You know you've arrived in Rotorua when the smell of sulphur fills the air. This lakeside town on New Zealand’s North Island is built upon a hotbed gushing geysers and fizzing mud pools, held in high regard by the native Māori people who have inhabited the area for hundreds of years. Since Europeans settled here in the 19th century it has grown into a popular tourist destination, with good reason too. Rotorua combines anthropological and natural history like nowhere else in the country.
The most popular area to explore the amazing geothermal phenomenon of Rotorua is the Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland. Wai-O-Tapu means Sacred Waters in the Māori language, and this place certainly is somethings special. Wander through an ever-changing landscape of unique volcanic features while local guides explain how these colourful geothermal attractions came to be. The famous Lady Knox Geyser is found within the area, which sporadically erupts every day up to heights of 20 metres! Over in Te Puia’s Whakarewarewa Valley you’ll find the even more impressive Pohutu Geyser, which towers 30 metres high and lets off steam at least a few times a day. Even if you just step outside your hotel and take a stroll around the town of Rotorua you’ll come across plenty of geysers, and you won't have to pay an entry fee to see them!
New Zealand was originally settled by Polynesians long before Europeans discovered the islands, but their culture was steadily eroded during the days of colonisation. Rotorua is one of few places left in New Zealand where Māori tradition is strong and still lives on. Around 35% of the population here is Māori, and the Tamaki Māori Village provides visitors with a rare glimpse of the Māori’s traditional way of life. Undeveloped and preserved as a historical sight, there are no luxury developments or flash hotels springing up to cash in on the popularity of this ancient settlement. Explore the village, experience ceremonial rituals and listen to stories that have been passed down through the generations!
Possibly the most overlooked natural attraction of Rotorua is the amazing lake that the city takes its name from. Covering an area of almost 80 square kilometres, Lake Rotorua is the North Island’s second biggest lake, formed by the crater left after the collapse of an ancient volcano. The lake may look calm, but beneath the surface, geothermal activity continues, and the sulphur in the water gives it a fascinating mixed colour of green and blue. There are plenty of hotels with a lake view in Rotorua, and the waters provide great opportunities for fishing if you fancy trying to hook yourself a rainbow trout! If relaxing in a hot spring sounds more appealing then head over to Lake Rotoiti and the Manupirua Springs Hot Pools, which are only accessible by boat. To arrange transport there, ask at your hotel reception for a local water taxi to take you.
Despite all the natural wonders to see in Rotorua, the city has developed a burgeoning gambling scene that has earned it the nickname of RotoVegas! Take a stroll along Fenton Street after the sun has set and let your eyes soak up the bright neon lights that line the sidewalk. It’s on and around this street that the majority of hotels, motels, and bars are in Rotorua, earning it the reputation of being the strip. Even if you don’t fancy a flutter it’s worth a look, but if you’re feeling lucky then Mo’s Bar and Casino is a great place to start. As long you don't set your expectations too high you’re sure to have some fun, just don't imagine it to be anything like the inimitable Las Vegas!
If there is one local dish that you simply must try while in Rotorua then it’s a Hāngi dinner. The word Hāngi actually pertains to the way the food is cooked rather than the food itself. Hāngi is a traditional Maori method of cooking a feast, by digging a pit in the ground, lighting a fire to heat stones, and then adding wrapped up food on top of the stones before covering it all for a few hours. Ingredients are not strictly set, but usually include meat like chicken and pork along with cabbage, sweet potato, pumpkin, plus rēwena parāoa , a type of sourdough potato bread. If it’s not on your hotel restaurant menu then head out to find it elsewhere!