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As a part of our Honeymoon to New Zealand & Fiji, we first landed into Auckland. After completing a day trip from Auckland by visiting Muriwai Beach & Coramandel Peninsula, we were off to Fiji the next day. Once we returned from Fiji to New Zealand, we had directly landed in Rotorua, home to geothermal parks & Hot springs! That’s how our tryst with Rotorua started.
Rotorua was our 2nd town in New Zealand after Auckland. We had 3 days in Rotorua and planned to see the highlights this quaint town had to offer.
Rotorua can literally be called the ‘cauldron’ of New Zealand. Ok, literally might be taking it too far, but Rotorua is actually home to a lot of sulfur & hot water springs. Due to the geothermal activities in Rotorua, it would be close enough to be christened as “The Cauldron of New Zealand”.
Along with the geothermal activities, Rotorua also hosts some beautiful lakeside landscapes and mountains. This quaint little town really has the capability to provide some unique experiences, along with some fantastic lakeside stay options.
Let me share my experience of spending 3 days in Rotorua. Here, I have also mentioned my recommendations for stay, attractions & activities for your benefit.
Imagine this, a sprawling landscape covered by steams emanating from a lake with a colorful palette. This palette changes shades depending on season, time of the day and many other natural parameters. It’s like a fantastic phenomenon that’s presented to you by Nature, to get a glimpse of what goes on in the Earth’s core. A representation of how magnanimous nature can be!
This beautiful attraction is the “Champagne Pool”, an attraction situated in Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Park. It was the best experience of Rotorua for us.
We experienced such unique attractions in Rotorua by visiting the thermal parks and other geothermal related experiences. So which are the best attractions in Rotorua? Read on to discover them!
Also Read: 10 Amazing Facts about New Zealand
Key Attractions & Experiences in Rotorua
There are certain main attractions which are absolutely worth visiting. But some attractions are okay if missed. For us, the Champagne Pool in Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Park was the best sight that we saw. But the other attractions in Wai-O-Tapu are comparatively average, but worth seeing nevertheless.
Here, I have mentioned the top sights in Rotorua which you can visit.
1. Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Park
A beautiful spread of various geo-thermal activities is what is offered by Wai-O-Tapu Thermal park. The best attraction here is the “Champagne Pool” which an epitome of the beautiful & natural contours depicted by Sulphur steams and a changing palette of lake colors.
At Wai-O-Tapu, you can consider taking one of the 3 walks available. The longest walk is around 3 KMs and it takes about 2-3 hours depending on your pace of exploration. The other two walks are 1 & 2 KM long. The Champagne pool, which is the star of the thermal park, is at attraction number 19 and is covered in the shortest walk. Have a look at the map below. So, if you are pressed for time and not really into geothermal activities, you can opt for the shortest walk and then head to another attraction.
When you are planning your day in Rotorua, consider leaving early and reaching Wai-O-Tapu Thermal park by 10 AM. Just before you reach Wai-O-Tapu thermal park, you will cross Lady Knox Geyser and it erupts daily at 10:15 AM.
2. Hell’s Gate Thermal Park
Another thermal park, Hell’s gate is actually pretty similar to Wai-O-Tapu Thermal park, but only with shorter walks. The highlight of Hell’s Gate thermal park is the Sulphur Springs attraction. The Steaming water and boiling aura around is a natural phenomenon to marvel at with curiosity!
The other attractions at Hell’s Gate are pretty mediocre and we barely stopped at those. But, there is an option to avail the mud spa at the end of the walk which you may want to consider.
We didn’t opt for the mud spa as it was a hot afternoon and we were anyway going to Polynesian Spa.
The scenes at Hell’s Gate can be pretty dramatic. However, the best attraction was the Sulphur Springs and the rest were not that impressive. So we wrapped up the visit in a very short duration.
The cafe at Hell’s gate is good enough to chill for some time. But we didn’t spend a lot of time as we wanted to quickly head to just relax and call it a day at the Polynesian Spa!
3. Polynesian Spa
After a hectic day of exploring the thermal parks in Rotorua, you can relax yourself by spending some quality time at the Polynesian Spa. The Spa is famous for the Sulphur springs and the thermal baths. The options available for choosing a bath are multiple but I’d highly recommend opting for the Private bath overlooking the Rotorua Lake. The bookings can be done from their official website. You can also walk in at the Polynesian Spa and book your slot. However, the prices are the same and it’s better to book the slot in advance through their website.
4. Lake Taupo
It is the largest lake in New Zealand! It’s so vast that the 2nd largest lake in New Zealand is not even half of the area that Lake Taupo covers! There are many activities to indulge at Lake Taupo and you can comfortably spend a day here. You can take a boat ride to witness the Maori carvings at . You can also visit the Huka falls. I don’t think it’s allowed to take a dip in the falls, but it might still be worth visiting.
