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25 photos to inspire you to visit Rotorua

visit Rotorua

Rotorua is one of those places in New Zealand that I’d passed through a few times visiting people but never actually took the time to slow down and explore on my own. I have so many places like that on my neverending travel list, I am hoping to really take a step back this year and get to know them better.

After all, why shouldn’t we be able to stop and smell the roses? Or in Rotorua’s case, the sulfuric geothermal steam?

Known for its geysers, mud pools and bubbling lakes, Rotorua is a figurative and literal hot spot for tourists in New Zealand. But like with all my travels, I wanted to avoid the more well-known “Rotovegas” in exchange to get to know its secret spots and hidden gems. Visiting in the spring meant it was peaceful, warm, verdant and just plain lush, an amazing combination.

I have so many stories to share from recent trip, but I wanted to start by introducing this magical place through 25 of my favorite photos from my trip there this spring to inspire you to visit Rotorua. Enjoy!

visit Rotorua

Spend half a day wandering around the Waimangu Volcanic Valley

Rotorua is home to some amazing geothermal activity, and there are plenty of geothermal parks to chose from to visit. I first visited the Waimangu Volcanic Valley way back when in 2013 and couldn’t wait to return three years later. More quiet and spread out than some of its counterparts in the area, it seems to be it’s only little national park filled with stunning scenery and epic views.

It’s a little park which means you should give yourself a few hours to spend there walking and exploring.

One of the youngest geothermal parks in the world, it was created 130 years ago when the nearby Mount Tarawera erupted. Now there are several lake-filled craters filled with boiling and steaming water of various colors hidden amongst lush native plants and forest transporting you to another age.

Yes, you basically feel like you are in jurassic park here.

visit Rotorua

visit Rotorua

visit Rotorua

Join in on a kiwi tour at Rainbow Springs

Perhaps a side of Rotorua that not many people know about is it’s commitment to conservation, especially of the bird kind. It’s also one of the few places in New Zealand where you can have a kiwi experience over at Rainbow Springs Nature Park. Kiwi are New Zealand’s iconic endangered native bird, flightless and nocturnal, they are relics of a bygone age and they have suffered greatly when humans introduced predator animals to New Zealand.

In New Zealand 95% of kiwi born in the wild WILL DIE mostly due to stoats and dogs – and if we don’t intervene, the Brown Kiwi will be extinct within 2 generations. How terrible is that? But luckily Rotorua is the lead kiwi hatchery in New Zealand, letting them grow big enough that they can defend themselves when they are released back where they were found. They’ve hatched over 1500 eggs over the years!

If you find yourself in Rotorua, be sure to head over to Rainbow Springs and join in one of the behind the scenes kiwi encounter tours of the hatchery, and if you’re lucky you might even see a newborn kiwi or even one hatching!

visit Rotorua

Explore the rest of Rainbow Springs while you’re at it

And while you’re visiting the kiwi, be sure to explore the rest of Rainbow Springs and get to know New Zealand’s native wildlife. With a deep commitment to conservation, it’s the perfect introduction to any trip to New Zealand and a great place to explore if you’re in town to learn about the amazing animal history here.

visit Rotorua

A chubby kereru hiding away, New Zealand’s native wood pigeon

visit Rotorua

Go for a walk amongst the Redwoods

Yes, for some reason Rotorua is home to some magnificent Redwoods forests. Next to town, the Whakarewarewa Forest is a magical place worth visiting for walks and is very well known for its epic mountain biking.

Now there is a brand new tree walk that gets you up amongst the canopy in a series of connected swing bridges that help share the story of the place. Give yourself at least a half an hour and if you go first thing in the morning, it’s all yours.

visit Rotorua

visit Rotorua

Go for a soak at the spa

You can’t visit Rotorua and not go for a dip at one of the many hot springs and pools around.

Growing up, I was never one of those people that enjoyed massages or hot pools, but OH MY GOD how times have changed. Now I actively look for hot pools when I am traveling, which means I clearly need to move to Rotorua stat.

