Situated in the central North Island within the Bay of Plenty, Rotorua offers so much to so many. Though may be a relatively small city, compared with many in New Zealand, it certainly packs a punch!
Rotorua is considered the North Island’s adventure capital and it’s not hard to see why. You’ll be spoilt for choice when it comes to adrenaline-pumping activities there.
It is also famous for the way it authentically showcases Māori culture. As such, Rotorua is one of the best places in New Zealand to learn about Māori people, their way of life, arts and performances.
If you’re still not convinced then just know that Rotorua’s geothermal activity and breathtaking landscapes have undeniably put this place on the tourist map.
This guide will cover everything you need to know about this incredible city!
An Overview of Rotorua
|Region||Bay of Plenty, North Island|
|Elevation||280 metres above sea level|
|Main attractions||Māori culture, geothermal parks, mountain biking, hot pools, lakes, adventure activities and eco-tourism.|
|Nearby destinations||Tauranga, Taupō and Hamilton.|
Off to the North Island?
The History of Rotorua
A Proud Māori History
The first settlers in Rotorua were Māori from the Te Arawa iwi (tribe). It was originally founded in the 14th century by a Māori explorer, Ihenga, and after that, the first Māori inhabitants started to arrive here.
This is where many local legends come from. The most famous of which is the famous love story of Hinemoa and Tutanekai, who were initially kept apart due to the tradition of the tribe choosing a sacred maiden’s husband.
The Original Home of Tourism in New Zealand
Rotorua, as we know it now, was built in the 1880s as a tourist destination, attracting people to visit the region’s geothermal lakes and attractions.
The addition of a train, connecting Auckland and Rotorua, saw a tourism boom in the region. Before long, swathes of people started visiting and the town grew substantially.
As such, it is one of the country’s original tourist spots, attracting people for over 200 years.
The Geography of Rotorua
Rotorua is one of the most geothermally active places in the world due to its location along the Pacific Ring of Fire.
The city is situated on the shores of Lake Rotorua which is a volcanic lake. It was formed over 200,000 years ago and is located in a magma caldera that collapsed due to a volcanic eruption.
Due to the geothermal activity in the area today, you’ll find plenty of volcanic craters, active geysers, bubbling mud pools, and thermal springs in Rotorua.
Did you know? Rotorua’s geothermal activity has been enticing people for years.
People travelled from near and far to visit the pink and white terraces on the shore of Lake Rotomahana. These terraces, considered the Eighth Wonder of the World, were thought to be the largest silica deposits in the world.
Unfortunately, they were lost during the 1886 Mt Tarawera eruption.
Things to Do in Rotorua
Visitors to Rotorua are spoilt for choice when it comes to attractions. In fact, few parts of New Zealand can compare with the massive variety this small city has on offer.
This city also offers a variety of unique features, making it a popular tourist destination and place to live.
Top activities and attractions include:
We recommend The Ultimate tour with Rotorua Canopy Tours. They combine an eco-friendly educational experience with a dose of adrenaline.
White Water Rafting
Take on the tallest commercially-rafted waterfall in the world, at 7 m high! This is one of the best whitewater experiences in the country.
Māori Cultural Experiences
Pick from a number of geothermal and freshwater hot pools, along with a number of lakes perfect for swimming. This region is known as “Nature’s Spa of the South Pacific” so it’s the perfect place to relax.
You’ll find a number of forests in and around Rotorua. These are perfect for mountain biking and walking. One is also home to the Redwoods Treewalk.
Rotorua has a number of prime fishing locations, especially if you’re after trout.
If you’re keen to see some of our native wildlife, head along to Wingspan for a free-flight bird display, or to the National Kiwi Hatchery tour. The Agrodome farm show is a highlight for families and overseas visitors too, as is mini golf with rabbits!
Save Money on Your Visit
As a reader of NZTT, you’re entitled to a range of discounts in the region.
- Accommodation – NZTTSTAY
- Activities, attractions, transport and SIM cards – NZTTPLAY
- Rental cars – NZTTROADTRIP (pay upfront, not on collection).
We’ve also arranged the following specials for you too…
Places to Eat in Rotorua
After spending all day exploring, you’ll have worked up an appetite. You don’t have to worry though as there are a number of great food options in this wonderful city!
These are some of the best places to eat in Rotorua.
This short street is home to over a dozen bars and restaurants so you’ll have plenty of options to choose from!
This restaurant is known for its Latin American food, tasty cocktails and fantastic atmosphere.
Indian Star Restaurant
As its name suggests, this restaurant serves delicious Indian food and it’s got an excellent reputation.
Urbano Bistro is one of the pricier options in Rotorua but the quality of the food is incredible!
Capers Café + Store
This place is a popular brunch and breakfast destination, and they’ve got a variety of food choices.
Check out our favourite Rotorua restaurants.
The Best Places to Stay in Rotorua
Rotorua is a fantastic place to visit so you won’t want to rush. For this reason, we’d recommend spending at least 2-3 days in this area – even more, if you can manage it!
