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Things to do in Rotorua, New Zealand: 3 Day Guide

Things to do in Rotorua, New Zealand: 3 Day Guide

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Are you planning a trip to New Zealand and want to include a stop in Rotorua on your New Zealand itinerary? Keep scrolling to find out lots of fun things to do in Rotorua, where to stay, and where to eat.
This guest post about things to do in Rotorua contains affiliate links which means if you purchase something from one of my affiliate links, I may earn a small commission that goes back into maintaining this blog.

Guest post by Camille

Rotorua is one of New Zealand’s North Island’s most popular destinations. With its amazing mud pools, luxury spas, beautiful bush walks, and spectacular geysers, it is definitely a place like no other. 

Rotorua is home to a large number of geothermal wonders and is also well-known for being the center of the Maori culture. 

It is a spectacular place and one I definitely recommend spending time in.

Read this complete travel guide to Rotorua to find out how to get there, where to stay, things to do and more.

How to get to Rotorua

Rotorua is located 228 kilometers south of Auckland. There are many ways to get to Rotorua, but the easiest one is to get there by car.

But, if you don’t have a car, you can still get to see the amazing geothermal wonderland of Rotorua.

Here are your options.

Car: Like I said, renting or having a car is, by far, the easiest way to get to Rotorua. From Auckland, follow Highway 27. Rotorua is a very popular destination, so you’ll see many signs along the way.

Plane: Rotorua has a regional airport. You can fly to Rotorua from three cities in New Zealand: Wellington, Auckland, and Christchurch. The flights are operated by Air New Zealand, a very good and reliable air company.

National coach: If you don’t fancy flying to Rotorua, your best option is to catch a coach. Intercity runs daily direct coaches from Auckland to Rotorua.

The journey takes approximately three and a half hours. You can also take a direct coach to Rotorua from other cities on the North Island, including Tauranga, Wellington, and Taupo.

Take a tour: There are many tour operators in New Zealand that offer day tours to Rotorua. If you don’t want to spend too much time there, this could be a good option for you.

Organized tours are a little bit expensive, but you usually get a very knowledgeable driver and guide so you learn a lot about the area on these trips.

Things to do in Rotorua

Before you go to Rotorua, you should know that the whole city smells of rotten eggs… It is caused by the sulfur emissions of the many geothermal features in the area.

Visiting Frying Pan is a top thing to do in Rotorua, New Zealand. Image of Frying pan lake is the largest hot water spring in the world. Rotorua, Waimangu geothermal area, New Zealand
Frying Pan in Rotorua, NZ

But that really shouldn’t stop you from visiting this wonderful area of New Zealand.

Rotorua is a mystic place, and there is no lack of things to do. In fact, you could easily spend days exploring the many geothermal wonders in the area.

But there’s more to Rotorua than that. 

Whether you want to relax at the spa, explore beautiful gardens or immerse yourself in the Maori culture, Rotorua is a fantastic destination. 

Waimangu Volcanic Valley

Waimangu Volcanic Valley is a fantastic geothermal destination. It is less popular than its neighbor Wai-O-Tapu, but it still is spectacular.

Visiting Waimangu Volcanic Valley is a top thing to do in Rotorua, New Zealand. Image of the Waimangu Volcanic Valley
Frying pan lake and echo crater at Waimangu volcanic valley un New Zealand

Waimangu offers self-guided tours of 45 minutes to 4 hours depending on how much time you have to explore. 

There’s an easy walkway to follow where you’ll see all the main highlights of the park including stunning Frying Pan Lake and Inferno Crater. 

You can even take a cruise on Lake Rotomahana and admire the hundreds of birds that live there. 

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Wai-O-Tapu

Wai-O-Tapu is definitely one of the most popular geothermal areas in Rotorua. The famous Champagne pool and Lady Knox Geyser are the reasons most people choose to visit Wai-O-Tapu instead of other parks. 

Wai-O-Tapu really offers stunning geothermal features that you won’t see anywhere else in the world.

If you’re looking for a truly unique experience in Rotorua, then I suggest you visit Wai-O-Tapu. You’ll definitely be impressed by the park and all it has to offer.

However, if you choose to visit this park, be ready for the crowd, even in low season.

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Te Puia

Te Puia is a natural and cultural park where Maori culture mixes with geothermal wonders.

In Te Puia, you can watch the famous Pohutu Geyser that erupts 20 times a day, see Maori cultural performances and even see live kiwi birds. 

You’ll also get to explore the beauty and geothermal wonders of the Whakarewa valley.

In addition, you can visit the New Zealand Maori Arts and Crafts Institute where traditional carving and weaving techniques are taught to young Maori residents. 

Te Puia is a fantastic place to spend a day out with friends or family and discover the beauty and cultural heritage of the Rotorua region.

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Polynesian Spa

If you want to indulge yourself, unwind and relax in beautiful and unique surroundings, then you should visit the Polynesian Spa. 

