*Disclaimer: Due to the ongoing effects of COVID-19, some of the activities listed may be closed or have changed hours. Follow the latest health advice and contact individual businesses for information about their operations.*
We walk you through the best family activities in Rotorua.
On some holidays, you have to scour the dark recesses of the Internet before you can find enough family-friendly activities to keep you and the rest of your tribe occupied.
That’s not the case with Rotorua. This incredible corner of New Zealand is packed with so much to see and do that you have to get selective with how you spend your time.
That’s never an ideal situation if you’re quickly putting together an itinerary – you don’t want to miss out on an awesome attraction in favour of something … not quite as awesome.
We get it. That’s why we’ve put together this guide to the best free and paid family activities in Rotorua. After combing through dozens of different options, we decided that these ten were the absolute best – and we think you’ll agree.
Keep reading to find out what made the list.
Climb Rainbow Mountain
‘Rainbow Mountain’ probably sounds hyperbolic, but we’re here to tell you that Maungakakaramea lives up to both its Māori and English names – it’s literally a mountain of multi-coloured stone.
Once an active volcanic site, Rainbow Mountain has cooled enough to allow gradual reforestation, which makes it the perfect place to take the kids for a hike.
There’s two tracks available. The first, which takes roughly half an hour, culminates in views of two cyan lakes set starkly against the smoking cliffs of brown, red and white rock. It’s impressive, but, if your kids are relatively fit, you can continue another hour and a half to the summit.
If you make it up, whip out your phone for a selfie, because the views are simply stunning. 360-degree panoramas of the surrounding countryside (including places like Lake Taupō and Tongariro) make the hike worth every step.
Swim in Kerosene Creek
Bubbling up from deep within the earth, Kerosene Creek is pleasantly warm – perfect for a relaxing swim. Although its fuel-coloured waters might not look appealing, the tranquil rainforest surrounds make this Rotorua attraction popular with tourists of all ages.
The best area to swim is the hot pool, which is fed by a small waterfall. It’s deep enough that you can actually lie back and have a proper soak, and the high banks create an atmosphere of serene solitude.
Just remember that neither your nor your children should put your heads underwater – hot springs are safe to bathe in, but getting water in your ears, eyes, nose or mouth can put you at risk of serious health complications.
Walk through Kuirau Park
Your average public park has some nice turf. A few shady trees. A bench to drink coffee on. A playground (if you’re lucky).
Rotorua takes the concept of ‘relaxing outdoor space’ and dials it up to 100. A spiderweb of wooden boardwalks traverses bubbling mud and smoking, acid-blue pools, and, even in the sections with lawns and trees, you can still find geothermal pools cordoned off by safety fences.
Walking through Kuirau is both awesome and eerie (all that water vapour makes it seem perpetually misty), and it’s definitely an out-of-the-ordinary attraction your whole family will love.
Explore Whakarewarewa Forest
Rotorua isn’t just famous for its hot springs. Whakarewarewa Forest, planted at the start of the 1900s, has grown into a sprawling natural park populated by titanic redwood trees. Enriched by New Zealand’s fertile soil, these magnificent plants create a near-mystical ambience that will enchant your and your family.
Hiking is the forest’s most popular attraction. Choose from two short walks (under 3.5 kilometres) and three longer walks (up to 11.5 kilometres, or get the full 34km experience with the Whakarewarewa Circuit.
If you love the forest as much as we do, it might be worth paying a little bit extra to hire mountain bikes for the kids. There’s a network of globally renowned tracks suitable for all skill levels.
Navigate Redwoods Treewalk
Picture this: you’re standing in a forest. You’re twenty metres above the loam and tree fern fronds, but beneath the canopy of towering redwoods – under your feet, a wooden platform leads to a swaying bridge of planks and steel cables.
You look ahead. That bridge leads to your next destination, a massive tree encircled by small platform of timber. Beyond that, another bridge, another platform. And another. And another. They stretch off into the distance, disappearing between threads of mist and mighty tree trunks.
Did that capture your imagination? We hope so – Redwoods Treewalk is as magical as it sounds, and it’s perfect for kids both big and little. With twenty-eight bridges totalling 700 metres of walking during day or night, it’s a unique way to get to know Rotorua’s ancient forests.
Learn more about Redwoods Treewalk here.
For something more heart-pumping, try Redwoods Altitude – it involves high speeds, big heights and a serious dose of adrenaline.
Get wet with River Rats Raft and Kayak
Nothing says ‘100% Pure New Zealand’ like barrelling down a foaming river past picture-perfect scenery while attempting to steer a giant inflatable raft.
River Rats is as fun as it sounds, and makes for an awesome family bonding experience, especially if your kids are reaching their teenage years. With rafting experiences ranging from relatively relaxed (Rangitaiki River) to downright terrifying (Kaituna and Wairoa Rivers), there’s something to suit everyone.
Worried about too much adrenaline? Don’t stress – River Rats also offer peaceful kayaking excursions (no white water in sight).
That said, if you’re an adventure fiend who just can’t get enough excitement, we recommend you try sledging – it’s like rafting, but headfirst, and without paddles.
Discover more about River Rats Raft and Kayak here.