5. Waimangu Volcanic Valley
Again a repercussion of the volcanic activities on the island country, Waimangu Volcanic Valley is worth paying a short visit if you have time. It’s very close to Wai-O-Tapu thermal park and is home to one of the world’s largest hot springs. A Lake lays in between a beautiful valley with steam playfully bouncing off the water surface.
These 5 are the main attractions of Rotorua. However, there are tons of other attractions as well. But if you are in Rotorua for a short period, these 5 will be most recommended. If you have more time, you can consider visiting more attractions such as:
- Kerosene Creek
- Te Puia
- Whakarewarewa – Living Maori Village
- Waikete valley
- Kuirau Park
- Wairua Stream
We did not visit these attractions so I wouldn’t be best placed to share my opinion about them.
Another interesting experience that you can indulge in Rotorua is Zorbing. It was invented in Rotorua in 1994 and since then you are able to find zorbing activities across the globe!
Stay Recommendations in Rotorua
We stayed at a cute little Lakeside Airbnb: Shula’s Lake House. You can book it form Airbnb here. This Airbnb offered great views of the Sunrise, conjuring over the Lake every morning. We took full advantage of the Porch side facing the Lake.
On our last morning at this Airbnb, I woke up early before the Sun rises above the horizon. I set up my tripod and waited for the Sun. I patiently waited for 1 hour but I couldn’t see the Sunrise due to a thick cover of clouds. Had I been able to see it, I could have captured one of the best sunrises every witnessed by me in a time-lapse video.
You can read my review of Shula’s Lake House.
Brief 3 Day Itinerary for Rotorua
Based on the above attractions & accommodation recommendations, I am mentioning a 3 day itinerary below.
Day 1: Check in your Airbnb/Hotel and relax. If you have time in the evening, book a Polynesian Spa and enjoy the therapy & view.
Day 2: Head out for a day long visit to Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Park & Hell’s Gate Thermal Park. Wai-O-Tapu is the bigger one so might consume more time if you go for the longest walk. It’s recommended to visit Wai-O-Tapu in the morning as you may be able to see the Lady Knox Geyser erupt around 10:15 AM. It’s a daily phenomenon and worth a visit. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to reach in time and missed it. Maybe we valued the beautiful morning Sunrise & delectable breakfast a little too much!
Hell’s Gate thermal park is not very big so can be seen quickly in an hour’s time. Put in Lunch between these two parks. In evening, you can enjoy the Sunset at one of the vantage points around Rotorua Lake.
Day 3: On Day 3, you can visit Lake Taupo. it’s an hour’s drive away from the main Rotorua city. On your way back, you can pay a visit
Day 4: On Day 4, you can just have a relaxed morning and breakfast at your homestay and then head to your next destinations.
How to Reach
Rotorua is on the North Island of New Zealand. It is one of the major cities in the country and easily accessible from Auckland by road. You can also enter Rotorua by air. We went to Christchurch from Rotorua by Air and it proved to be a very efficient way of reaching South Island from the North.
How much does it cost
Overall, New Zealand is an expensive place. So even Rotorua won’t be that easy on your pocket. For a decent home stay on Airbnb you might have to shell around 80-100 USD in NZD equivalent per night. However, the attractions are not that expensive. An entry in Wai O Tapu would cost 32.5 NZD (~19 USD).
Best time & Season
For New Zealand, the best season is Summers which is actually represented by the months December – February. The Sun shines brightly and just leaves you spellbound by illuminating the beauty of New Zealand! Rotorua also is best visited in Summer season. Rains might not contribute to a conducive time to experience the springs.
- Consider going to Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Park in morning. Reach before 10 AM so you can also witness Lady Knox Geyser erupt.
- Don’t miss the Polynesian Spa. Book online & in advance to get your preferred slot. Opt for the private lake view pool
- You can skip Hell’s gate if you liked only ‘Champagne Pool’ at Wai-O-Tapu thermal park
- Dress light, it can get hot around these sulphur springs. Avoid exploring parks in the afternoon
- Do consider getting a lakeside accommodation. The views of Lake Rotorua around morning and evening are worth admiring.
I’d rate Rotorua 8/10 due to the unique attractions of springs and geo-thermal activities. The Polynesian Spa was a great experience and Champagne Lake at Wai-O-Tapu just left us speechless with admiration!
So that was our account of Rotorua. Feel free to leave your comments!
Hope the name “The Cauldron of New Zealand” catches up in the travel community!