Located in the Bay of Plenty region of New Zealand’s North Island, the lakeside town of Rotorua draws in visitors for many different reasons. Renowned for its geothermal activity and Māori culture, there is no better place to dive into the fascinating history of New Zealand.
For those seeking adventure, Rotorua is home to the highest commercially rafted waterfall in the world – with a seven-metre (23-foot) drop it’s not for the faint-hearted. It’s also the perfect place to use as a base if visiting Hobbiton – the movie set is a scenic hour-long drive from the centre of the city on the set’s shuttle bus. Two days gives visitors plenty of time to explore what Rotorua has on offer with a mix of culture, nature, adventure and cinematic appreciation.
Grab a takeaway coffee from one of Rotorua’s indie cafés such as Zippy Central or Capers Epicurean, and head for Kuirau Park, where visitors can explore some of the city’s famous geothermal landmarks without having to pay an entry fee. Lake Rotorua is a short walk from the park, and looks out across the water to Mokoia Island – a sacred place to the Māori people, steeped in myth and legend. The island can be visited by boat with a range of providers.
On the way back into town, stop to explore one of Rotorua’s pounamu (greenstone) shops, many of which have their workshop on site. Intricate carvings, statues and jewellery are all made from this highly valued stone, and it is of incredible cultural significance to the Māori. In many cases, it is passed from generation to generation, only increasing its importance.
After lunch, take a short drive out of town to explore the magnificent redwoods that border Rotorua in Whakarewarewa Forest. Over 5,600 hectares (13,840 acres) in size (roughly 10,500 football pitches), this incredible forest will transport visitors back a few million years. A range of activities are on offer here, with walks to suit every level of ability, including one which takes roughly half an hour starting from the carpark, and winds through the towering redwoods that reach roughly 67m (220ft) in height. Longer walks offer more challenging routes, and it’s also possible to horse ride and bike through the forest.
For a more adventurous view of the trees, the Redwoods Treewalk takes visitors 20m (66ft) above the forest floor to explore 27 redwoods that were planted in 1901, at a cost of 30 New Zealand dollars (£16) per person. It’s also possible to do this walk at night when the forest is transformed by 30 intricately patterned lanterns, giving a unique atmosphere to this extraordinary place.
Day two brings an early start to meet the Hobbiton shuttle bus that transports visitors to Middle Earth, also known as the Alexander Family sheep farm outside Matamata, for a movie set visit like no other. An expert guide shows visitors around the set, the location of which was found by Peter Jackson and his scouts while on a helicopter flight above the area, and will be able to answer any and all questions posed by the most ardent Lord of the Rings fans.
Explore some of the most famous Hobbit dwellings, learn more about the sets the filmmakers created to bring Tolkien’s world to life, take pictures galore and finish the morning with a pint of ale on the house, courtesy of The Green Dragon. Hobbiton will impress not only die-hard fans of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, but also anyone with an interest in filmmaking, the great outdoors and drinking at 10am.
Back in Rotorua, there is just enough time to grab a quick bite to eat before heading off to the Kaituna River for an afternoon of whitewater rafting. Journeying along the river, the rafts travel over 14 different rapids and three waterfalls, including the Tutea Falls which, at 7m (23ft) tall, is the highest commercially rafted waterfall in the world – and it doesn’t disappoint.
There are a couple of rafting providers in Rotorua, both of which cater to complete beginners – they will provide all the equipment, transfers from the centre of town, and give rafters all the information they need to enjoy the adventure safely. The experience is also infused with insights into Māori culture, as the Kaituna River is an important part of local Māori life.
End day two on a high, with a visit to Tamaki Māori Village on the outskirts of Rotorua. Visitors are welcomed with a traditional Māori ceremony, before embarking on a tour of a pre-European village. Visitors can take part in a range of cultural activities, including learning the poi and the haka, as well as watching a traditional hangi meal being prepared and placed in the ground with hot stones to cook. The hosts will explain more about the land, people, and spirit central to Māori culture, and the evening ends with a dinner feast. Transport to and from the centre of Rotorua is available, and highly recommended as guests are encouraged to go back for seconds and thirds at a hangi meal.
This is an updated version of a story created by Joe Coates.