Rotorua has so many different activities and attractions to suit everyone. From free activities like walks and hikes to exploring the geothermal wonders and must-do ziplining adventures through the forest - there's an activity for all.
Nature activities in Rotorua
Nestled in the remains of an exploded supervolcano, the Rotorua caldera is now a unique geographical expanse, home to bubbling mud pools, dramatic geysers and steamy natural hot pools. This makes for some epic sights and is home to many of New Zealand’s native creatures and flora. Explore the city and region, discover below all the best places you can’t miss, and all the best Rotorua activities and attractions there are to enjoy.
Walking and Hiking
There are oodles of hikes and walks in the region, so if you are looking for some awesome free Rotorua activities, here are some winners for you.
For an easy stroll through a majestic redwood forest, head to the Whakarewarewa Forest (locally known at The Redwoods) on Long Mile Road. From the information centre here, head out on one of the colour-coded tracks. The shortest option at 2km long is the Redwood Memorial Grove track. The Redwood trees here were planted in 1901 and now memorialise the men of the New Zealand Forest Service who perished in the two World Wars. Follow the wide tracks to the boardwalk over the old thermal pool and turn left at the end. Continue to follow the red path markers and you will return to the carpark in under an hour. Keep an eye out for the famous silver fern growing in places along the edge of this track and enjoy the park benches scattered around the place to practice a little mindfulness. If you feel like extending your walk, there are loads of tracks so check out the information board when you arrive.
The Redwood forest is not the only nature spot where you can hike in Rotorua. Many of the 18 lakes and three rivers around the region have tracks alongside or around them, including the Lake Tikitapu (the Blue Lake) loop walk, Lake Okaro loop walk, Lake Okareka board walk (return the same way), and Okere Falls walk (great relics of an original hydro power station here). Pop in to either of the Rotorua Information centres and check out the Department of Conservation (DoC) stand for brochures about Rotorua walks, both long and short.
Remember before you go out on any extended walking activity, let someone know where you are going and when you are expecting to be back. Take plenty of water, a phone, good sturdy footwear and dress in several layers of warm clothing. New Zealand weather can be a fickle beast, so check the weather report and be prepared. The Met Service have local forecasts or download a free weather app like accuweather.
One of the most famous Rotorua activities to do is visit the many geothermal sites sprinkled throughout the area. There are a handful of paid parks you can visit, as well as some pretty impressive spots that are free to see – woohoo!
One of the most underrated spots is the large mud pool located on Waiotapu Loop Road, just off State Highway 5, around 25 minutes south of Rotorua. Understatedly located by a road sign that just says ‘Mud Pool’, it is found just before you reach Waiotapu Thermal Wonderland. It’s a pretty decent sized pool with easily accessible boardwalks and you can get very close to the mesmerizing mud as it bubbles and splutters. There’s also a view point you can get to by a one-minute dirt track. On a cool day, the place is as steamy as a sauna and quite an eerie experience.
Just a bit further down State Highway 5 is Waimangu Volcanic Valley – the world’s youngest eco-system and a mecca for birdlife, unusual plants and enough thermal action to keep you heated up for days. Frying Pan Lake near the beginning of the walk is sensational and more than a little hypnotic as you watch the steam play on the surface of the hot water lake. Don’t stop here though as there is something new around every corner ending with an optional boat cruise on Lake Rotomahana. Here’s a tip though which most people miss in their hurry to catch the shuttle bus back to the top –walk the track back through the wetland area. This is one of the best bits and there is plenty of seating to take a load off and enjoy the feeling of seclusion from the world.
Waimangu charges a fee to enter but it’s well worth the investment. Take your camera along as this place is magical. Before you visit, download their free app which utilises augmented reality. You can overlay todays landscape with what the area used to look like back in the day. It’s pretty cool! Plus, you can access the hidden content on there and find out more secrets about the valley.
Amongst the best geothermal Rotorua activities, you shouldn’t miss Kuirau Park. Bordered by Pukuatua and Ranolf Streets, this free park is great value with a gentle garden walk taking you through steamy wetland areas and around bubbling mud pools. Don’t walk past the man-made shallow pool with the timber seating and picnic tables – whip your shoes and socks of and bathe those beauties in the thermal mineral water. You’ll feel like a new person afterwards! There’s an added bonus here for families – an awesome playground and plenty of wide paths to race scooters, strollers and bikes along. A lot of the paths are also wheelchair accessible.
