Rotorua is both the culture and adventure capital of the North Island. Whether you’re planning a weekend getaway or passing through as part of a larger New Zealand itinerary, Rotorua should not be overlooked. Here’s our guide for the ultimate 3-days here:
Day 1: Adventures in Nature
Start your first morning with brunch at the Okere Falls Store, a little oasis found on the banks of Lake Rotoiti alongside state highway 33. This spot is a hit with locals who can’t get enough of rich coffee and ethical foods. The team are committed to walking the talk when it comes to sustainability and that’s what gives this spot it’s charm. Expect to find food grown on site, biodegradable packaging, composting toilets, and a killer outdoor courtyard for basking in the sunshine.
Once your stomach’s loaded, head down the road to one of the many local rafting companies and tackle the famous Tutea Falls on the Kaituna River. This is a grade 5 river and includes the highest commercially raftable waterfall in the world, at 7 metres. Although not for the faint-hearted, the guides here are so experienced that almost 70% of visitors who tackle this challenge have never been rafting before. Let them instil confidence while you take in the lush canyon scenery and explore the heart of the Kaituna by raft.
For any family and friends that want to witness the adventure instead of getting their hair wet, there’s a short riverside walk that also leads to Tutea Falls, allowing them to watch you take the plunge.
In the afternoon, head to New Zealand’s only Zipline Canopy Tour that operates in native forest. Soak up more than three hours of magic as you journey through the canopies by zipline, treetop platforms and a network of walking trails. Learn about Canopy Tours conservation efforts in the forest and try hand-feeding the native birds. This is a great adventure experience for the whole family – making memories long after the thrill of 1200 metres of zipline.
Day 2: Geothermal Attractions and Local Culture
What attracts many people to Rotorua is the combination of cultural and geothermal wonders that feature across the region. The Whakarewarewa Valley is an active geothermal area with hot pools, boiling mud and geysers, where indigenous Maori have lived for centuries co-existing with the geothermal forces that lay beneath their feet. They harness the energy of the earth for cooking, heating and bathing, and have created a unique history here that is unlike anywhere else in the world.
Later in the day, explore the nearby Whakarewarewa – Redwood Forest. A huge variety of walking trails are available ranging from 30 minutes to full-day hikes. Marvel at the combination of native flora and fauna alongside California Redwood trees that tower more than 70m above the forest floor. Then, as the sun begins to set you can explore the forest canopy under the cover for darkness thanks to the network of suspension bridges that make up the Redwoods Nightlight Experience. The bridges and platforms are illuminated by bespoke lanterns designed by kiwi artist David Trubridge and offer a unique twist to your usual bush-walk.
Day 3: Volcanic Lakes and Spas
One thing that many don’t expect about Rotorua, is the vast number of lakes in the region. Rotorua is part of the Taupo Volcanic Zone, the world’s most active area of explosive silicic volcanic activity in recent times – and most of the lakes here have been formed due to volcanic activity.
The largest is Lake Rotorua which the city is built around, however Lake Tikitapu (Blue Lake) and Lake Tarawera are our favourites to explore, offering the most diverse walking trails and native scenery.
Picnic at Blue Lake: Set amongst native bush and quiet lakeside beaches, the track at Blue Lake offers great vistas of the surrounding area and prime family picnicking. The circuit around the outside of the lake is approximately 5km and takes about an hour. For those with a boat in tow, pack your water-skis as there’s a ski lane here. Or let the kids run amuck on the playground and the floating pontoon – great for doing bombs.
Spend a day on the Tarawera Trail: Some would label this “New Zealand’s next Great Walk” and it’s easy to see why. This trail is a 15km, one-way day hike, taking moderately fit walkers approximately 5-6 hours to complete. The trail winds through stunning native bush and past expansive lake views, as well as boasting steaming thermal waters in parts which are perfect for a hot swim. Finish your journey on the shores of beautiful Te Rata Bay and dig yourself a pool where the geothermal hot springs meet the sand, before catching a water taxi back to your car.
In the evening, for those still in need of a relaxing soak check out the famous Polynesian Spas on the banks of Lake Rotorua. Price combo’s are available if you’ve participated in an activity with Canopy Tours and over tourism providers in Rotorua, allowing you to make the most of multiple activities. Relax in a series of beautifully designed mineral pools with views across the lake, indulge in sumptuous spa therapies and be sure to end your long weekend in style.
Rotorua has endless history, culture and nature to explore, check out our other itineraries for more things to do in Rotorua.