Rotorua is a rare location in every way. Sitting in the midst of an active geothermal zone, it has huge crater lakes, dormant volcanic cones, geysers, boiling mud pools and steaming silica terraces. Humans have been enjoying this remarkable landscape for more than 600 years. In more recent times, the amazing geographical attractions have been complemented by all kinds of adventurous things to do, including the chance to explore Māori culture.
Te Ara Ahi is part of New Zealand's national cycle trail - it leads from the CBD to Waikite Hot Pools, with free geothermal attractions along the way.
Where to go and what to see in Rotorua
The geothermal city of Rotorua will captivate you with a fascinating menu of volcanic phenomena, Māori culture, health-enhancing spa treatments and thrilling outdoor adventures. At the end of every action-packed day, you can sink into the cosy embrace of a naturally-heated spa pool.
Māori culture is part of everyday life
Rotorua is the tribal home of the Te Arawa people, who settled in lakeside geothermal areas more than 600 years ago. Today many of Rotorua's local Māori people still live and work alongside the region's natural wonders. Their tradition of guiding and sharing their cultural heritage, at places like Te Puia and Whakarewarewa Village, has been passed down through the generations and you'll find it expressed with true warmth and energy.
Around the city you'll notice maraes (Māori community centres) with ornately carved meeting houses. Staying the night on a Māori marae is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. It involves story-telling, dance performances, delicious traditional food cooked in a hāngi (underground oven) and lots of laughs.
There are many other ways to embrace Māori culture in Rotorua, including paddling across the big lake in a carved waka (traditional canoe) and visiting Tamaki Māori Village, where you'll jump back in time to how things were before European settlers arrived. The New Zealand Māori Arts and Crafts Institute at Te Puia offers another rich cultural experience, where you can watch master craftspeople pass on their weaving, carving and tattooing skills to young Māori men and women.
Hot pools, spas and wellness
As you'd expect in a region that's so in touch with the earth's core, there are hot pool complexes and spa retreats everywhere you go. Your accommodation might even come with a private hot pool, where the water is heated naturally by running pipes through the hot ground.
Rotorua's reputation as a spa destination dates back more than 160 years to when The Pink and White Terraces (destroyed in an eruption in 1886) were considered the 8th wonder of the world. Travellers were drawn to the town by the therapeutic waters and mud baths.
To experience all the elements of Rotorua's spa culture in one place, head for the famous Polynesian Spa. There are 28 hot mineral pools here, including private pools that you can have all to yourself. The views across Lake Rotorua are magnificent. This spa also offers health and wellness treatments, including relaxation massage, facials and mud body wraps.
At Hell's Gate, one of the city's geothermal parks, you can relax in a geothermally-heated outdoor mud bath. Choices include black mud, white mud or grey mud - each has different therapeutic qualities.
Another back-to-nature hot pool experience can be found at Waikite Valley Thermal Pools, which has a variety of pools ranging from 36 to 40°C. Here you can follow a trail to Te Manaroa Spring, the largest natural source of boiling water in New Zealand.
Unforgettable family adventures
Rotorua is one of New Zealand's top family holiday destinations. It has thrills and fun for every age group, including many activities that can be shared.
As a group you can race luge carts down Mount Ngongotaha, shouting and laughing all the way; watch a live falconry display at Wingspan National Bird of Prey Centre, where some of you might even get to hold a falcon; zip through the forest on a canopy tour, an experience that even six-year-olds can enjoy; or blast across Lake Rotorua on a V8-powered jet boat.
Some of Rotorua's fun is just plain crazy. Have you ever rolled down hill inside a huge clear plastic ball? Tried drift-carting? Or driven across a lake in an amphibious vehicle? Almost anything is possible in Rotorua, a city that has been entertaining families since 1883.
Mountain biking, from mild to wild
Biking is big here and it stretches from one side of the region to the other. Check out the 19km route through the Lake Okataina Scenic Reserve, the 7km Rainbow Mountain loop and the massive 48km Te Ara Ahi, which is part of New Zealand's national cycle trail - it leads from the CBD to Waikite Hot Pools, with free geothermal attractions along the way.
The Redwoods in Whakarewarewa Forest is a must-do destination for mountain biking, whether you like to putter along at sightseeing pace or shred the trails at maximum speed. The 130km trail network has been carefully crafted to provide riders of all abilities with a great time and the free-draining volcanic soils keep mud to a minimum. Tall native ferns cover the forest floor beneath the giant trees, creating a cool, green landscape that's about as gorgeous as it gets.
If you're really serious about your mountain biking, Crankworx Rotorua is a five-day MTB festival you won't want to miss. It happens in March, when Rotorua's weather is reliably fine and dry.
Best time to visit Rotorua
Geothermal attractions are the main reason to visit Rotorua, and these are bubbling and hissing all year round. But we'll let you into a secret: the colder temperatures of winter make everything steamier and more mysterious! Rainfall is spread evenly throughout the year, so biking and hiking are activities for any season. Summer's average high is 27°C; winter's average high is 16°C.
How much will it cost
This will depend on your tastes and what you want to do. As a rough guide, not including air travel and hotels, you should allow about NZD $150 to $200 a day per person for food and entertainment.
There are no mandatory vaccinations required for visitors to New Zealand.