I stopped by the classic Polynesian Spa downtown a few times but preferred in the morning when I had the place to myself. With dozens of amazing pools of all types of water and temperatures with great views of the lake, it’s the place to be, especially on a rainy day.

visit Rotorua

Standing in awe of Mt. Tarawera

Quite possibly my favorite place in Rotorua, Tarawera is not actually in the town itself, rather a small little community down the road of mostly crumbly holiday homes and baches on the shores of Lake Tarawera. A sleepy village that made me feel like I was in the 70’s, it had a vibe about that kept drawing me back there, especially with the legendary volcano Mt. Tarawera looming over it in the distance.

Responsible for one of the biggest eruptions in New Zealand, this volcano is steeped in myth and history. Violently erupting in 1886, it buried multiple towns nearby, changed the face of the Rotorua landscape and killed 120 people. It also buried or destroyed the world famous Pink and White terraces, which until that year had been one of New Zealand’s main attractions.

Nowadays it’s a spiritual place filled with historical and cultural significance.

visit Rotorua

visit Rotorua

Prepare to be wowed at Hamurana Springs

Tucked away on the other side of the lake, there is a magical forest walk that takes you to one of the most beautiful freshwater springs I’ve ever seen. Like I literally had to rub my eyes to make sure I wasn’t imagining it.

Hamurana Springs is the deepest freshwater spring on the North Island at 15 meters deep. It’s an easy walk there through a stunning patch of Redwoods. It was the kind of place that I thought I would be there for maximum an hour and ended up being there for three.

There is just something so pleasant about sitting amongst such giants while gazing at trickling water that is so blue it looks dyed.

visit Rotorua

visit Rotorua

visit Rotorua

visit Rotorua

Go for dinner at the Skyline Gondola in town

I’m not one for more packaged tourism but even I was wowed by the views at the Skyline Gondola in Rotorua. Heading up at sunset, I was impressed at the views out over town and the lake, not to mention the epic bike trails and forest around the Gondola, reminding me of the one in Queenstown.

Tucking in for the most epic buffet dinner at the Stratosfare Restaurant, make sure to come up before the sun goes down, bring your camera and an empty stomach.

visit Rotorua

Rest your head at the Black Swan Hotel

There are some great boutique and luxury hotels and lodges if you visit Rotorua, and the Black Swan was no exception. A beautiful property with one of the best gardens I’ve ever seen at a hotel, it’s the perfect place for those looking for a boutique spot to sleep on a beautiful piece of land on the lake.

Make sure you give yourself enough time to spend at the property itself, especially at the spa pools in the garden.

visit Rotorua

Check out the highest commercially rafted waterfall in the world on the Kaituna River

Just on the other side of Lake Rotorua you’ll find the amazing little community of Okere Falls. Be sure to stop at the quirky Okere Falls Store for a snack or a beer before heading out to a walk or two in the area. It’s so quaint and lush out here, if definitely doesn’t feel like you’re in Rotorua anymore.

Go for a walk on the Okere Falls Track to see some of the beautiful waterfalls and forest. If you’re lucky you might even get the chance to see some brave kayakers or rafters go over the falls (not me, not this time). You can even go too.

visit Rotorua

Get your farm on at the Agrodome

I am not sure what attracted me to the Agrodome in Rotorua for a farm tour. Oh that’s right, they have alpacas, and you know how I feel about them i.e. they are my spirit animal.

The Agrodome farm tours are cheesy as hell, no two ways about it, but they are also pretty damn impressive. Sometimes you just have to embrace being a typical tourist. But if you want to learn about sheep and farm life in New Zealand, which is a PRETTY big part of the history and culture here, then stop by.

If you manage to visit in the spring, you’ll be able to cuddle some of these adorable orphan lambs, which is where I spent most of my time there. Until I remembered I ate lamb for dinner the night before AND loved it. Bad Liz, very bad.

visit Rotorua

Go for a drive to the surrounding lakes

Rotorua in Māori means “second lake,” of many lakes in the nearby region of the Bay of Plenty. You should probably have a car if you want to properly visit Rotorua and its surrounds which means you’ll be able to check out all of the nearby 18 lakes.

