Did you know that Rotorua was once known as the Eighth Wonder of the World? Tourists from across the globe would travel vast distances to see its spectacular scenery. Most famous was the Pink Terrace, or Te Otukapuarangi, ‘The Fountain of the Clouded Sky’, and the White Terrace, or Te Tarata, ‘The Tattooed Rock’. They were reportedly the largest silica sinter deposits on earth.
During the 1800s, they were New Zealand’s most popular tourist attraction. Getting there involved travelling by ship from Europe, America, Canada or Australia, followed by an overland trip of 150 kilometres.
Tragically, both terraces were destroyed in an 1886 volcanic eruption and, although Rotorua remained a well-visited tourist destination, its popularity soon became overshadowed by its larger siblings, Queenstown and Wanaka.
In recent years, Rotorua has been making a comeback – reinvented, and emerging once again as a tourism hot spot on the world stage. Travel connoisseurs from across the globe are hailing it as one of the planet’s most spectacular destinations, and rightly so.
Rotorua’s blend of majestic lakes, wilderness, geothermal activity and rich Māori culture have made it one of the biggest ‘must-do’ holiday destinations.
Three- to four-day stays are recommended, with most attractions being within five to twenty minutes of the main town and your Club resort, Ramada Resort Rotorua.
The Best Bike Trails in the Southern Hemisphere
Rotorua’s mountain biking trails are among the best available – in fact, Red Bull has dubbed them as one of the eight top mountain biking destinations in the world.
The Redwoods, or Whakarewarewa Forest, offer a wonderland for runners, hikers and mountain bikers alike, and there are trails for all skill levels, from beginners to professionals.
The local visitor centre has maps available, as well as ‘Kids’ Discovery Packs’, while Mountain Bike Rotorua can provide you with all the gear you need for a two-wheeled adventure.
Skyline Rotorua MTB Gravity Park gives riders easy access to a 10.5 kilometre trail network featuring trails with varying terrain for all ability levels, while the Skyline Gondola takes the hard work out of the park’s 200-metre vertical rise. The dedicated gondola cabins are designed to take up to four bikes/riders per trip, allowing up to 3000 downhill runs per day! Gravity Park is also home to Crankworx, the largest mountain biking festival in the world.
Walk or Fly with Forest Giants
Rotorua Treewalk is the longest suspended bridge course of its type in the world – spanning half an hour, this fantastic ecological walk lets you explore the ancient redwood forest over 21 suspension bridges. Another great way to enjoy the magnificence of the trees is with Rotorua Canopy Tours, the only native forest zipline canopy experience in New Zealand.
Alternatively, wander between the massive redwood trunks on the forest floor. Enjoy an easy walk to the source of Hamurana Springs, or take in the spectacular Okere and Tutea Falls as you walk the Okere Falls Track.
TripAdvisor has called it one of the 20 most surreal places in the world, and Rotorua truly is an incredible destination. The Champagne Pool, for example, is slightly surreal – its bright orange crater, bubbling water and coils of hot steam has to be seen to be believed.
Add to this its steamy amber rivers and iridescent lakes of pink and green, and visitors could be forgiven for thinking they’d walked onto the set of a science fiction movie like Avatar.
Bubbling mud pots, massive geysers and milky-blue hot springs give Rotorua a truly otherworldly feel. Make sure you bring your bathing gear and slip into some of the warm, mineral-enriched pools for a long wallow – it’s absolute bliss.
Adventures In and On the Water
Raft through steep forest canyons and across fourteen awesome rapids with Kaitiaki Adventures Aotearoa. This unique cultural expedition takes you to three waterfalls, including the seven-metre-high Tutea Falls, the highest commercially-rafted waterfall in the world!
Accompanied by elements of Māori culture, this heart-pumping excursion is perfect for both white-water enthusiasts and first-timers.
Alternatively, River Rats will get you rafting or kayaking on Lake Rotoiti. Both tours visit glow-worm caves and the secluded Manupirua Thermal Springs.
Cruise and Fish Rotorua operates fishing tours on Lake Tarawara, and, once you’ve caught a fish or three, you’ll be shown how to cook them in the geothermal sands of Hot Water Beach!
A short journey thirty-five minutes south of Rotorua will take you to Kerosene Creek, which offers a natural bathing experience like no other. Nestled in lush wilderness, this geothermal stream is perfect for swimming and relaxing. Hot water from a natural spring under the earth bubbles up into the cool waters of the creek, creating pleasantly warm waters. If that wasn’t enough, swimmers across the years have piled up small, smooth rocks to create natural baths beside the two-metre waterfall.
Sky-High and Earthly Antics
Skyline Rotorua is located on Mount Ngongotaha, just minutes from central Rotorua. Activities include its iconic gondola ride, which takes you sky-high for incredible views of Rotorua, its lakes and geothermal areas, as well as luge, stargazing and ziplining. Alternatively, try zorbing (tumbling downhill in a plastic ball) at OGO for something a little different. At Agroventures, you can experience Swoop — a super swing that hangs 40 meters above ground — and Schweeb — the world’s only monorail raceway — or freefall in a wind tunnel, bungee jump from a height of 43 meters, and take a speedboat tour in the Agrojet.
One of the most active thermal parks in Rotorua, the appropriately-named Hell’s Gate is home to the Southern Hemisphere’s largest hot waterfall, as well as land coral and large areas of sulphur deposits. Make the most of the healing properties found in the geothermal mud by soaking in a relaxing mud pool or enjoying a mud facial. Trying a traditional Māori carving experience is also a must-do.
Famed for its tranquil lakeside setting, the Polynesian Spa in Rotorua was voted among the world’s Top Ten Spas by Conde Nast Traveller Magazine. It’s the perfect place to rejuvenate with a long soak in the natural hot springs.
Spend an evening immersed in indigenous Māori culture at Mitai Māori Village. Here, you can experience the spectacle of warriors manning an authentic waka (war canoe), sample a hangi (earth oven) meal and watch a traditional Māori performance.
You can also get a better understanding of Māori culture, legends and history at Whakarewarewa Geothermal Valley in Te Puia, which is home to the iconic Pohutu Geyser and the National Schools of Wood Carving and Weaving. Enjoy live Maori cultural performances, as well as the kiwi sanctuary, which showcases New Zealand’s critically-endangered animal icon.
Nearby, Kaitiaki Adventures Aotearoa offers walking tours to the summit of Mount Tarawera, led by a local Māori guide.
Māori Custom – Rubbing Noses
The hongi is a traditional Māori greeting, typically performed by two people pressing together their noses when meeting. It’s commonly used in traditional Māori settings, as well as at major cultural ceremonies. The hongi is believed to facilitate the exchange of ha (the breath of life), which can also be interpreted as the sharing of souls.