Conservation and Tourism
Conservation and tourism working together has developed into one of the most exciting Rotorua activities that have popped up in the last few years. A strong sense of values and plain hard work have made Rotorua Canopy Tours a perennial favourite of many visiting the town. When this operation initially started, the ancient Mamaku forest block was a quiet place, populated by rats, mice, possum and other predatory mammals. Now, this forest is coming back to life; the predators are under control, the birdlife is noisy and abundant, birds swooping through and watching the crazy two-legged mammals zipping through the tree tops!
Ziplining is a great way to see this area and a real thrill. Almost anyone can do this activity – not a lot of walking is involved and the experienced guides will step you through every part of the ziplining process proving to even the scaredy cats among us that we can do more than we ever thought. This activity does not have a five-bubble rating on TripAdvisor for nothing!
A bit of good karma will be coming your way too from this experience as part of the ticket price goes towards the predator trapping programme that this dedicated company runs. Trust me, you’ll remember this activity for a long time to come.
Family Friendly Rotorua Activities
Families are extraordinarily well catered for in Rotorua with a massive amount of both free and paid activities and attractions, it’s no wonder it is such a popular weekend destination for New Zealanders, and is a must-see on itineraries for visitors to Aotearoa. Get out into nature, relax and enjoy a show, soak in the thermal waters, have an adventure and enjoy the local cuisine. You’ll find plenty for both the little and the big kids to do in Rotorua.
Get on ya bike!
Rotorua is exceptionally lucky to have a vast forest to roar around in, whether it’s on your own two feet or on two wheels, it’s one of the best outdoor Rotorua Activities. The forest is a mix of redwoods, natives and commercially grown forest, and there’s an abundance of well-maintained tracks navigating gentle, picture-perfect streams and timber bridges. Don’t worry about your skill level – there is plenty of info available, and a really stoked bunch of professional enthusiasts around to get you on your way.
If you haven’t negotiated mountain biking before, a great place to start this adventure is at the Whakarewarewa Forest (‘the Redwoods’), from Waipa State Mill Road. There are several companies that offer skills classes to get you out tearing up the trails within a couple of hours – have a look at Mountain Bike Rotorua or Planet Bike for workshops and even guided groups rides. Rotorua is fantastically overrepresented with bike shops in town and at the forest so if you’re looking to rent a mountain bike and helmet, you have endless choices, starting at around $35 for two hours, with kids bikes started at $20. They’ll fit a bike to you (most even have e-bikes) and give you an overview about how to operate the thing.
A perfect place to start the little ones is the Kids Loop. Head over the bridge after the bathroom facilities and look out for the sign on your right where the trail starts. This meandering loop is 4.5 km long and takes you through the ‘Tahi’ and ‘Dipper’ trails. The ground is hard-packed so easy for little legs to ride on, plus not too many hills! Dipper is a little harder than Tahi, so if you’re keen to keep it easy, take the early exit back to the carpark.
Right next door to Skyline Skyrides is the nature park, Rainbow Springs. There is an eclectic mix of birds, reptiles and play areas within the park, including a log flume type ride – the Big Splash. Kids are really well catered from when you walk in the door. Grab a Junior Explorer Activity Book (free) and some food for the fish ($3 for a small bag) on arrival from the guides. The kids can complete a bunch of puzzles as they journey through the park and enter a competition to enter to score some prizes. There are plenty native species here representing their country, as well as mini play areas, called playscapes, scattered amongst the live exhibits so parents: be prepared to take your time while the kids work their way through these! At the end is the water ride, café and sorbet bar, and the final play area so you can take a load off, recharge with coffee and use up the last of the children’s energy (here’s hoping).
In a separate part of the park is the National Kiwi Hatchery Aotearoa, where each year dozens of cute fluffy kiwi are hatched and raised. Take the tour for an extra $10 and see where they hatch and keep the chicks. If you’re visiting during the hatching season, (September to March), you may be lucky enough to see one of these special babies. Try and visit during the morning as this is the best time to catch the kiwi keepers handing the chicks.
Allow about 1.5 hours here and take your coats and umbrellas if the weather is inclement as there is not a lot of shelter inside the park. This is however great coffee!