The spa’s geothermal hot pools are sourced from two natural springs in Rotorua, which makes it pretty unique. 

Whether you want to try the geothermal mud therapies, bathe in the slightly acidic Priest Spring waters or simply enjoy a day out at the family pools, there’s something for everyone at the Polynesian Spa.

Government Gardens 

The historic Government Gardens surround the Tudor-style spa bath near Lake Rotorua. The famous gardens can be visited with a guide who will explain the history of the place.

The Rotorua Museum is now in the beautiful old Bath house building but has been closed for repairs since 2016 due to earthquake damages.

However, you can still take a stroll around the gardens, and admire the surrounding buildings, including the Blue Baths.

Kuirau Park

Kuirau Park is a free geothermal park located in the center of Rotorua. This awesome park is great for those who want to discover Rotorua’s geothermal features without spending money. 

You'll want to add Kuirau Park to your Rotorua itinerary. Image of geothermal hot springs at Kuirau Park in Rotorua, New Zealand
Aerial view of big hot spring located in Kuirau Park in the city of Rotorua, New Zealand.

You can follow a short walkway around the park, or even take a foot bath in the hot mineral water pools. It’s a fantastic place for a relaxing afternoon.

But be aware that the sulfur smell is really strong at Kuirau Park.

Rainbow Mountain

Rainbow mountain is an active geothermal mountain with beautiful colored rock and surrounded with native bush. It’s located just a few minutes drives outside of Rotorua and is definitely worth a trip. 

You can hike all the way up to the summit for stunning views of the area.

If you’re not up for the challenge, a short walk to Crater Lakes will take you to the steamy orange mountain and stunning volcanic craters.

Kerosene Creek

Located on Old Waiotapu road, Kerosene Creek is a very popular hot spring in Rotorua. Here, you can relax and unwind in naturally hot waters.

It’s a spectacular place offering a natural bathing experience. You can go there for free, and enjoy the beauty of nature with your friends or family.

Redwoods Forest

The Redwoods forest is the perfect spot for nature lovers. It is home to the famous Californian Coast Redwoods, which you can see if you follow the Redwood Memorial Grove track.

Rotorua Tree Walk Starting Point, New Zealand
Starting out at the Rotorua Tree Walk. Photo credit: Darren Cheung

Whether you want to hike, bike or go horse riding, you’ll enjoy spending time in this spectacular natural area. 

The forest is also home to a tree walk, which you can enjoy day and night. Actually, it is one of the best things to do in Rotorua at night.

Read my full post about the Redwoods Tree Walk in Rotorua

Ohinemutu Maori Village

Ohinemutu is a living Maori village you can visit for free. It’s located right next to the city center of Rotorua and is home to the Ngati Whakaue tribe. 

The village was built on the shore of Lake Rotorua. It’s a pretty special place, and you’ll love admiring the stunning Maori meeting house, the old Anglican church by the lake and the many geothermal features in the area.

It’s a place not to miss on your trip to Rotorua.

Where to Stay in Rotorua

Rotorua is a touristy spot so your choice of accommodation is vast. From budget to luxury hotels, you’ll definitely find what you’re looking for in the center of Rotorua.

I’ve also included campsites in this travel guide of Rotorua for those who are traveling in a van or a car.

Campsites

If you’re traveling by campervan around New Zealand, then staying in a campsite is your best option.

There is a free camp for self-contained vehicles behind the Arts Village in Government Gardens where you can stay for the night.

It is located right next to the Polynesian Spa. There are public toilets nearby and a water fountain.

For those willing to stay in a quieter place, I definitely recommend staying at the Lake Okareka campsite.

This camp is located 10 kilometers outside of Rotorua but it’s very scenic, super quiet and only $13 per person. You can find the exact location of both these camps on the app Campermate

Hostels

Most hostels in Rotorua are located close to the famous Eat Street and the Government Gardens. They are a great choice for solo travelers who’d like to meet new friends in Rotorua.

Below, you’ll find my three favorite hostels in Rotorua.

Funky Green Voyager

Funky Green Voyager is located close to everything, offers a great atmosphere and feels more like a home than a hostel.

With its clean facilities and friendly staff, Funky Green Voyager is a great place for a short stay in Rotorua. Also, the hostel has a tour desk and offers many discounts on local activities.

If you’re looking for a quiet place with a homely feel, then head to Funky Green Voyager.

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Rotorua Central Backpackers

Rotorua Central Backpackers is my number one choice for hostels in Rotorua. This amazing hostel has a spa pool (yes, you read that right!), a garden and offers free wifi.

Located right in the heart of Rotorua, this hostel is simply the best in the area. The place offers comfy beds, a friendly atmosphere, big rooms, and clean amenities.

And best of all, it’s one of the most affordable places in Rotorua.

