If there is any place in the world that equals a natural paradise, then it has to be New Zealand’s beloved city, Rotorua.
Named after Lake Rotorua – on the southern shores of who’s the city resides – it is best known for its volcanic landscapes, mud pools and hot geysers.
Along with this, the city is also peppered with serene lakes and native forest, something that provides a stark opposite but equally, impressive topography to explore!
Waimangu Volcanic Valley
One of the most popular tourist spots of Rotorua is the beautiful Waimangu Volcanic Valley, New Zealand’s youngest geothermal valley.
The area is characterized by rare fauna, multiple lakes – including the inferno crater lake - Silica Terraces, Stalactites, a regenerating forest and sweeping views of the Rainbow and Tarawera Mountains!
One can walk or hike through the unique terrain or even hop on the Lake Rotomahana Boat Cruise to experience the surroundings in a whole different way.
More importantly, though, the site has a local store & café, a cosy and friendly place to hang out and relax.
The store displays essential items, locally made products as well as serves amazing coffee, fresh meals and local beer and wine.
Over 130 kilometres of hiking trails and mountain biking tracks lay amongst a magnificent cluster of Redwoods.
Known as Whakarewarewa Redwoods, it stands beside the Whakarewarewa thermal area and can be better described as a sea of Californian Coast Redwoods.
Amidst the trees – which are at least a hundred years old - lay a blend of pleasing undergrowth, thermal areas, lakes and spectacular views of the surrounding nature.
With natural beauty packed on every step, it is no wonder that the Redwoods has been declared as one of Rotorua’s greatest natural treasures.
One can - as mentioned before - go on leisurely walks and fun biking sessions as well take up horses on dedicated horse trails – and just have some fun in nature.
If you made your way to the northern end of the city, you will come across a living, breathing area that goes by the name Kuirau Park, New Zealand’s only geothermal public park.
Maori legend has it that a beautiful woman named Kuiarau was taken captive in the lake by a water monster.
The gods, angered by the act, decided to kill the monster by making the lake boil.
The lake, therefore, still bubbles in the park named after the woman.
The walkways, safe and serene, meander through the mud pools, hot springs, the crater lake and even a free thermal foot bath.
It also offers picnic tables, barbecues, a children’s playground and toilets – making it a perfect spot to hang out with your family and friends.
Ambrosia Restaurant & Bar
There are many restaurants in the city but the very first licensed one of Rotorua is the ethereal Ambrosia Restaurant and Bar.
It came into existence in 1954 and features traditionally decorated space, with wooden floors, bright and lively décor and more importantly, a heated outdoor area!
The menu is the exact opposite of this traditional setting – it is elegant, colourful and so scrumptious.
The restaurant serves Mediterranean cuisine and a seasonal selection of shared tapas; along with that, you also get an amazing array of beers and house wines.
What’s more, take full advantage of Ambrosia’s happy hour by going in between 5 – 7 PM on a Friday – or catch early bird dinner discounts, if you visit it between 5 -6:30 pm in winter.
Orakei Korako Geothermal Reserve Park
If you make your way to somewhere between Rotorua and Taupo, you will encounter an active – and absolutely beautiful – Geothermal park.
Also referred to as The Hidden Valley, Orakei Korako Geothermal Reserve Park provides an unmatched experience to its visitors.
It features steaming mud pools, 23 geysers, hot springs; but most people crowd the park just to see fault-stepped sinister terraces.
The thermal Ruatapu Cave – with a pool’s unique waters known to clean jewellery – is another attraction, which is one of the only two caves situated in a geothermal field.
You can enjoy this natural phenomenon with your friends and family – while relishing a steaming cup of delicious latté from MudCake Café to complete your enchanting trip!
Wai-O-Tapu is another amazing geothermal attraction of Rotorua, made all the more interesting by its surreal yet colourful quality.
The place features coloured springs, hot and steaming grounds, spacious vistas, volcanic craters, terrace formations and the extremely popular Champagne Pool.
Most people, however, flood Wai-O-Tapu to experience the impressive Lady Knox Geyser, a masterpiece rising to the height of 10-20 metres.
It is, therefore, no wonder to see that it has been included in the list of “One of the 20 Most Surreal Places in the World”, considering its natural and impressive essence.
The elegant Visitor Centre on-site is especially helpful and offers the visitors with retail facilities, picnic areas, parking spaces and a beautiful café.
Okere Falls Track
Even if you go on many forest walks, nothing would be as enchanting and peaceful as Okere Falls Track.
Located by the Trout Pool Road, it is not that big of a walk – only a 3 kilometre round trip – and follows the Kaituna river with four mesmerizing waterfalls dotted along the walk.
Two of these falls – i.e.Okere and Tutea falls – are the reason why Okere Falls Track is so famous amongst locals as well as tourists.
Along with that, it also features Tutea Caves, Rotorua’s first hydroelectric power station and Hinemoa’s steps.
The wilderness of the forest walk is balanced nicely with the well-formed, safe tracks, making it a treat to walk along and maybe capture some memorable photographs.
Plus, it is absolutely free!
One of the most famous – perhaps the only famous – restaurant in Rotorua is Mokoia restaurant.
It is so loved that the locals have labelled it as, ‘the best pacific-rim, fine dining restaurant in Rotorua’.
This award-winning restaurant is a proud part of Wai Ora Lakeside Resort, located in Holdens Bay.
