March 10

Get hot in Rotorua, New Zealand

And smelly, too. Not because the place is a dump, quite the opposite in fact, but because it is a highly volcanic area where not only spas and steam baths are the thing to do, but it is also the best place in New Zealand where you can learn about Maori culture and understand the cultural heritage of this distant country (New Zealand is, after all, far away from everywhere).

Tourist info place in Rotorua

We arrived to Rotorua from the North with our camper van, and were sure we were on the right track when the southern winds brought the sulfur stench up our nostrils (Sulfur smells like rotten eggs. It emanates naturally from volcanoes, an element highly present in the Earth’s core), making Liza and I stare at each other as if asking who had hmm…errrr…farted.. before remembering where we were arriving.

Rotorua is a pleasant town: small, well designed, clean, with a few photographic areas, it is quite manageable  and has many spots near the lake (lake Rotorua) where you can park the camper van or pitch the tent for an overnight stay; of course you can always check for camping sites in New Zealand.

Lake Rotorua

Most visitors come here to gaze at the geothermal activity within the city, but there are more things to do in Rotorua engage in any of the extreme sports that are popular in the area (skydiving stealing the show), and visit any of the Maori cultural shows that abound.

These do not vary too much in content, but do vary a lot in price, some of them costing up to 200 NZD per person for a 4 hour show. Upon asking at a souvenir store what are the best activities in Rotorua  he suggested among other things that we visit one of these shows, but not one of the expensive ones (like Te Puia) but the cheapest instead.

The reason is that where as in the expensive shows everything is staged, Te Whakarewarewa has a small dance show (which I admit is not that great) and also includes a guided visit of Te Whakarewarewa village, and this is what differentiates it from the rest.

In this village people still live as they used to over 400 years ago, right in the middle of a highly geothermal area (some houses have had to be abandoned because of safety reasons), and there is a nice walk to be enjoyed in the nearby woods.

The very entertaining guide explains how they live in harmony with nature and the many uses they make of geothermal energy. This tour costs 28 NZD and is very good value in my opinion. Highly recommended (you can get more info at

Other things to do include a walk along the lake, visiting any of the museums of the city, jumping on a speed boat for a fast race against time, visiting the nearby redwood forrest and as a personal suggestion I recommend you visit Okareka lake which is only a 15 minute drive away, towards lake Okataina. In fact if you’re sleeping in a camper van or a tent, spend a night there. Right besides the dock there is a small parking space with a green area and camping tables. The scenery here is breathtaking, both during sunset and in the morning, making you feel alive as soon as you look close the day or welcome the new one. Plus the ducks that want your food are a geat source of entertainment. Again, if you’re a photography aficionado, have your camera ready. You wont regret it!

Try reading the bottom sign-quickly

Unless you want to experience all of the extreme activities in the area or are a very slow walker two days is enough to see and enjoy what Rotorua and its nearby surroundings has to offer, but not less. It is a must in your North Island tour and one place you will not forget. Now continue reading more New Zealand travel tips!

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  1. Must be such a picturesque place to vacation in! Oh, I’m envious! I’m all for relaxation these days, what with all the mayhem at work!

  2. Woah! Are those houses right by the lake? Must be awesome to wake up next to such interestingly unique scenery.

    1. They are indeed, and in some cases the hot water is under the houses providing natural heat in winter!

  3. And if you do go there, I strongly recommend you rent a camper van: it almost seems the country was created with this in mind 🙂

  4. The fragrance of Rotorua is only in pockets in the main town area. Lots of the attractions, activities and accommodation is outside of the thermal centre. I hope you’ll come and check it out for yourself. I know you’ll enjoy it – and we’ll keep the mud bubbling til you get here. 🙂

  5. I’m a fan of local culture, having travelled to many faraway places on holiday just to get to know more about the locals and their history, but even I admit that I balk at the idea of spending two days walking around a town that reek, as you say, of flatulence. Admittedly, it sound like an experience, but I’ll opt for the less-nauseating options available!

  6. Thanks for your post. I’m planning a trip to Rotorua for November and I’m trying to decide if I should visit Te Whakarewarewa or Te Puia. Great advice.

  7. Rotorua is a gorgeous town. I went there 2 years ago with my friends for a skydiving holiday. It’s really expensive to jump over there but the views were spectacular. Never did any of the tourist stuff and didn’t really go exploring other than around the dropzone but after reading this, maybe I’ll have to go back!

    1. Briony,

      Kudos for daring to jump. It is something that has crossed my mind several times…a thought that has never lasted more than 3 seconds!


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