Spend a day driving between them all and taking them in, going for walks and even for a swim if you can. The forest around them is filled with amazing native trees and bush, and are lush with ferns.

Many of them feel like classic kiwi holiday spots with old-style baches, local cafes and hidden gems waiting to be found.

visit Rotorua

Stuff your face at Atticus Finch

Hands down, one of the best meals I’ve had in ages. Do not visit Rotorua and miss out on a meal at Atticus Finch.

Obviously I was going to love a To Kill a Mockingbird themed restaurant no matter where it is or what it serves, but this one was amazing.

visit Rotorua

Enjoy the green spaces in town too

Rotorua has so much to offer, but make sure to take the time to explore the downtown, go for a walk and enjoy the beautiful green spaces right in the city center. If you’re there in spring, there is an amazing tulip festival that happens otherwise head over to the botanical gardens on the lake. I went here almost every morning before the town woke up.

Have you ever been to Rotorua? Do you want to head here? What’s your favorite spot?

visit Rotorua

visit Rotorua

Many thanks to Visit Rotorua for hosting me on the North Island – like always I’m keeping it real, all opinions are my own, like you could expect less from me!

56 Responses to 25 photos to inspire you to visit Rotorua

  1. Kate Newman December 16, 2016 at 7:09 pm #

    Loooooooooove Rotorua, I thought it was stinky as hell when I first visited.. but Iceland definitely tops the list for the smelliest geothermal fields on earth. So amazing though, and they have delicious burgers at the Fat Dog Cafe too!

    • Liz December 17, 2016 at 6:16 am #

      They have good coffee there I didn’t get a burger, crap! next time!

  2. Zascha December 16, 2016 at 8:42 pm #

    A lot of the people I meet on my travels here in Asia are usually off to New Zealand (or Australia) next. And I honestly don’t blame them – it looks like a dream!

    • Liz December 17, 2016 at 6:16 am #

      It is!

  3. Megan A December 17, 2016 at 4:55 am #

    We were so underwhelmed by Rotorua (the town itself) when we visited a few years ago…I wish this post had been around before our visit! I will say, though, that doing a helicopter ride to White Island was truly a highlight of our time there. Hands down would recommend do that to anyone visiting the area. Doing the Luge was also pretty fun.

    • Liz December 17, 2016 at 6:16 am #

      I wish I could have gone to White Island, next time!

  4. Marilyn R. December 17, 2016 at 5:31 am #

    Thanks for all the beautiful pictures and commentary you post on your New Zealand travels. I wish I had done more traveling when I lived there. I’m glad you are not taking the beauty of the country for granted as I did 40 years ago.

    • Liz December 17, 2016 at 6:16 am #

      I’m grateful every day!

  5. Brianna December 17, 2016 at 5:42 am #

    Man, now I regret only having a few hours to see Rotorua. I’m especially bummed that I missed out on the tree walk in Whakarewarewa Forest! That looks so awesome. Is there a fee for that?

    • Liz December 17, 2016 at 6:17 am #

      I am not sure, it’s new

    • Spencer December 17, 2016 at 8:55 am #

      Yes there is. I think it’s $25.

  6. Stephanie Craig December 17, 2016 at 7:48 am #

    I love the photos of the fog! I’ve been working on getting better at photographing for, but I don’t have it down yet.

    • Liz December 17, 2016 at 11:41 am #

      It’s actually steam from the geothermal lake!

  7. Spencer December 17, 2016 at 8:54 am #

    Did you do the luge? Really fun. Rafting that waterfall is amazing. Were you on taking pictures on the road out to Rob Roy Glacier last week?

    • Liz December 17, 2016 at 11:42 am #

      I totally was haha!

      • Spencer December 18, 2016 at 6:43 am #

        Couldn’t get my friend to pull over. So close. Just added you on Instagram.

