Much more than mud pools and geothermal springs. There is little doubt that Rotorua is special. Take a look at the soaring volcanic peaks, geyser-filled landscapes and, in beautiful counterpoint, tranquil lakes in broad, fertile valleys and you will begin to understand why. No wonder it’s where they decided to create the hobbit holes, dubbed Hobbiton, for the movie The Hobbit.
Situated in the middle of the North Island, it’s an easy-on-the-eyes three-hour drive from Auckland. It’s world renowned for its geothermal activities… but also for its white-water rafting and mountain biking. Both are exciting enough on their own, but when you take into account the sheer beauty you’re travelling through while you enjoy your chosen adventure it lifts into that special category once again.
The thrill of white-water rafting and sledging on Kaituna River, where (if you’re game) you’ll be able to soar over the highest commercially-rafted waterfall in the world. It’s such a thrilling ride that even those who end up in the water have enormous grins plastered across their face, that take a long time to fade.
Non-watery thrills include four-wheel driving, skydiving from up to 15,000 feet high (eeek), bungy jumping, jet boating and Zorbing (for those not in the know, that’s climbing into a giant, transparent inflatable ball and rolling down a hill!). Too tame? Ride a scree slide into a volcanic crater or race your friends down a mountainside on a luge cart.
Fly into the crater of a dormant volcano or land and explore New Zealand's only active marine volcano. On the other hand, use it to escape to back country bush, forest and streams for some hiking, hunting or fly fishing. The choice is yours and there’s a lot of it!
For a totally different kind of experience, immerse yourself in one of the many natural hot pools. The alkaline water is supposed to be great for hair, skin and nails, though most just love how relaxing it is. If you’ve chosen to do this at a spa, finish off with a great massage.
It’s these rejuvenating geothermal pools that give the city of Rotorua its trademark sulphur smell, though residents are quick to point out that you stop noticing it’s there very quickly. The Whakarewarewa Geothermal Area, with its world-famous geysers, bubbling mud pools and brilliant mineral pools, is well worth a visit. Sit back and enjoy a Maori cultural performance, followed by a hangi.
Give yourself an all-over facial at Hells Gate Mud Baths, walk through drifting clouds of steam at Kuirau Park, home to boiling mud pools and crater lakes. Discover fumaroles and silica terraces displaying amazing colours at many of the region’s 22 thermal parks.
You might be glad to know there are 16 lakes in the Rotorua region, which means there’s plenty of water you can actually swim in. Fish for trout, jet boat, water ski, kayak, paddle boat or enjoy a sightseeing cruise to Mokoia Island, among others. Alternatively, just float about, in or out of a boat, or laze on the beach while the sun goes down with an icy glass of delectable New Zealand wine and simply watch the swans glide effortlessly by.
For those who’re not into white-water rafting over Okere Falls, you can enjoy it by traversing trails in the lovely Scenic Reserve (we’re told the blueberry pancakes at the Okere Falls Cafe are a great way to finish off). Walk among towering Redwoods or venture deeper into the Whakarewarewa Forest on a gentle mountain bike ride.
While you’re in the area, pay a visit to the small, stunningly beautiful Blue and Green Lakes (Lake Rotokakahi and Lake Tikitapu) just nearby. There is a good walking track that encircles the Blue Lake, which offersincredible views towards Rotokakahi, the Green Lake.
Rotorua is the heartland of Maori culture in New Zealand and you will see their influence everywhere. From their beautiful wharenui (meeting house) to a plethora of vibrant craftwork, the power and majesty of their customs shine through. They delight in sharing their legends, music and arts with visitors. Sample indigenous flavours cooked using traditional methods or watch master carvers and weavers at work, telling the stories of the ancestors through their crafts. Explore historic villages and the surrounding region with experienced guides, or participate in traditional singing, dancing and games.
For simpler pleasures, take the kids to milk a cow, bottle-feed a lamb and watch a sheep shearing demonstration. Visit a working kiwi hatchery, watch wild animals and birds in a native bush setting, discover the NZ Thar (goats) and native Kune Kune pigs.
Rotorua is more than just a great region to visit, it’s a total experience. One you won’t want to end.