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BUG New Zealand travel guidebook

Destination guides > Pacific Islands > New Zealand > Bay of Plenty > Rotorua

Rotorua

Rotorua is one of the few cities in the world that you may actually smell before you see; depending on the wind you may catch a whiff of its signature, sulphurous rotten-egg smell well before you actually reach it. But whenever you do encounter the smell for the first time, it makes a strong impression. You’ll get used to it quickly enough, though, and soon be on your way to taking in all the things that make Rotorua one of New Zealand’s most unique, and most visited, cities.


Geothermal activity is what makes Rotorua such a special place. There are bubbling mud pools in the city’s parks and steam rising from suburban front yards. Geothermal attractions within day trip distance of Rotorua include Wai-O-Tapu, Hell’s Gate and the Waimangu Volcanic Valley; the most accessible, however, is the Te Whakarewarewa Thermal Village just 3km from the city centre. Te Whakarewarewa includes a Maori cultural centre as well as Pohutu geyser, New Zealand’s largest and most well-known.


Kuirau Park at the western edge of the city centre is a free city park which holds bubbling mud pools and steaming lakes and is easier on the budget than the entrance fee to Te Whakarewarewa.


The area’s thermal activity also means that there are several hot spas. Polynesian Spa near the Government Gardens in the city centre is a popular and reasonable option for soaking in thermally-heated luxury in an idyllic outdoor setting. It’s been frequently chosen as a world top 10 spa by readers of Conde Nast Traveller. Many hostels in town also offer free thermally-heated spa pools.


Maori cultural performances are another main Rotorua attraction, and part of the reason Rotorua also goes by the nickname “Rotovegas”. Maori concerts and hangi meals are mainstays of the Rotorua tourist trade, and while they may be a bit overdone (the shows, not the food) for some tastes, they can also be good fun and might be a casual traveller’s best introduction to Maori tradition.


Rotorua boasts a beautiful location on Lake Rotorua, and is considered by many to the best mountain-biking region in the country.


Because Rotorua is so popular with budget travellers, a whole industry has popped up catering to the needs of the backpacker with plenty of fast-paced activities. There’s bungee jumping, skydiving, white water rafting, jet boating, and luge rides, which were invented in Rotorua. Another Rotorua original is zorbing, where you roll down a hill inside an inflatable plastic ball.


Rotorua has a highly developed food and drink scene, and a plethora of hostels to choose from, of widely varying quality. It’s on seemingly every traveller to New Zealand’s itinerary and it can feel overly touristy, but people visit it for a reason – it’s a one-of-a-kind place.

Practical information

Rotorua i-SITE Visitor Centre

1167 Fenton Street, Rotorua
Tel (07) 348 5179
Website www.rotoruanz.com
Open summer 8am-6pm daily; winter 8am-5.30pm daily

Department of Conservation

1144 Pukaki Street, Rotorua
Tel (07) 349 7400
Website www.doc.govt.nz

Coming & going

InterCity Coachlines (tel (09) 623 1503) and Nakedbus.com connect Rotorua with most major North Island destinations. Bayline Coaches(tel 0800 422 9287 (0800 BAYBUS)) Twin City Express runs between Rotorua and Tauranga twice each weekday. Buses stop at the Rotorua i-SITE Visitor Centre (1167 Fenton Street, Rotorua).

Local transport

Rotorua’s local Cityride bus service (tel 0800 4BAYBUS (0800 422 928)) consists of 10 routes running every half hour (Mon-Fri) covering city and suburbs. All buses stop on Amohau, Fenton and Puketua Streets in the city centre. The more useful routes include bus 1 to Ngongotaha and bus 10 to the airport. A single cash fare is $2 and a Day Saver pass costs $6.

Hostel accommodation

Base Rotorua

1286 Arawa Street, Rotorua
Tel (07) 347 9469 or 0800 227 369 (0800 BASE NZ)

No booking fee when you book this hostel online at bug.co.uk

Blarneys Rock

1210 Tutanekai Street, Rotorua
Tel (07) 343 7904

No booking fee when you book this hostel online at bug.co.uk

Cactus Jacks

1210 Haupapa Street, Rotorua
Tel (07) 348 3121 or (0800) 122 228

No booking fee when you book this hostel online at bug.co.uk

Crank Backpackers

1140 Hinemoa Street, Rotorua
Tel (07) 348 0852 or 0508 224466
No booking fee when you book this hostel online at bug.co.uk