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Rock Solid Backpackers Rotorua

The centrally located Rock Solid Backpackers is a modern hostel that offers dorm, double and single rooms.

With its many amenities, including free wifi, a rock climbing wall, a library, and a cinema, this hostel is definitely a backpackers favorites in the area.

On top of that, it’s located next to all the main sights in Rotorua, like the Kuirau Park and the Government Gardens.

Rock Solid Backpackers offers good prices, so don’t miss it if you’re on a budget. 

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Hotels 

If you’re not traveling on a budget and can afford to splurge a little bit, then staying in one of the many beautiful hotels in Rotorua is a good choice.

Here are a couple of hotels I recommend in Rotorua. 

Millennium Hotel Rotorua

The Millennium Hotel is simply stunning. With its gorgeous rooms with lake views, outdoor swimming pool, spa, and fitness center, this hotel has everything you need for a perfect stay in Rotorua.

The hotel also has its own restaurant, the Nikau, that serves dishes made with local products.

This luxurious hotel is definitely worth the price, and you’re guaranteed to spend an unforgettable time in Rotorua.

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Jet Park Hotel Rotorua

Jet park hotel is a Kiwi owned property that’s ideal for families.

With its beautiful outdoor pool, stunning spa and amazing playground, this hotel is simply perfect.

Its location is ideal to explore Rotorua’s many tourist attractions, including the weekly night market.

In addition, the hotel has a boutique café where you can enjoy New Zealand wines or coffee.

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Motels

For those looking for cozy rooms, motels are great in New Zealand. They usually offer fully equipped kitchenettes and many amenities such as swimming pools and playgrounds for children.

Here are my favorites.

Six On Union Motel

Six on union motel is located near Rotorua’s biggest shopping mall. With its swimming pool, spa pool and free wifi, the motel offers good amenities. You’ll find a computer in each room, which you can use for free.

The motel is a 10 minutes walk from Lake Rotorua and the city center. The rooms have a fully equipped kitchen with microwave, kettle, and fridge.

In addition, the friendly staff will do everything they can to make your stay enjoyable.

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Malones Spa Motel

Malones Spa Motel is a great place for those looking for relaxation. Indeed, some rooms have a hot tub, which is absolutely amazing.

The motel is located a little bit outside Rotorua’s city center, and only 5 minutes drive from the famous Whakarewarewa thermal village.

All rooms feature a kitchenette, tv with satellite, and ironing facilities.

The Malones is an affordable motel perfect for couples and families alike.

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Aura Accommodation

Aura Accommodation is one of the best motels in town. Located near Lake Rotorua, Aura offers fully equipped studios with a kitchen, TV (with Netflix), and free wifi.

On top of that, the motel has an outdoor pool and barbecues you can use anytime.

From this motel, you can easily access all the main sights of the city.

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There are also lots of amazing Airbnbs in Rotorua that are great for large families or group travel.

Where to Eat in Rotorua

A travel guide of Rotorua wouldn’t be complete without a list of the best restaurants in town.

The famous Eat Street is where most restaurants are located in Rotorua.

If you fancy local cuisine I recommend trying Atticus Finch and, for a quick bite, Ciabatta Cafe and Bakery

For something more exotic, head to Indian Star Tandoori, a fabulous traditional Indian restaurant.

Another great option is the Stratosfare restaurant. This luxury restaurant is located at the top of the Skyline gondola and is very famous for offering delicious meals.

How Many Days Should You Stay in Rotorua

We stayed for 3 days in Rotorua, and I found it to be enough to explore the main sights. But if you wanted to stay longer, you could. There’s so much to do, you could easily spend 4-5 days in the area.

If you have a car, there are many places to visit outside of Rotorua’s city center that are simply stunning, like Rainbow Mountain or Kerosene Creek.

If you’re short on time, then I recommend spending 2 days in Rotorua, which is enough to see the geothermal wonders and explore a Maori village.

When is the Best Time to Visit Rotorua

Rotorua can be visited year-round. Summer (December to February) is a good season to visit New Zealand and Rotorua. At this time of the year, the weather is warm and dry but it is also the busiest season of the year. 

We visited Rotorua in winter (June to August), and the weather was quite cold and rainy but I still enjoyed my time there, because we practically had the place to ourselves. 

However, I think the best time of the year to see Rotorua is spring (September to November). In spring, the scenery is perfect, the sun shines and the place isn’t too crowded yet.

Bottom line

With its spectacular geothermal features, incredible living Maori villages, and fantastic forest, Rotorua is an unmissable place to visit on your trip to New Zealand.

There are many things to do, see and discover in this incredible area. I hope this travel guide helped you plan your perfect trip to Rotorua. 

AUTHOR BIO: Camille is a blogger at Crystal Healing Ritual and craft blogger from France. Dedicated to traveling sustainably, Camille has been roaming the world and living abroad for over 7 years. When she’s not traveling, you’ll find her hiking or reading a good book.

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