An Explorer's Guide to Rotorua: 10 Must Do Things - Updated 2024

An Explorer's Guide to Rotorua: 10 Must Do Things - Updated 2024
| 6 min read

Located southeast of Auckland, the city of Rotorua, otherwise known to locals as Sulfur City, is famous for its geothermal activity and heritage trails, attracting both a domestic and international crowd. With 17 lakes in the region, the area is also popular for fishing, waterskiing, and other water-based activities.

A vibrant city that promises to satisfy the needs of travellers, Rotorua morphs from a top-class thermal spa destination to an adventurer’s playground. With world-class thermal spas and mountain trails, what more could a traveller ask for? While planning a trip to Rotorua can often be daunting for first-time visitors, it is definitely a place worth visiting, especially for its bubbling mud pools, dramatic geysers, and therapeutic hot springs. Find out the top 10 things you can get down and dirty doing in New Zealand’s Rotorua:

1. Have a good soak at the Polynesian Spa

New Zealand: Polynesian Thermal Spa in Rotorua
Source: Photo by user Eli Duke used under CC BY-SA 2.0

Famous for the natural geothermal activity in the area, Rotorua’s Polynesian Spa is a world-class, natural hot mineral sanctuary.

The geothermal waters that fill the pools are known to nourish dry skin, relieve those aching muscles, and ease joint pains. Nestled on the shores of Lake Rotorua, the epicentre of geothermal activity, you can experience the true meaning of relaxation from its powerful healing waters.

The 27 hot mineral pools at the spa have water channelled from the two natural springs that lie nearby. Dip yourself into the slightly acidic water of Priest Spring to relieve tired muscles, or alternatively swap for the alkaline water of Rachel Spring to bring back the firmness and nourishment of your skin.

Do note that it is not advised to wear silver jewellery as it will tarnish easily in the pH-changing water.

Polynesian Spa

Address: 1000 Hinemoa Street, Rotorua, New Zealand

Price: from 26 USD

Duration: around 2 hours required

Contact: 0508 765 977

Website: Polynesian Spa

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2. Have fun zorbing down the hill (from 18.51 USD)

NZ 161
Source: Photo by user melissa used under CC BY-ND 2.0

If you’re more interested in something adventurous and fun with plenty of screaming involved, zorbing might be your thing.

Sit in a giant inflatable globe filled with water and be pushed down three different slopes. It is so much fun in the summer that you can’t help but want to go again! With up to two people inside the giant ball, pushing into each other as you roll down the hill is inevitable, but fun, so give it a go and try getting topsy turvy with this simple but enjoyable activity!

Zorb Zydro

Price: from 18.51 USD

Duration: Flexible


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3. Experience an adrenaline rush with tandem skydiving

Tandem skydive
Source: iStock

Fancy free-falling from a staggering height of 12,000 feet (3,658 metres)?

Appealing for, but not limited to, younger millennials, tandem skydiving is becoming a popular trend among New Zealand’s adventurous youths and thrill-seeking visitors.

Worried that skydiving might require a license? Tandem skydiving requires no prior experience for the adrenaline rush because you will have a professional with you on the dive down! Enjoy the views of of towering volcanoes, boiling mud pools, and blowing geysers as you make your ay back down to earth.

If an adrenaline-filled journey is your thing, get ready to step out of that aircraft door, strong winds blowing in your face, and go! Probably the most unique thing in your entire trip, plummet towards the ground at 200 kilometres per hour (124 miles per hour) for a good 25 seconds, and have the best time of your life!

Skydive Taupo

Address: 26A Anzac Memorial Drive Taupo 3330

Price: from 249 USD

Duration: around 1 hour required

Website: Skydive Taupo

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4. Look up at the night sky from the top of Mt. Ngongotaha

Starry night sky over Queenstown N.Zealand - the Southern Cross constellation and a meteor streak was visible. Taken with a tiny point & shoot
Source: Photo by user PsJeremy used under CC BY 2.0

Named as one of the best places in New Zealand for stargazing, visiting Mt. Ngongotaha at night time is sure to captivate you.

The reduced light pollution in the area enhances the stargazing experience, and the surrounding mountains keep the low clouds away, making for a great star-watching spot. The clarity and sharpness is considered unparalleled by any other spot on the North Island.

What are you waiting for? If you’re headed to Rotorua, pack your stargazing gear, some food, and a tent, and get ready to be starry eyed and dazzled!

Mt. Ngongotaha

Address: Western Heights, Rotorua 3015, New Zealand

Duration: around 4 hours required

Website: Mt Ngongotaha

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5. Hike Rainbow Mountain

Rainbow Mountain
Source: Photo by user itravelNZ® - New ... used under CC BY 2.0

Rainbow Mountain lies about 26 kilometres (16.2 miles) from Rotorua.

Take a nice hike up to the vantage point and viewing platform where you can’t help but feel amazed and on top of the world with the stunning panoramic 360-degree views.

Easily navigable, there are information panels displayed on the dual-purpose walking and biking trails. As you make your way up to the summit, learn about the history of the local tribe, the area, and the nearby attractions.

Take a slight detour to the Emerald Lake where you can see some of the most greenish-blue waters in the world. Look out for some thermally active areas, and be careful not to go too near to them; follow the safe path and continue hiking your way to the vantage point!

