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A sizeable (for New Zealand) lakeside town punctured in places by steaming vents, Rotorua is the focal point of the North Island’s celebrated thermal plateau. But, aside from all the belching mud pools and frothing geysers, it’s also a town ringed by crystal-clear freshwater lakes, green mountains, and thriving native bushland.

It’s a gathering point for hikers, cyclists and anyone who takes pleasure in the great outdoors, and you might find that there’s a surprising amount to do here beyond the geothermal sideshow. Plus, it’s a heartland for New Zealand’s Maori, and we can arrange for you to experience their culture in numerous ways.

Gazing out across the southern shoreline of Lake Rotorua, the central town is, in places, workaday and functional, but it has several more characterful points. There’s the Tudor-style layout and lily ponds of the Government Gardens. Next to it, the adjacent Blue Baths, heated pools housed in a Spanish Mission-style building ― a relic of a time when Rotorua aspired to become a spa hub of the British Empire. Their modern-day equivalent, the Polynesian Spa, lies a little south, just around an inlet of the lake.

Maori house in RotoruaWalk the lakefront jetty in the opposite direction and you come to Saint Faith’s Church. A Maori-cloaked Jesus bestrides the waters of Lake Rotorua in one of its striking stained-glass windows. Opposite sits a squat, ornately carved Maori meeting house. You’ll notice hydrogen gas emitting from fissures in the ground around this area: you quickly get accustomed to its somewhat pungent smell.

Central Rotorua can become crowded, but you can escape it in a variety of ways. Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland is a succession of neon-bright sulphuric lakes, mud pools, a geyser and fumaroles, while Te Puia and Whakarewarewa Thermal Wonderland is a recreated Maori village-cum-park showcasing more mud pools, geysers and silica terraces.

Less commercial, and just as rewarding, is the Waimangu Volcanic Valley, a park that’s closer to a nature reserve. It’s webbed with walking trails, but your entry ticket also includes a cruise of Lake Rotomahana, a vast body of water whose serene surface is troubled in places by pockets of gas bubbling from the lakebed.

From the water, you’ll see hydrothermal features, including some fairly hyperactive geysers and steaming hot springs, along the lake’s southwest shoreline. The geysers don’t spurt to the same heights as Lady Knox Geyser in Wai-o-Tapu. But, you’ll see lots of them, and they erupt at whim — unlike her ladyship, who’s set off using soap suds. You’ll also count large numbers of snowy-plumed white egrets, cormorants and black swans as you travel the lake.

You can take exploratory day cruises of some other nearby lakes ― Rotoiti and Tarawera. These trips include visits to former Maori ‘refrigerators’ and give you a chance to bathe in hot springs known only to locals. You can read more about Lake Rotoiti in our guide to cruising in New Zealand.

The countryside surrounding Rotorua is laced with good forest hikes and cycling trails, some of which see you negotiating geothermal fields ― as explained in our cycling in New Zealand guide. You can walk among giant redwoods on a specially made trail, which can be even more beguiling at night. For something more sedate, go behind the scenes of a kiwi hatchery for a chance to see one of New Zealand’s wildlife highlights up close.

Then, you could delve into the panoply of Maori cultural encounters. Some of these — such as dining at a hangi, a traditional Maori feast ― can be very busy and popular with overseas visitors. But, it’s possible to find more intimate, quieter ways of exploring New Zealand through Maori eyes. Our specialists will help pinpoint the right experience for you.

Best time to visit Rotorua

Rotorua is a year-round destination. Just be mindful that it can get very busy in January and February, New Zealand’s height of summer, while July and August (winter) can be chilly.

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Start planning your tailor-made trip to Rotorua by contacting one of our New Zealand specialists

Suggested itineraries featuring Rotorua

Our itineraries will give you suggestions for what is possible when you travel in Rotorua, and they showcase routes we know work particularly well. Treat them as inspiration, because your trip will be created uniquely by one of our specialists.

Map of Rotorua

Places & hotels on the map

    Places near Rotorua

    Accommodation choices for Rotorua

    We’ve selected a range of accommodation options for when you visit Rotorua. Our choices usually come recommended for their character, facilities and service or location. Our specialists always aim to suggest properties that match your preferences.

    • City Lights Boutique Lodge, Rotorua

      City Lights Boutique Lodge

      Medium

      Set on the outskirts of Rotorua, City Lights Boutique Lodge is a small property with an intimate atmosphere and a large garden. The warm welcome from the convivial hosts makes a stay feel like a visit to a family friend.

    • Regent of Rotorua

      Regent of Rotorua

      Medium

      The Regent of Rotorua is a small, stylish hotel, ideally located close to the lakefront in the centre of Rotorua and its restaurants.

    • The Black Swan Boutique Hotel,Rotorua

      Black Swan Boutique Hotel

      Deluxe

      Located on the shores of Lake Rotorua, the Black Swan Boutique Hotel offers luxury bed and breakfast accommodation, excellent service and unbeatable lake views.

    • Treetops Lodge, Rotorua

      Treetops Lodge

      Opulent

      Only half an hour from Rotorua city, but located in 1000 hectares of native bush, Treetops Lodge is the ultimate in privacy and luxury.

    • Koura Lodge, Rotorua

      Koura Lodge

      First Class

      Koura Lodge sits on the edge of Lake Rotorua. Each of its rooms enjoy stunning views and it is ideally located within easy reach of all the local attractions.

    • The Springs, Rotorua

      The Springs

      First Class

      The Springs is a magical property in the heart of Rotorua. Its four spacious guest rooms are exquisitely decorated in a 1930s style and have access to a terrace and garden.

    • Executive suite, Solitaire Lodge

      Solitaire Lodge

      Deluxe

      Solitaire Lodge is situated on a privately owned peninsula on the shores of Lake Tarawera. It has ten beautifully appointed suites, all of which boast stunning lake or mountain views.

    Ideas for experiencing Rotorua

    Our specialists seek out authentic ways to get to know the places that could feature in your trip. These activities reflect some of the experiences they've most enjoyed while visiting Rotorua, and which use the best local guides.

    • Maori house in Rotorua

      Mitai Maori Night

      Rotorua

      This evening of Maori culture is both entertaining and educational. The cultural display, performed by a talented local cast, consists of the formal welcome, traditional dances and Maori weaponry display, as well as the arrival of the warriors by ancient canoe.

    • Lake Waikaremoana, New Zealand

      Whirinaki Eco-Culture Walk

      Rotorua

      This full day walk into one of New Zealand's most remarkable native forests takes you to the heart of the Urewera Ranges.