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Even though the South Island of New Zealand gets most of the hype, there are some gems in the North Island as well. Rotorua is one of those gems. Known for its geothermal activity, Rotorua is the perfect place to go to bathe in natural hot springs and learn about Maori history and culture. Despite how small the city is, there are actually a ton of activities to do there. Here are 18 fun things to do in Rotorua.
Fun things to do in Rotorua
1. Hike through geothermal fields.
You absolutely cannot go to Rotorua without checking out some of its geothermal fields. I recommend visiting Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland, which has a 1.5 hour long trail you can walk around the natural hot springs. You can also see the Lady Knox Geyser go off there at 10:15am every day.
If your time in Rotorua is limited, and you don’t have time to visit a geothermal field and attend a Maori cultural show, then you’ll want to check out Te Puia. At Te Puia, you can experience both. In fact, if there is only one activity you have time for during your entire time in Rotorua, make it Te Puia.
2. Raft the highest commercially rafted waterfall in the world.
If you can’t wait until you get to the adventure capital of the world, Queenstown, to start your adrenaline activities, then you’ll want to sign up for one of the most fun things to do in Rotorua: whitewater rafting. The best part about whitewater rafting the Kaituna River in Rotorua is Tutea Falls. At 7m tall, it is the highest commercially rafted waterfall in the world! And if you want to combine adventure with culture, sign up for the Okere Awa tour with Rotorua Rafting to learn about Maori healing practices while whitewater rafting through their jungle home.
3. Relax and destress in a geothermal pool.
Whether you need to destress from life back home or from all the crazy adrenaline activities you’ve just engaged in, Rotorua is the perfect place for that! With natural hot spring pools all over the city, you won’t have to go far to find a pool to plop yourself in. The hotel we stayed in had two private hot spring pools (and a heated outdoor pool) that guests could use free of charge at any time.
Some thermal pools that are worth checking out if you enjoy a nice soak and pamper are the Waikite Valley Thermal Pools, Polynesian Spa, and Hell’s Gate Geothermal Park & Mud Spa.
4. Experience #farmlife in New Zealand.
You don’t need to spend very long in the North Island to notice that most of it is covered in farmland. This isn’t like the flat, boring farmlands of the Midwest, though. These are rolling green hills with the cutest little farm animals prancing around, which you’ll see the most if you visit in the spring. With the farm tour experience at Agrodome, you can experience what #farmlife is really like in New Zealand and get the opportunity to play with some cute fluffies!
5. Learn about Maori culture.
Maori culture can be seen all over New Zealand but is most prevalent around Rotorua. That’s what makes Rotorua the best place in New Zealand to learn about Maori culture. The two main companies offering Maori cultural shows in Rotorua are Tamaki and Mitai. You can’t go wrong with either, so book whichever one fits better into your schedule! If you’re curious about what exactly the show entails, you can read more about my experience at the Tamaki Maori Village here.
6. Compete in a luge race with your friends.
If you find yourself in Rotorua with a group of friends, one of the most fun things to do is to go luging. One luge ride at Skyline Rotorua costs $50 NZD, but five rides costs only $66 and seven rides costs only $70. The more rides you take, the more cost effective each ride becomes. You can also purchase a half day adventure pass for $149 NZD that gives you access to five luge rides, ziplining, and the skyswing. If you want to do all the adventure things, you’ll definitely want to purchase the half day pass, as that offers the best deal.
7. Take a ride on a jet boat.
Jet boat rides are popular in New Zealand but not in many other places around the world. Imagine a large jet ski that seats ~15-20 people instead of 1-2, and that’s the jet boat. Your driver will take you through winding rivers and canyons at super fast speeds, getting you so close to the edge of the canyon that you feel like you’re going to crash into the rocks just as your driver whips your boat back the other way to safety.
8. Discover the redwoods in a whole new light.
Not far from the center of Rotorua is a forest of redwoods with a bridge system built into the treetops. Whether you go by day or by night, you’ll be able to experience the beauty of the redwoods from a totally different perspective. At night, the treetops are illuminated by colorful lights, which makes for beautiful views but poor quality photos.