The dishes are made using local produce and herbs and spices, the latter of which is picked from the resort’s own gardens and wild herb beds.
The menu can also be customized, where you can enjoy different dishes you select on a sharing platter, which is known as ‘Share Dine’!
Scrumptious meals, cosy vibes and the enchanting Lake outside – is there still doubt about Mokoia Restaurant’s popularity?
Te Puia – which aptly translates to the hot spring, in Maori – is a beautiful and lively place, housing an active geyser, Pōhutu Geyser, the New Zealand Maori Arts and Crafts Institute and Kiwi Conservation Centre.
It is a rather stunning as well as a culturally rich place, bringing together the magnificence of a natural attraction and the sophistication of the local culture of Māori.
It also leads guided tours through the mesmerizing geothermal valley, covering the institute and centre as well.
Another important feature of Te Puia is Geyser by Night, which showcases the geothermal valley at night, fabricating an interactive and multi-sensory experience for the visitors.
The restaurant on-site, Pātaka Kai, serves scrumptious lunch, Sunday brunch, and obviously, fresh coffee!
One of the popular things to do in Rotorua is the Skyline Rotorua, an all-weather recreational spot!
Located near Rotorua’s City centre, it offers a whole lot of recreational activities, including a Gondola ride, a fun-filled Luge, mountain bike park, a sky-swing as well as Volcanic Hills winery, an environment-inspired retail store, iNZpired, zoom ziplines and restaurants, including, Market Kitchen Café, dine @ VH and Stratosfare restaurant.
But the best part of Skyline Rotorua is the Gondola ride, which offers 180-degree views of Lake Rotorua as well as the surrounding city.
It is made even more interesting by the fact that it is perfect for every age group – there is something that will entertain kids, adults and elders too.
How much would you like to visit a restaurant situated on the top of a mountain?
If your answer is an eager yes, then make your way to Mount Ngongotaha, where the Stratosfare Restaurant rests like a king!
It is a much-visited part of Skyline Rotorua, that serves fresh and amazing dishes of locally sourced meat, seafood and produce.
But that’s not all – the restaurant also provides the perfect gastronomic experience, by the use of flame rotisserie, Art of the Grill chef station and cooked-to-order dishes, among others.
You can enjoy this delicious menu whilst sitting in an elegant setting - furnished with Italian marble, schist, timber and David Trubridge lights – that provides sweeping views of Lake Rotorua.
Even if it doesn’t seem like it, Rotorua is not exactly all about geothermal attractions.
One of the most visited manmade tourist spots happens to be Rotorua Museum.
Located in the Government Gardens – which is the centre of Rotorua - it is a museum and art gallery, dedicated to the vibrant local culture.
The collections are varied and equally amazing, including archives, vintage photographs, sculptures, arts, artifacts, geological samples – and so much more.
Standing in the former Bath House, it was closed five years ago due to not meeting the earthquake standards and is still closed today.
It is scheduled to reopen soon enough; till then events, educational programmes and free guided tours of the gorgeous Government Gardens are all yours to experience!
Velocity Valley Adventure Park
Formerly known as Agroventures Adventure Park, Velocity Valley Adventure Park is an amazing place where you get to experience the true meaning of adventure!
Even if you are a hesitant enthusiast or pro adventurist, the park has everything that will cater to your needs.
Some of the adventures include Swoop, a super swing; Agrojet, fastest jet sprint in New Zealand; Rotorua Bungy, the city’s only Bungy jump; Shweeb Racer, aerodynamic racing pods; Freestyle Airbag, New Zealand’s first bike airbag and the Freefall Xtreme, country’s only outdoor wind column.
The crew is skilled and helpful, making your visit safer but absolutely exhilarating!
The park provides a sensory experience that might get your heart racing but leaves you wanting more.
Hamurana Springs Nature Reserve
Hamurana Springs Nature Reserve, is a taonga, i.e.a treasure, possessed by Ngāti Rangiwewehi people.
And when you visit this ethereal place, it is easy to see why they call it taonga.
It was in the late 1800s when the land was first noticed by the influx of tourists in Rotorua.
The Iwi members then started taking these tourists through the features the reserve offers – and the rest is history.
To this date, it still remains a nature park and wildlife refuge wholly untouched by civilization, in addition to being predator-free!
One can take guided tours to experience the natural elements and cultural history, organize special occasions there, go to the golf course and even enjoy meals from the onsite bar and café.
Spas are always relaxing to visit – however, more so is a lakeside spa!
Not only Rotorua’s but also New Zealand’s original and own, Polynesian Spa offers a unique geothermal bathing experience.
The local Maori culture claims that bathing in these waters is therapeutic to your body – this idea was then picked up by a Catholic priest and the rest is history.
The spa, along with the usual facilities, utilizes two natural springs to sustain their 28 hot mineral pools, which come in two types, with acidic Priest Spring waters and with alkaline Rachel Spring waters.
The former is known to help with aches, pains and tired muscles, while the latter makes your skin healthy and glowing.
More importantly, the spa provides attractive offers and packages!
Once you enter the city, not only space, but even the air, informs you of the geothermal activity, which is a new but pleasant experience.
However, as you can see, Rotorua also has some amazing attractions which are not centred on geothermal activity, including spas, restaurants and adventure parks, among others.
Now that’s a perfect travel destination!