Last month, my family traveled to Australia and New Zealand. We spent 7 nights on a farm just south of Rotorua, New Zealand. There is a lot to do in the Rotorua area! (Also see my posts on visiting Sydney, Australia and Hobbiton).
i-SITE Visitor Information Centre
The owners of our rental house recommended we stop by the i-SITE Visitor Information Centre first. It’s located in the downtown area close to many restaurants and souvenir shops. New Zealand has these i-SITE centers all over the country. They are stocked full of tour pamphlets and travel experts. The one in Rotorua has showers for visitors who are taking the bus and/or camping.
Behind i-SITE is a city park that my kids loved. It has trampolines and interesting things to climb. We went there twice during our stay.
Every attraction we visited in New Zealand was well-marked with signs from the roads. We were impressed!
On our first full day in Rotorua, we visited Skyline Rotorua. At the bottom of the mountain, we purchased combo tickets for the gondola and the luge.
Apparently, Rotorua is known as the “Las Vegas of New Zealand” because it is the most visited tourist spot. I know we were there during New Zealand’s winter and off-season, but we saw absolutely no resemblance to anything in Las Vegas.
My daughter and I enjoyed the views of the lake from the top. We also perused the Jelly Belly store.
My husband and boys rode the luge track down the mountain again and again. They had a blast! Warning: If you want to ride the luge, you have to ride back up the mountain on an open-air ski lift, you know the kind where your feet dangle down. That was a deal breaker for me!
Ziplining, an extreme swing, mountain biking and nature trails are also located at the top. Skyline Rotorua was a fun afternoon!
The Rotorua area has so many geothermal parks that it was hard to pick one. After reading up on several areas, we decided to visit Wai-o-tapu.
We arrived in the morning to see Lady Knox Geyser erupt. It is a real geyser, but its normal eruption schedule is unpredictable. Therefore, every morning park rangers pour soap through the opening to make it erupt for visitors.
My family walked around the entire park. We saw lakes, bubbling mud puddles, steam…the colors were spectacular!
Mitai Maori Village
One evening, my family went to a dinner and show at Mitai Maori Village. I told my kids that it would be similar to a Hawaiian luau. I was so wrong!
The show was a little unsettling at first. The Maori people sing and perform like they are full of anger. My daughter sat there, wide-eyed and concerned the whole time. It was definitely interesting!
We ate a traditionally cooked hangi meal that was cooked underground. In addition, we got a tour of the land and saw a spring, a waka ceremony and some glow worms at night. Our host (the main MC) was awesome!
Although this evening turned out to be very different from what we expected, we all ended up loving the experience.
One afternoon, we had some free time. I suggested we drive to Okere Falls and watch the rafters go over the falls. Okere Falls is the highest commercially rafted waterfall in the world. I’ve seen photos of the rafters going over the falls, and it looks crazy.
I thought we would just be parking and then going on a short walk to see the falls, so that’s what I told my kids (who really aren’t fans of hiking). When we got to the parking lot, the signs all said take the loop to the left. It turns out the loop to the left ended up being a rather long mountain hike, which did end up at the largest waterfall. Had we gone to the right from the parking lot, we would have been a lot closer to the waterfall. Oh well! My kids insisted we “tricked them” into hiking.
Unfortunately, we didn’t see a raft go over while we were there watching. We did hear the screams from rafters who went over a few minutes before we got there. Since the outside temperatures were in the 40s, I imagine the water was absolutely freezing. No, thanks!
Rotorua has a lot of natural hot spring spas due to the geothermal activity. One morning, we decided to have an easy day and go swimming at the Polynesian Spa near the center of town.
Most of the outdoor pools overlooking the lake had a minimum age of 12. Due to my son’s and daughter’s ages, we had to stick to the family pool.
The family pool area had a swimming pool with a small water slide and two hotter baths. One was very hot, and the other was scorching hot.
We ended up spending a few hours at the Polynesian Spa as my kids played with the locals. I loved sitting in the hot, steaming baths. Later, my kids said going there was one of their favorite things we did in New Zealand.
One morning, we took a short drive to Mamaku to go rail cruising. I was so excited to try this!
We were the only ones signed up for the excursion that morning. Our rail car fit the five of us perfectly. After a brief safely instruction, we were off!
The rail car had window covers, a heater and blankets we could use to stay warm. We definitely needed them!
This was the only thing we did in New Zealand that we don’t recommend and wouldn’t repeat. Why? Well, the scenery was rather boring. Most of the route was inside of a forest. I thought we would be cruising on the side of the lake, but the track stopped short of that. We saw some sheep and cows along the way, but for the most park we were surrounded by tall trees. We were all a little disappointed.
Next week, I’ll have Part 2 of our activities in Rotorua. And, I’ll answer the question on everyone’s mind: Does Rotorua smell bad?
Nancy lives near Dallas, Texas, with her husband and three kids. Her favorite vacations include the beach, cruising and everything Disney.