The best game of hide and seek ever
There are plenty of exciting places to explore in Rotorua, but eventually any kid gets a little over it. Geocaching is a fantastic way to keep ‘em keen, and it’s fun for the adults too. If you haven’t encountered this modern game of hide and seek yet, geocaching is the art of hiding a small container holding any number of ‘treasures’, which is located at a particular location, findable with GPS coordinates. Once you find one, you can photograph your find, or swap a treasure out for one of yours. There’s normally a little notebook there too to record your name and find date.
No special skills are needed for geocaching, just a downloaded app on your GPS-enabled phone, such as c:geo. On here you can see where caches are, logs your finds and it helps you navigate. Rotorua is home to over 330 caches – so many!! Be warned – this is addictive!
Rainy day/ wet weather activities in Rotorua
There’s no such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate clothing, right? I know, you’re thinking a rainy day in Rotorua means cruising the shops, nursing that coffee at a cosy café, or posting your best life on Facebook or Instagram, but, you’re in for an exciting surprise…
Wet hair, don't care
If it’s raining, embrace the water and get in it. Squeeze yourself into a snug wetsuit, climb aboard a rubber raft and journey down the white water; straight over the largest commercially rafted waterfall in the world – you can’t miss that right!? Tutea Falls is phenomenal and getting your craft over that frothing beast is one of the wildest Rotorua activities you’re going to do.
There are some top-notch people running the local Rotorua rafting companies. Uber-qualified and experienced, with more than a little charm, these raft guides will show you what white water rafting is all about, including that spots where you need to wrestle some control of that terrified facial expression because the photographer’s up there snapping away! Rafting in Rotorua departs at Okere Falls around 20 km east of Rotorua, on State Highway 33. Some companies also do a free pick up from Rotorua city if you need a lift so ask when you’re booking.
Of all the Rotorua activities that will keep you dry on a stormy day, these are two of the most entertaining – the 3D Trick Art Gallery and The Agrodome Farm Show. Both will have you in stitches and happy for hours.
Located at Heritage Farm opposite Rainbow Springs, the 3D Trick Art Gallery is very clever, featuring dozens of themed backgrounds where you can place yourself in the picture. It goes without saying but take your camera! This is what this place is all about, and the team here will happily show you all the tricks and tips to get an epic set of photos that will look fantastic on your Facebook feed.
Further up the road on State Highway 5 heading north, is the famous Agrodome. This long-standing attraction puts on a humourous and captivating 60-minute show, led by a genuine kiwi farmer as he shows you how to shear a sheep, how to sell one (everyone needs that skill right?) and how to herd them up. After the show you can check out the baby animal nursery which is stocked up year-round with a cuddly adorable gang of lambs, kids, rabbits, cria (baby alpaca) or fawns. It’s also rumoured that they have a few of the ‘cutest sheep in the world’. Google it – they are swoon-worthy!
Spring and summer activities
If you love a good garden Rotorua is going to really spin your wheels. With a good supply of rain and fertile volcanic soil, the local gardens are full of life. Daylight Savings starts in September which brings longer evenings and the promise of warmer weather to come.
If you are visiting in Spring, the cherry blossoms will be bursting. One of the loveliest displays is at the Centennial Park on Mokoia Drive. You can’t help but feel the world is a good place here and it gets the dopamine flowing. The 20-hectare park is open year-round and there is no fee to enter.
October brings the tulips to Rotorua, with over 40,000 of them planted throughout Rotorua’s city centre, most in the Government Gardens. Although no festival is currently run for tulip season, it is totally worth taking yourself of a tour to enjoy them. One festival that is going strong though is the Rotorua Garden Festival, held every second year in November. Ticketholders can visit over 40 private gardens with 100% of profits going to St Johns Health Shuttle.
Summer sees the local lakes warming up a bit so check out the Blue Lake for one of the best swimming lakes. This swimming spot is great safe spot for families and there is a food truck across the road to keep you sustained. There’s a pontoon moored just off the beach providing a great place to practice your water-bombing skills.