Luckily, there are plenty of incredible accommodations here to choose from. We’ve outlined a few of our top picks below.
Mid-range: Aura Accommodation
This is a fantastic motel that’s just a short walk from the shores of Lake Rotorua. They have a variety of studios and apartments on offer and some of them sleep up to 6 people!
Book with your discount: Aura Accommodation.
Luxury: Peppers on the Point
If you’re looking for a relaxing getaway then Peppers on the Point is one of the best options. With a fine-dining restaurant, an on-site day spa and a bar, this hotel has a lot to offer. You’ll also enjoy striking views of Lake Rotorua.
Check availability: Peppers on the Point.
5* Hotel: Pullman Rotorua
This is the only 5* hotel in Rotorua and is known for its fantastic facilities, including an on-site restaurant, a day spa, a fitness centre and a bar. There are 130 luxury rooms and suites at the hotel, many of which offer panoramic views of Lake Rotorua.
Check availability: Pullman Rotorua.
Self-contained accommodation: Blackwood Fairy Springs
This property sleeps two people and is the perfect option if you’re planning a weekend getaway. It’s just a short walk from some of Rotorua’s most popular attractions and once you’ve finished exploring, you’ll enjoy relaxing in this cosy property. It’s also run by one of our wonderful NZTT members.
Check availability: Blackwood Fairy Springs.
Top Tips for Visiting Rotorua
Whether you’re planning a day, weekend or extended visit to this wonderful area, you might like to consider the following tips.
- Some parts of Rotorua have a strong smell of sulphur. You’ll quickly get used to this smell, and some parts of the city aren’t affected at all, so don’t let it put you off.
- We always pay a visit to Ciabatta for amazing sandwiches and cronuts – they’re closed on Sundays though.
- We recommend having a rental car in Rotorua as many of the attractions and activities are spread apart. Use the promo code NZTTROADTRIP to save 10% (pay upfront to get your discount).
- As it is such a tourist hub, we recommend Rotorua as a great place to pick up souvenirs.
- Some accommodation in Rotorua has been used for local emergency housing in recent years. As such, we recommend staying near the main part of town or by the Government Gardens. Fenton Street is the main area in question, but we recently stayed at Jet Park on that street and didn’t have any issues at all.
- Rotorua is a safe place to be, with warm and welcoming locals. Just take the normal precautions you would when you travel.
- Don’t leave valuables in the car.
- Don’t walk alone at night.
- Consider driving or catching an Uber at night if you’re staying on Fenton.
Nearby Towns and Attractions
You’re not likely to run out of things to do in Rotorua, but if you’d prefer to take a day trip out of the city then you’ve got plenty of options. Just keep in mind that hiring a car is the most efficient way to travel around this area.
These are some of the best day trips from Rotorua. Alternatively, they might be your next stop as you continue on your journey.
Tauranga & Mount Maunganui
Tauranga is one of the most scenic cities in New Zealand as it’s located right on the coast. It’s connected to the vibrant seaside town of Mount Maunganui by a bridge too, so you’ll have the best of both worlds here.
Some of the most popular things to do in this area include hiking up Mount Maunganui, visiting Tauranga’s historic village and exploring the local markets.
Tauranga is a 1-hour drive from Rotorua.
They’ll let you inside a hobbit hole and will share a bunch of filming secrets, before welcoming you to The Green Dragon Inn for a drink.
Hobbiton is a 1-hour drive from Rotorua.
The town of Taupō is located on the shores of Lake Taupō. Close to Rotorua, it is a fantastic base for exploring Tongariro National Park.
Aside from its breathtaking location, this town has a lot to offer in terms of natural attractions. These include the Huka Falls, Aratiatia Scenic Reserve, the Craters of the Moon and the Wairakei Terraces.
Taupō is a 1-hour drive from Rotorua.
Hamilton, known as the ‘City of the Future’, is situated along the longest river in New Zealand, the Waikato River.
It’s the fourth largest city in the country so naturally, you’ll find plenty of things to do here! This includes walking around the world-renowned Hamilton Gardens, visiting the Waikato Museum and heading out on a river cruise.
As you drive between Rotorua and Hamilton, we strongly suggest you stop at the Putaruru Blue Springs and swing past Tirau with its quirky corrugated iron buildings and decorations.
Hamilton is a 1.5-hour drive from Rotorua.
If you’re looking for unique destinations in New Zealand then we’ve got the perfect place for you.
Waitomo is one of the country’s most iconic attractions – the Waitomo Caves.
These caves are home to thousands of tiny glow worms that you’ll see light up the darkness. You can explore by foot, boat – or our favourite, black water rafting – so there are options for everyone.
Waitomo Caves is a 2-hour drive from Rotorua.
As you can see Rotorua has so much to offer so what are you waiting for?
From thermal hot pools to redwood forests, this city and its surrounding area have something for everyone!