal features, such as Wai-O-Tapu, make up part of the landscape of Rotorua

The main reason we’ve picked out Rotorua as a place to visit in 2021 is the delightful mix of relaxation and adventure you can experience here, with activities to suit every mood. From exhilarating bike rides to calming therapies, everything is here – and with a sustainable mindset from the outset.

If you’re looking to head into the great wilderness, there are 18 lakes of varying sizes and three rivers in the area. One of the most magical ways of seeing Rotorua is an evening boat ride across one of the lakes, where your tranquil paddle will be illuminated by countless glow-worms below the surface of the water. During the day, you can track down one of two secluded thermal hot-water beaches to soak away any residual stress from 2020 – they’re only accessible by hiking, luxury catamarans and floatplanes.

The world’s tallest rafted waterfall, Tutea Falls, is a potential adventure if you’re up for a more strenuous challenge, but we’ll stick to calmer waters for now.

Tutea Falls is the world’s tallest rafted waterfall

The food scene in Rotorua makes the most of the seasonality the region experiences. Local produce is of the highest calibre, and chefs utilise both the steam box (meals cooked using geothermal streams) and hāngī (traditional Māori underground cooking method) techniques to prepares tasty dishes. You can find several restaurants in the al-fresco dining district known as Eat Streat.

Rotorua is a unique place to visit and one where ecotours have taken off in popularity. Whirinaki Te Pua-a-Tāne Conservation Park is one of the world’s few remaining prehistoric forests, and a hike here is like a walk back in time. There are also more luxurious experiences available, such as taking to the air and viewing this destination from above, but we think there’s nothing quite like feeling the ground beneath your feet.

Feel-good places to stay in Rotorua

Finding a place to stay in Rotorua is the easy part, but what you really want to know is what accommodation you should pick to suit your budget and taste. Here are four of the best options.

1. Treetops Lodge and Estate

Eco Hotel

Luxurious lounge area with seating and fireplace at Treetops Lodge & Estate in Rotorua.
Courtesy of Treetops Lodge and Estate / Expedia

This ultimate wilderness retreat lies in a private forest. At Treetops Lodge, the idea is that you can completely cut yourself off from the outside world and reconnect with nature at your own pace. There are many hikes you can take, along with a series of indulgent experiences back at the main lodge.

2. Black Swan Lakeside Boutique Hotel

Boutique Hotel

Courtesy of Black Swan Lakeside Boutique Hotel / Expedia

The Black Swan Lakeside Boutique Hotel is possibly the easiest stay available in Rotorua when it comes to having all the things you’d expect from a modern property. The bonus here, though, is the lakeside view from many of the rooms. Black Swan tends to book out fast, so make sure you give yourself plenty of time to secure a place if this is the one you want to visit.

3. Wai Ora Lakeside Spa Resort

Resort, Spa Hotel

Courtesy of Wai Ora Lakeside Spa Resort / Expedia

Wai Ora Lakeside Spa Resort gives you a lakeside experience without breaking the bank. In Māori, Wai Ora means “healing waters”, and that’s just what you’ll get at the on-site spa. This resort is our favourite when it comes to value for money, and it’s also one to consider if you’re travelling on your own through New Zealand.

4. Hamurana Lodge

Boutique Hotel, Spa Hotel

Courtesy of Hamurana Lodge / Expedia

Lodge retreats are a popular type of holiday property in Rotorua and here’s another budget-friendly selection we can fully recommend. With views of Lake Rotorua and Mokoia Island on your doorstep, you certainly aren’t being short-changed when it comes to the setting. Hamurana Lodge is our pick if you’ve got a short amount of time in Rotorua and want to spend most of it in the wilderness.


The Culture Trip list features places with a feel-good factor that we can’t wait to visit in 2021 and beyond (once we can travel again). It celebrates travel that’s good and makes you feel good. The destinations are dedicated to sustainability; they offer something new and exciting, or an unforgettable moment that will make us fall in love all over again with the world we’ve missed in 2020.

Culture Trip compiled the list based on insights and recommendations from its global community of travel experts and local insiders, combined with search data from millions of users from around the world to understand interest in those destinations.

Read more about our 2021 list of places to go and where to stay here.

Culture Trips launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes places and communities so special.

Our immersive trips, led by Local Insiders, are once-in-a-lifetime experiences and an invitation to travel the world with like-minded explorers. Our Travel Experts are on hand to help you make perfect memories. All our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.?>

All our travel guides are curated by the Culture Trip team working in tandem with local experts. From unique experiences to essential tips on how to make the most of your future travels, we’ve got you covered.

Culture Trip Spring Sale

Save up to $1,656 on our unique small-group trips! Limited spots.

Edit article