Autumn and winter activities
Autumn in Rotorua normally brings more settled weather (no promises though!) and beautiful sunsets. Winter brings the start of the Kids Fishing days at the local trout hatchery. Located on Paradise Valley Road, the Ngongotaha Trout Hatchery runs four kids fishing days each year. The local experts give each child a whirlwind lesson on fly fishing then they get to catch a trout to take home or release back into the pool. These sessions are open to anyone aged 6-14 years for a $5 donation.
The central North Island of New Zealand is renowned for its river fishing and for the keen fisherman, you can fish Rotorua trout all year round. There are many skilled local fishing guides around who will provide lessons and equipment, plus they know the best fishing spots in Rotorua. You only need a permit and off you go.
If you are looking for a way to escape the cold weather for a few hours, get a massage. Go on – treat yourself! Rotorua is famous for its revitalising mineral water so book an aix massage (performed under gentle warm water spouts) and reap the benefits. QE Health, located in what was originally a rehabilitation hospital for World War Two survivors, features all kinds of relaxation and spa therapies and is open 7 days.
With darkness descending around 5.30pm, Winter is also a perfect time to see the local glow worms. The walk to Okere Falls, alongside the Kaituna River is an easy place to spot some. Head up Trout Pool Road and park at the first carpark. There is a track down to the river here, by the stairs, and before you know it, you’ll be amongst the softly glowing lights of the glow worms. You’ll need a torch to get you there but turn it off once you arrive to get the best results.
Top 10 activities
With so much choice for Rotorua activities it’s hard to go wrong, but here’s the ‘best of’ list, in no particular order, to get you going:
- Experience Rotorua’s geothermal magic– goes without saying. You can’t visit Rotorua and not see some volcanic action. Try Waimangu Valley, or for a free option, Kuirau Park
- Go white-water rafting – paddle the largest commercially rafted waterfall in the world. Try out River Rats Rafting Company – ask for Justin.
- Try ziplining – get out of your comfort zone and into this nature experience. You’ll be contributing to a good cause at the same time. Contact Rotorua Canopy Tours who will take you on this epic journey.
- Go mountain biking – the trails are stoking and there are dozens to choose from. Something for all skill sets. BYO or hire a bike on site.
- See a kiwi – how can you pass up seeing a baby kiwi! Visit these icons at the National Kiwi Hatchery, located at Rainbow Springs. Sponsor a kiwi chick while you are there.
- Walk the Redwoods – the forest is magical, there are plenty of different tracks to ponder and its free!
- Go geocaching – so fun and there’s hundreds in Rotorua. It’s will take you places you may never have found!
- Luge down a mountain – Skyline Skyrides feature a gondola to get you up the mountain, then you get to luge down. Three tracks to choose from.
- Get some culture – check out something a little different from the norm at Whakarewarewa Living Village. This neighbourhood is real life, locals living amongst the thermal pools and living their best lives. Try the corn on the cob – OMG it’s so good!
- Have dinner at the Night Market – hit the city centre any Thursday night for a massive range of street food, fresh produce and the odd souvenir. Well priced and there’s normally live entertainment.
How much time do I need in Rotorua?
One night is never enough so at least three days is recommended.
Do I need to book?
Definitely book accommodation ahead of time as rooms can be in hot demand, particularly during summer and school holidays. Some Rotorua activities and attractions are worth booking ahead of time too, as space can be limited. Check their websites for recommendations.
How do I get to Rotorua?
From Auckland, you can fly direct to Rotorua in under an hour, or coach and shuttle options are available. You can also rent a car or campervan. By road, Rotorua is around 3.5 hours from Auckland.
From Wellington, flight time is just over an hour. By road, expect to drive for about 6 hours.
What can I do in Rotorua in the rain?
Rotorua indoor rainy-day activities include Rotorua Canopy Tours, 3D Trick Art Gallery, Agrodome Farm Show or Motion Entertainment. There is also a movie cinema in the city. If you don’t mind getting your raincoat out, visit the geothermal areas – so steamy in the wet weather!
Where’s the best place to eat?
Head to Eat Streat in the city centre. You’ll find plenty of flavours and genres to choose from. If you’re travelling with children, check out Cobb & Co who have a great kid’s menu and an entertainment area.
What’s the weather like in Rotorua?
Rotorua has fairly mild weather with temperatures varying between 2 and 26 degrees normally. Winter is June to August, Summer is December to February. For an accurate forecast, visit www.metservice.com