  8. Jennifer December 17, 2016 at 10:11 am #

    Beautiful pictures! After reading this blog post, it reminded me to appreciate nature more. The mountains and forest is stunning. 🙂

    • Liz December 17, 2016 at 11:42 am #

      They are aren’t they?

  9. Miss Kitty December 17, 2016 at 2:30 pm #

    I love Rotorua! It’s a place I know fairly well, living only a few hours away, so I’ve been there heaps, and still love it! But I don’t recommend going in summer, there’s too many other people around. Spring or autumn are definitely the best times to go. I don’t know if you’re into history, but I love the Buried Village of Te Wairoa, which was buried by the volcanic explosion of Mt Tarawera. It’s basically NZ’s version of Pompeii. I’ve been meaning to go back and visit again myself sometime, it’s years since I’ve been.

    Now you’ve ‘done’ Rotorua, please come to the Coromandel! But wait until March or April, the weather’s normally still nice and the crowds have gone. If you like spas, there’s Lost Spring in Whitianga which is gorgeous, and there’s Hot Water Beach. You would love the Pinnacles Trek too, I’m sure! And take the glass bottom boat out from Whitianga to the Marine Reserve, it’s absolutely gorgeous. 🙂

    • Liz December 18, 2016 at 7:13 am #

      I’ve been to the Coromandel many times I love it! I hope I can go back this summer! I missed the buried village on this trip but hope to go back!

  10. Nicholas Lim December 17, 2016 at 3:30 pm #

    I’ve drawn water straight from Hamurana Spring and it’s so pure.

    There are a couple more spots I liked when I worked a month there. Then there’s Ohinemutu, its whare and the church with aboveground tombs. Along the Kaituna river, at a spot after the rafters exit, you can dive into the water from an overhanging tree! And I drank craft beers in the Croucher brew pub on several evenings.

    • Liz December 18, 2016 at 7:14 am #

      Awesome! I have to go back and try them!

  11. Sarah December 17, 2016 at 10:35 pm #

    Rotorua was one of my favourite places when I visited NZ! I was the only person on the Rainbow Springs tour when I went there, and I got to have some one-on-one time with a 1-day-old baby kiwi in the hatchery. It was so special! It’s a beautiful town, with lovely people, and I still wish I’d had more than three days to spend there!

    • Liz December 18, 2016 at 7:14 am #

      oh wow that’s amazing!

  12. Kristin December 18, 2016 at 12:59 am #

    What a great blog. Your photos and details about your visits are so helpful. Can’t wait to go back and read about more places that you have visited.

    • Liz December 18, 2016 at 7:14 am #

      Thanks!

  13. Brubunce December 18, 2016 at 7:36 am #

    Love love love the pictures! Looks insanely beautiful! Would love to go there

    • Liz December 19, 2016 at 10:10 am #

      It really is beautiful!

  14. Leigh | Campfires & Concierges December 19, 2016 at 7:19 am #

    Ah, your photos of lush forests and gardens is so nice as I stare out the window at the polar vortex that descended on Chicago overnight. Thanks for the temporary escape!

    • Liz December 19, 2016 at 10:11 am #

      It’s so cold here hey?

  15. Charlotte December 19, 2016 at 10:03 am #

    Impressive pics and stories again! I so want to visit NZ when I have a proper income 🙂 Already imagine myself hiking those beautiful places…

    • Liz December 19, 2016 at 10:11 am #

      so amazing!

  16. Dani December 19, 2016 at 10:24 am #

    I was so excited to see this post, I’m heading to Rotorua in a couple of weeks and was looking for some recommendations that weren’t of the TripAdvisor variety! Your photos of the ponds are absolutely gorgeous, I can’t get enough of that blue colour. Hope you enjoyed!

    • Liz December 20, 2016 at 4:02 pm #

      Glad to help, have a good trip!

