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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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Audley Travel specialist Barbara

Start planning your tailor-made trip to Rotorua by calling one of our New Zealand specialists on 01993 838 820

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

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    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.

    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.