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
Photo of Cassam Looch
Social Editor21 December 2020

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 | © Steve Taylor ARPS / Alamy Stock Photo

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  • 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 | © Prisma by Dukas Presseagentur GmbH / Alamy Stock Photo

    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.

    Treetops Lodge and Estate

    Eco Hotel
    5/5 (22 Reviews)
    Treetops Lodge & Estate_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.

    More info

    Black Swan Lakeside Boutique Hotel

    Boutique Hotel
    4.8/5 (40 Reviews)
    Courtesy of Black Swan Lakeside Boutique Hotel / Expedia
    From $330 Per night per room

    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.

    More info

    Wai Ora Lakeside Spa Resort

    Resort, Spa Hotel
    4.2/5 (371 Reviews)
    Courtesy of Wai Ora Lakeside Spa Resort / Expedia
    From $93 Per night per room

    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.

    More info

    Hamurana Lodge

    Boutique Hotel, Spa Hotel
    4.6/5 (184 Reviews)
    Courtesy of Hamurana Lodge / Expedia
    From $155 Per night per room

    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.

    More info


    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.

    These recommendations were updated on December 21, 2020 to keep your travel plans fresh.

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