Everything you’ve heard about Rotorua’s lush landscape, rich indigenous Māori culture, somewhat distinctive aroma, and bubbling geothermal activity is all true — and it’s absolutely stunning. No wonder the North Island of New Zealand is considered one of the country’s most beautiful city and lakes districts. Plus, there’s also some great wine to drink, so if you have yet to consider it for your travel bucket list, read on for our top picks in this unique destination and discover what to see and do in this breathtaking natural wonderland.
See: Waimangu Volcanic Valley
A hotbed of volcanic activity, Rotorua is home to several geothermal attractions, one of which is Waimangu (‘black water’ in Māori), Volcanic Valley. Created by the devastating volcanic eruption of Mount Tarawera in 1886, Waimangu is now the world’s youngest geothermal site and the ecology adventure you’ve been looking for. Whether you prefer to walk, hike or cruise through the valley, the mysterious views of steaming craters, the world’s largest hot spring at a scorching 55 degrees (we recommend not to swim), and turbulent geysers are sure to keep you immersed. Make sure you download the Waimangu App on your phone to uncover hidden info about the valley as you tour through.
Waimangu Volcanic Valley, 587 Waimangu Road, Off State Highway 5, Rotorua 3043, New Zealand; +64 7 366 6137
Do: Tamaki Māori Village
It begins with hongi — a traditional and meaningful Māori greeting where two people touch their noses and foreheads together — before you really get to grips with New Zealand and its indigenous people. If you really want to immerse yourself in its deep-rooted heritage, then head to Tamaki Maori Village, an award-winning cultural site situated in the thick of an ancient Tawa forest. They offer travellers a peek into the world of the Māori with some incredible performances depicting its ancient warriors, ceremonial rituals such as the haka war dance, storytelling and hāngī, or cooking in an underground pit oven.
Tamaki Maori Village, 1220 Hinemaru Street, Rotorua City, Rotorua 3040, New Zealand; +64 7-349 2999
Stay: Treetops Lodge & Estate
Exuding a rustic elegance in the centre of 2,500 private acres of native forest and rolling hills, Treetops Lodge & Estate is the ultimate wildness retreat in Rotorua. The villas themselves are undeniably charming and surrounded by a private game reserve as well as seven trout streams and four lakes to explore. There are also numerous outdoor activities to choose to partake in, including hiking, mountain biking, fishing, archery, clay pigeon shooting, or even hunting — it’s all doable at Treetops. But if watching wildlife is more your bag, it’s recommended to trek through the estate on horseback and catch a glimpse of wild deer, buffalo, alpacas, pheasants and more as they freely roam the estate.
Treetops Lodge & Estate, 351 Kearoa Road, RD1, Horohoro, Rotorua, New Zealand; +64 7 333 2066
Eat: Local Produce (and Urbano Bistro)
In all honesty, the restaurant scene in Rotorua isn’t exactly thriving, but there is some fantastic local produce to try — even at the lodges or estates you stay at. Don’t forget to sample fresh venison, lamb, lake trout and honey, just to name a few of them. If you’re in need of an off-property dining destination, then we recommend Urbano. With a casual café set-up by day, and bistro-style vibe by night, the restaurant is a welcome spot with some alfresco seating serving up coffee, burgers, hearty mains and generous breakfasts.
Urbano, 89 Fenton St, Glenholme, Rotorua 3010, New Zealand; +64 7-349 3770
Drink: Volcanic Hills Winery
There are many reasons to love this New World wine country, and some of these reasons include sauvignon blanc, pinot noir, chardonnay, pinot gris, and merlot. If you are a lover of fermented grapes, we suggest you drink at the Volcanic Hills Winery in Rotorua. The wine at Volcanic Hills is made at the base of the hill from grapes sourced across New Zealand’s main wine regions. You need to take the skyline gondola to reach the tasting room, but when you get there it’s worth it. You’ll not only be able to sample a selection of its best vintages, but you’ll also be able to take in incredible lake views from above, too.
Volcanic Hills Winery, 176 Fairy Springs Road, Rotorua 3015, New Zealand; +64 7-282 2018
There seems to be an endless list of natural attractions to visit in Rotorua, but another that is an absolute must is Huka Falls. Here, you’ll not only see the powerful phenomenon of this waterfall, but you’ll also hear its thundering roar from afar. And for the thrill-seekers, there are even jet boats that can take you up close, too.