9. Take a helicopter or floatplane tour.
Rotorua is essentially built in a volcano, but you won’t be able to see the volcano unless you’re high up in the sky. The best way to see Rotorua from the sky is by taking a helicopter or floatplane tour. Helicopter rides through Volcanic Air also give you the opportunity to land on White Island, which is a permanently active volcano, and atop Mount Tarawera, where you can get some of the best views of the volcanoes.
10. Paddle board through glowworm caves.
If you thought exploring glow worm caves sounded boring, how does exploring glow worm caves on a stand up paddle board sound? Paddle Board Rotorua organizes a variety of stand up paddle board tours, including a glow worm exploration tour at night. During the day, you have the option of paddle boarding through some of the local lakes, all of which are pristine.
11. Roll down a hill in a giant ball.
If you’ve ever wanted to roll down a hill in a giant ball filled with water, Rotorua’s the place to do it. In fact, zorbing (like many crazy adrenaline activities) was invented in New Zealand. The first commercial zorbing operation was ZORB in Rotorua, which now includes the world’s only drop track. OGO Rotorua is another reputable company offering zorbing experiences.
12. Explore Rotorua’s beautiful landscapes on horseback.
With the vast areas of farmland in New Zealand, it is no surprise that horseback riding is a popular activity there. Unlike many active things to do in Rotorua, horseback riding is actually quite relaxing and suitable for all ages. Horse Trekking Lake Okareka offers tours ranging from 30 minutes to three hours that take you across sheep and cattle farms surrounded by views of Lake Okareka, Lake Tarawera, and Mount Tarawera.
13. Mountain bike down Mt. Ngongotaha.
Mountain biking is huge in New Zealand. Even if you’ve never tried it before, you might want to add it to your list of things to do in Rotorua. At Skyline Rotorua MTB Park, there are courses suited to all skill levels, so you can partake in the fun even if you’re a total beginner. If you want to try mountain biking on electrical mountain bikes, check out Mohawk Ebike Tours.
14. Search for hobbits at Hobbiton.
Located just an hour outside of Rotorua, Hobbiton is a must-visit even if you’re not a LOTR fan. I have actually never seen more than a few short clips from the LOTR movies, and I still very much enjoyed visiting Hobbiton. The set is gorgeous, and you’ll learn some cool behind the scenes film tricks.
15. Interact with your favorite animals at a wildlife park.
New Zealand has a lot of unique animal species that you may not have ever seen before. If you’re an animal lover, you need to check out Paradise Valley Springs Wildlife Park, where you can see and feed native birds, eels, wild animals, and farm critters. There’s even a large pride of African lions who are fed daily at 2:30pm.
16. Stock up on Instagram content at New Zealand’s first and only 3D art gallery.
The more than 50 3D art pieces at the 3D Trick Art Gallery will keep you entertained for hours. Grouped into five themes, including Maori culture and New Zealand sports, the artwork provide a fun and educational experience for everyone. Make sure you have your cameras ready because you’ll want to share these optical illusions with all your friends!
17. Taste local wines.
Despite being such a small city, Rotorua has its own winery. Head over to Volcanic Hills Winery & Tasting Room to sample wine made on site in Rotorua. Located at Skyline Gondola, this is the perfect activity to do after challenging your friends to a friendly luge race!
18. Stargaze from atop Mt. Ngongotaha.
What better way to finish off a day in Rotorua than with some stargazing? Mt. Ngongotaha offers some of the best stargazing in New Zealand. You’ll get to see shooting stars and planets that are invisible to the naked eye. The telescope you use at Skyline Rotorua lets you see 2,586 times better than your eye, and you’ll have a guide there to explain what you’re seeing as well.
Don’t miss the North Island when you visit New Zealand, and definitely don’t miss Rotorua. Whether you’re after adventure, culture, or beauty, Rotorua has it all.
Looking for other fun things to do in New Zealand? You might want to check out these posts:
- 18 Fun Things To Do In Rotorua
- Experiencing Maori Culture at Tamaki Maori Village in Rotorua
- Best Day Trips From Auckland: Canyoning Adventure in Piha
- Heli Hike Fox Glacier or Heli Hike Franz Josef Glacier? Everything You Need to Know
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