Bonus Activity: Glow Worm Walk
For families wanting a free, river-oriented activity, Justin Hutton, director of River Rats, recommends the following:
“For a great free activity, it’s possible to walk through the Okere Falls Scenic Reserve and view the river from various spots and maybe see the rafts coming over the world’s highest commercially rafted waterfall. There are some steps down to the river tucked away near the far corner of the carpark and after dark you can see glow worms on the banks next to the stairs. The stairs are steep so take a torch and half way down the stairs you can turn off the torch and you will see the glow worms above.”
Learn at Whakarewarewa, The Living Māori Village
Whakarewarewa has the unique distinction of being New Zealand’s only living Māori village. For over two hundred years, the Tūhourangi Ngāti Wāhiao people have introduced tourists to their rich history and culture, at what is arguably one of the most important attractions in the entire country.
Experiences include the Whakarewarewa Guided Tour (where local guides share the history of the Village), Māori cultural performances and traditional cuisine cooked in a geothermal-powered hangi (‘earth oven’).
It doesn’t matter whether you’re a resident Kiwi or a visitor from another part of the world – Whakarewarewa is an incredibly unique experience that should definitely be on your holiday itinerary.
Learn more about Whakarewarewa here.
Fly with Rotorua Canopy Tours
Ever thought about what it would be like fly through prehistoric forests really, really fast? No? Just us? Well, you should, because Rotorua Canopy Tours’ intimate zipline experience is a whole lot of fun, and you don’t want to miss it.
Suitable for everyone from six years old onwards, RCT offer two different experiences – the Original Canopy Tour (which lasts for 3 hours, and with 600 metres of ziplines), and the Ultimate Canopy Tour (3.5 hours, with everything from native bird feeding to an awesome 400-metre tandem zipline).
It’s here, soaring through pristine bushland and low-hanging mist, that you get a taste of what New Zealand might have been like hundreds of years ago. The tours are also pleasantly small, run by experienced guides who showcase their expansive knowledge about all things natural – it’s as much an educational experience as it is an adventure.
Check out Rotorua Canopy Tours here.
Visit Rainbow Springs Nature Park
A list of family activities wouldn’t be complete without at least one nature park, and Rainbow Springs is it. This fantastic site is a kiwi hatchery, conservation centre, playground and cultural hub all packed into one.
Unlike your average animal centre, every Day Pass comes standard with a guided tour of the park, allowing you and your family to learn about native wildlife from experienced staff members.
Our favourite Rainbow Springs attraction? The Kiwi Burrow Experience (and no, it doesn’t cost extra). This interactive exhibition gets you face-to-beak with New Zealand’s adorable national icon; watch live kiwis in the Nocturnal House, explore a human-sized kiwi burrow and get the low-down on everything kiwi.
Other awesome sections of the park include the kid-friendly Play! areas, the Big Splash, the National Kiwi Hatchery Tour, the Sacred Springs Tour and the Taonga Experience.
See what’s on offer at Rainbow Springs Nature Park here.
Roll around in a ZORB ball
The concept of ZORB almost seems too weird to be real – you, rolling down a grassy slope while safely wedged inside a giant, inflatable plastic ball filled with over 40 litres of water.
As strange as it sounds, it’s also ridiculously fun. With four tracks to choose from – Straight, Sidewinder, Big Air and Mega – you can take it easy or go as hard (and high) as you like. Any kid over five can get inside a ZORB ball, with the option to ride by themselves or with a friend/family member.
If you’re not an iron-skinned Kiwi used to New Zealand winters, ZORB Rotorua also offer Drygo rides, which skip the water-soaking part and double down on the rolling. Afterwards, shake off the adrenaline with a long soak in the onsite hot tubs at ZORB Rotorua.
Get the ball rolling by booking at Zorb.com.
Quick Reference Table
|Address||Phone||Website||Cost per person (NZ$)||Time From Resort|
|Rainbow Mountain||Carpark is located on the left-hand side of SH 5 (approaching from Rotorua), just past the turnoff for SH 38.||+64 7 349 7400||Click here||Free||33 minutes by car|
|Kerosene Creek||Old Waiotapu Road, Waikato 3073, New Zealand||–||–||Free||42 minutes|
|Kuirau Park||1371, Pukuatua St and, Ranolf Street, Rotorua 3010, New Zealand||+64 7-348 4199||–||Free||20 minutes|
|Whakarewarewa Forest||Parking along Longmile Road, Rotorua 3072, New Zealand||+64 7-350
|Click here||Free||16 minutes|
|Redwoods Treewalk||Longmile Road, Whakarewarewa, Rotorua 3010, New Zealand||+64 27 536 1010||Click here||From $20||16 minutes|
|River Rats Raft and Kayak||Varies according to selected package||+64 800 333 900||Click here||Rafting from $100||Varies|
|Whakarewarewa, The Living Māori Village||17 Tryon Street, Whakarewarewa, Rotorua 3010, New Zealand||+64 7-349 3463||Click here||Varies||22 minutes|
|Rotorua Canopy Tours||147 Fairy Springs Road, Fairy Springs, Rotorua 3015, New Zealand||+64 7-343 1001||Click here||From $119||19 minutes|
|Rainbow Springs Nature Park||192 Fairy Springs Road, Fairy Springs, Rotorua 3015, New Zealand||+64 7-350 0440||Click here||From $23||20 minutes|
|ZORB||525 Ngongotaha Road, Fairy Springs, Rotorua 3015, New Zealand||+64 7-343 7676||Click here||From $35||18 minutes|
Feeling ready for your Rotorua adventure? Book your family holiday now.