  17. Dordaneh December 19, 2016 at 11:18 pm #

    Dear Liz, this was so pleasant reading about Rotorua and seeing its wondeful landscapes. I would love to visit the red woods and the beautiful Kiwi birds 🙂

    • Liz December 20, 2016 at 4:02 pm #

      Thanks!

  18. Madi | Restless Worker December 20, 2016 at 5:20 am #

    Great photos as always Liz, you’re so lucky to have such beautiful destinations in your backyard!

    • Liz December 20, 2016 at 4:02 pm #

      Pinch me!

  19. Katrin@TravelGearDepot December 21, 2016 at 1:24 am #

    Going to New Zealandhas been om my bucket list for many years (and I better watch out so the years won’t pass me by and I never get to go there!) but I’ve never heard about Rotorua, isn’t that weird?

    I’ll probably try to find someplace cheaper than the Black Swan to stay (since I expect it is not on the cheaper side). What appeals to me the most is definitely the Humarana Springs and also the Redwood forests. Majestic beings, the redwoods!

    I will probably spend quite some time at Waimangu Volcanic Valley as well, I’ve never been to a geothermal park.

    Thank you for your inspiring photos, the post gave me kind of a kick in the butt to make sure I don’t miss out on this destination on my bucket list 🙂

    • Liz December 21, 2016 at 11:58 am #

      have a good trip!

  20. Rachel Kromdijk December 21, 2016 at 1:24 am #

    Amazing pictures, just love it!

    • Liz December 21, 2016 at 11:58 am #

      thank you!

  21. Petra December 21, 2016 at 8:33 am #

    We went on a 4WD trip and hike to the top of Mt Tarawera – totally recommend that. It was amazing! The colours in the crater, the views over the lake and across to the Bay of Plenty, as well as the awesome scree run into the crater were so cool. Also mountain biking in Rotorua is second to none. Such a cool spot!

    • Liz December 21, 2016 at 11:59 am #

      I totally want to go back and climb/visit Tarawera!

  22. rakul December 22, 2016 at 1:03 am #

    Very good place I think so to chill out and good photography explaining about each place

    Thank You.

    • Liz December 23, 2016 at 11:03 am #

      thanks!

  23. Crystal December 23, 2016 at 1:56 pm #

    I travelled to Rotorua just recently and I fell in love with the geo-thermal city as well. It’s so nice to see how somebody else saw the city while they were there. Makes me want to go back again!

    • Liz December 24, 2016 at 12:28 pm #

      it’s a pretty cool place, definitely worth going back to I reckon!

  24. Afzal Zaheer December 24, 2016 at 4:27 am #

    Hi Liz,
    If pictures says thousand words, it is because of how captivating and charismatic images you have actually in store for us.

    Of all the lovely images for my delight, the one with those cute little lambs seems to be the cutest too.

    • Liz December 24, 2016 at 12:29 pm #

      thanks!

  25. Clare C McKinlay January 6, 2017 at 11:04 am #

    Great post! I am moving from Scotland to Rotorua in a few weeks and this has made me very excited about our new home. We will be travelling in the South Island first, and seeing as much as possible at weekends, and your blog is a great inspiration – thanks!

    • Liz January 6, 2017 at 2:34 pm #

      Oh cool! Good luck with the move! Rotorua is so special!

  26. Carlos January 8, 2017 at 2:08 pm #

    I’ve traveled a lot to Central America, me being from Guatemala makes it easier for me to visit back home and take drives to neighboring countries but I want to travel over seas soon to look beyond. The images I saw here are amazing and it reminds me a lot of home, when would be a good time to purchase a plane ticket to visit New Zealand? and how can I make it to this location I am curious on where exactly its located.

    • Liz January 9, 2017 at 1:23 pm #

      Rotorua is on the north island

  27. Michaela January 24, 2017 at 12:16 pm #

    I stumbled on to your blog and it’s fantastic. I’m a single traveler heading to New Zealand in May. I unfortunately only have a day in Rotoura and I would love opinion on what to do. Everything in this post is amazing but I fear I’ll only be able to pick one. Thank you so much for your help!!!!

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