Welcome to the land of spectacular geysers, steaming hot springs and exploding mud pools: Rotorua’s magnificent range of sulphur-rich thermal baths is mind-blowing. 35 per cent of Rotorua’s population is Māori, their cultural shows and traditional hangi being as attractive as the geothermal wonders
Geologists delight in Rotorua’s location in the middle of the Taupo Volcanic Zone, named after Lake Taupo and Taupo Volcano, the largest in the area.
A walk around the city could well mean you stumble across its numerous natural vents, hot pools and other geothermal features, adding a unique aspect to your city tour. Many are confined to the parks and reserves while nature’s eruptions of hot water, steam and mud may occasionally emerge in new locations.
If you are new to this surreal part of New Zealand, here’s a selection of wonders to experience in and around Rotorua:
Choose from fourteen lakes in the Rotorua area: an obvious choice may be Lake Rotorua which gives its name to the city, where you can take a boat trip to Mokoia Island or a stroll along the scenic lakefront walkway. For something a little more adventurous, you might like float above the lake in a float plane or a helicopter. A more cost-effective option is to take the Amphibious truck from Fenton Street which provides an exciting, 90-minute tour of the main lakes in the area.
Head approximately 20 kilometres out of Rotorua towards Tauranga and you will reach the end of Lake Rotoiti into which some 14 lakes flow. Rotoiti then heads off to the Bay of Plenty via a range of spectacular white water rapids, ideal for intrepid travellers.
If you prefer to stay on dry land, there’s a pleasant six kilometre walk to be done alongside the Okere Falls. It takes you across the forest and to enjoy great views of the rapids and the waterfalls. Look out for the remnants of a previous century power station and some small caves inhabited by glow worms.
Motutara (Sulphur Bay)
Walk this fantastic walkway which begins just before the government gardens taking you past several sulphur vents and hot springs – but take heed of the sign-posted warnings to stay on the pathway at all times; they are no joke! Aside from the geothermal views, the bay itself hosts a multitude of water fowl and other wildlife.
Also known as The Redwoods, this is where in around 1900 New Zealand began a programme of planting imported trees to see which species grew best in New Zealand. The result is a 6-hectare grove of majestic redwoods. To take it all in, tackle the spectacular walks, mountain bike and horse riding trails over 60 kilometres
Waimangu Volcanic Valley
Just 20 minutes’ drive south of Rotorua takes you to a natural paradise. The massive eruption of Mt Tarawera in 1886 brought about the world’s newest geothermal eco-system, making it a dramatic and exciting scene. There’s something to suit all fitness levels, from self-guided and easy guided walks to more advanced hikes and boat cruises lasting anything from 45 minutes to over 4 hours. Ideal for witnessing unique ecology, rare botany and incredible geothermal features, Waimangu is a must.
Home to more of Rotorua’s bubbling mud pools and geysers, Te Puia sits in the Whakarewarewa Valley where you can take guided tours through the park, including the geothermal areas, the Māori community marae, and the kiwi house. You can also witness Maori cultural activities such as traditional dances and meals.
The Buried Village
As the name implies, the village was covered in ash by the nearby Mount Tarawera in the massive 1886 eruption which killed 153 people. The Buried Village is open to visit and hauntingly takes you through its excavated ruins. You can also view a recreated cottage and a museum showcasing recovered relics, taking you back to one of New Zealand’s most violent volcanic eruptions.
Lake Tarawera water taxi and eco-tours
Since Mount Tarawera’s eruption, the landscape of Lake Tarawera changed dramatically over the years. Now it boasts re-vegetated New Zealand bush which grows alongside the steaming geothermal waters. The hot water beach at Lake Tarawera has to be seen and swum in to be believed. Access it by walking the Tarawera Trail, a 15 kilometre hike or a 20 minute water taxi ride across the lake.
Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland
This is often regarded as New Zealand’s most colourful and diverse geothermal attraction. Enter a unique natural landscape where what you see lies below the surface in one of the most extensive geothermal systems in New Zealand. Follow the clearly defined tracks, each with their own jaw-droppingly magnificent volcanic vistas.
The Polynesian Spa
Once you’ve explored all the wonders of Rotorua, why not rest those bones in a relaxing, hot mineral spring bath or indulge in spa therapies as you admire the fabulous lakeside views? Voted a World Top Ten Spa by Conde Nast Traveller magazine at the 2004-2007 and 2009 Annual Spa Awards, this is one of the most deluxe spa experiences you may ever experience.