Rainbow Mountain

Address: SH 5, Rotorua, New Zealand

Duration: around 4 hours required

Contact: +64 7 349 7400

Website: Rainbow Mountain

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6. Explore the hills on horseback (from USD 46.0)

Horseback riding
Source: Trip101

Known for its rugged territory, many locals would tell you that there is no better way to explore the natural landscape than on horseback.

Beaches, snow-capped volcanoes, hills, and native forests are the best places to get on a horse and start exploring. With no prior experience needed to ride on these tame majestic beasts, hop on one and get moving!

Normally a guide will take up to 5 people in a group and bring you up hills where you can enjoy the bird’s eye views of Rotorua. See the thermal activity in the distance and Lake Rotorua nearby. It is an amazing way to explore and definitely a different experience than sitting in a car driving by the sites.

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Rotorua 1-Hour Horseback Wilderness Tour

Duration: 1 hour

135 reviews

7. Go whitewater rafting on the Kaituna River (from USD 79.0)

Large inflatable boat going down Tutea Falls (Kaituna River)
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Pseudopanax used under PUBLIC DOMAIN

Another one for the adrenaline junkies, the Kaituna River is possibly your best bet at getting a true New Zealand whitewater rafting experience.

Considered the world’s most commercially rafted waterfall, standing at 6 / 7 metres (19.7 / 23 feet), the Kaituna River is a whitewater enthusiast’s dream come true. With 14 heart-stopping drops, two waterfalls, and some swirling rapids, your 50-minute experience will cover all the adrenaline rushes you need.

While there is little time to explore the steep and narrow canyon, you can be sure that this might be one of the most thrilling whitewater-rafting experiences of your life!

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Kaituna River White Water Rafting from Rotorua

Duration: 3 hours

343 reviews

8. Take a helicopter to see New Zealand's only active marine volcano (from 640.29 USD)

Source: Photo by user Adam Selwood used under CC BY 2.0

Probably the most expensive thing to do on this list, it is definitely worth it to experience a floatplane or helicopter rush through the air and show you the sights of New Zealand’s only active volcano. It’s truly remarkable!

With the possibility of landing on White Island, you can experience walking around the active crater floor. Just like how astronauts must feel when they land on a new planet, you can feel yourself floating around too!

As the helicopter ascends to the skies again, take in the panoramic views in the distance, with the Lake District shining bright and the geothermal playground of Rotorua coming to life.

Helicopter Tour of White Island

Price: from 640.29 USD

Duration: around 2.5 - 3 hours required


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9. Visit Tamaki Maori Village (from USD 159.0)

Tamaki Maori Village, Rotorua (482783)
Source: Photo by user Robert Linsdell used under CC BY 2.0

An amazing attraction that gives you insights into Maori life in a traditional village, Tamaki Maori Village is a purpose-built replica done up to entertain and educate.

Bringing you back in time to a place where nature was the only resource, the people of the Maori Village made use of the natural surroundings to create weaponry, entertainment, and cooked food.

Demonstrating the famous Haka, the people of the replica village will show you how it’s done right and explain why the chanting was created. Spoiler alert: people were intimidated by the loud chanting and painted faces; avoiding battles and fights was the Maori people’s best defence!

Enjoy the show and the tour, learn about the people of New Zealand’s past and savour some of their famous hangi (traditional way that Maori’s cook food using hot rocks in an oven pit) pie!

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Evening Maori Dinner and Entertainment Experience in Rotorua

Duration: 4 hours

1126 reviews

10. Watch the expert shear sheep at the Agrodome Sheep Show (from USD 37.0)

Agrodome Sheep Show Rotorua NZ
Source: Photo by user Teacher Traveler used under CC BY-SA 2.0

Great for little kids or first-timers to Rotorua, the Agrodome Farm Experience is a one-of-a-kind tour.

Only 10 minutes from Rotorua city, immerse yourself in a farmland experience. Watch the expert sheep shearer take off a sheep’s top coat in under 3 minutes. With those sharp skills, he / she can tackle any sized sheep on the farm.

Starring a cast of amazingly talented animals and shearers, the farm is one of New Zealand’s must-visit attractions. Add on the Back Country Adventure to sit back, relax and enjoy the 350 acres (141.6 hectares) of farmland roll past you as you travel in a 4WD Yamaha Viking.

Catch the sheep-herding demonstration by the lovely sheep-dogs who will steal your love and hearts in a flash!

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Agrodome Farm Experience including Farm Show and Farm Tour - Rotorua

Duration: 2 hours 30 minutes

126 reviews

Rest, run, roll, repeat!

Offering a great mixture of adventure, relaxation, and historical explorations, Rotorua is a top destination for everyone.

Whether you enjoy jumping out of a plane and free-falling through the skies, or taking a stunning once-in-a-lifetime helicopter ride through an active volcano, there is no experience in Rotorua that can be called a waste. So go forth and enjoy Rotorua, the geothermal playground for all!

Any must-sees we missed? Tell us about them in the comments section or write a post here to help out fellow travelers!
Disclosure: Trip101 selects the listings in our articles independently. Some of the listings in this article contain affiliate links.


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Amber is a content writer at Trip101 and has a passion for travelling to unique destinations around Southeast Asia. A faithful believer of unicorns and all things animal, she can be considered a...Read more

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