Crash Palace Backpackers

1271 Hinemaru Street, Rotorua
Tel (07) 348 8842

No booking fee when you book this hostel online at bug.co.uk

Funky Green Voyager

4 Union Street, Rotorua
Tel (07) 346 1754

In the Zone Backpackers

1181 Pukaki Street, Rotorua
Tel (07) 348 3338

Kiwipaka YHA

60 Tarewa Road, Rotorua
Tel (07) 347 0931

Lakehouse Hotel & Backpackers

37-45 Lake Road, Rotorua
Tel (07) 348 5585

Little Village Backpackers

15 Tryon Street, Rotorua
Tel (07) 348 3305

Lyons Lakestay

8 Okareka Loop Road, Lake Okareka
Tel (07) 362 8790 or 0800 258 996

No booking fee when you book this hostel online at bug.co.uk

Planet Nomad Backpackers

1193 Fenton Street, Rotorua
Tel (07) 346 2831

No booking fee when you book this hostel online at bug.co.uk

Rotorua Central Backpackers

1076 Pukuatua Street, Rotorua
Tel (07) 349 3285

Spa Lodge

1221 Amohau Street, Rotorua
Tel (07) 348 3486
No booking fee when you book this hostel online at bug.co.uk

YHA Rotorua - Treks

1278 Haupapa Street, Rotorua
Tel (07) 349 4088 or (0508) 487 357
No booking fee when you book this hostel online at bug.co.uk

Eating & drinking

Rotorua’s dining and nightlife scene has something for everyone, befitting Rotorua’s status as one of New Zealand’s major tourist destinations. Choices range from fine dining and cafés to takeaways and fast food. There’s Thai, Indian, Middle Eastern, several Japanese places, Italian, Chinese and more. Restaurants and bars are spread all over the centre of town, but the main stretch of places to eat is along Tutenakai Street.


Popular cafés among the backpacker set are Zippy Central (1153 Pukuatua Street, Rotorua) and Fat Dog Café (1161 Arawa Street, Rotorua). Both are cool, laid-back and not too expensive. Fast food chains can be found around town; a few are clustered on Fenton Street.


There’s a good choice of supermarkets in Rotorua including Countdown (246 Fenton Street, Rotorua), New World (247 Old Taupo Road, Rotorua), Pak’n Save (corner Fenton & Amohau Streets, Rotorua) and a massive Woolworths supermarket (Rotorua Central Mall, Victoria Street, Rotorua). An Asian specialty supermarket, purportedly the largest in the Bay of Plenty, can be found on Hinemoa Street.


As for nightlife, there are a few good places around. The Pig and Whistle (corner Haupapa & Tutanekai Streets, Rotorua) is a popular and well-known British pub with food, their own microbrew beer, and live bands. The Shed (1166 Amohau Street, Rotorua) is another popular watering hole with pool tables and sport on TV screens. Probably the liveliest backpacker nightspot is the recently-renovated Lava Bar (1286 Arawa Street, Rotorua), part of the Base Rotorua hostel.

Sightseeing, museums & tourist attractions

Agrodome

This popular agricultural theme park features live sheep shows where you can watch sheep shearing demonstrations, sheep auctions and sheep dog trials. There’s also the opportunity to milk a cow on stage. The whole show is pretty touristy and doesn’t appeal much to backpackers, but the Agrodome is also home to several more backpacker-focused activities that include bungy jumping, jet boating, swoop ride and zorbing (details of these are in the following Activities section).

Western Road, Ngongotaha
Bus 1
Tel (07) 357 1050
Website www.agrodome.co.nz
Admission $24-46
Shows 9.30am, 11am, 2.30pm daily

The Blue Baths

Established in the 1930s, the Blue Baths is New Zealand’s first unisex swimming pool and is still one of the most elegant. It houses a museum with displays detailing the pool’s history.

Government Gardens, Rotorua
Tel (07) 350 2119
Website www.bluebaths.co.nz
Museum admission $11 (includes admission to Rotorua Museum)
Museum open 10am-5pm daily
Pool admission $9
Pool open Mon-Thu 10am-7pm, Fri-Sun 10am-8pm

Buried Village of Te Wairoa

In June 1886, Mount Tarawera erupted and destroyed Te Wairoa and two smaller villages under a flood of hot ash and mud. New Zealand’s equivalent of Pompeii features excavated village dwellings and a museum detailing the events surrounding Tarawera’s eruption.

Tarawera Road, Te Wairoa
Tel (07) 362 8287
Website www.buriedvillage.co.nz
Admission $26
Open Jan-Mar 8.30am-5.30pm daily; Apr-Oct 9am-4.30pm daily; Nov-Dec 8.30am-5.30pm daily

Hells Gate

This huge 10ha site is home to a large array of geothermal features including boiling mud pools, New Zealand’s only accessible mud volcano and the Kakahi Falls – the largest hot waterfall in the Southern Hemisphere. The complex also includes mud baths and a sulphur spa.

State Highway 30, 15km west of Rotorua
Tel (07) 345 3151
Website www.hellsgate.co.nz
Admission $25; $35 including sulphur spa
Open 9am-8.30pm daily

Paradise Valley Springs

This animal park has lots of trout as well as New Zealand wildlife and a lion enclosure.

Paradise Valley Road, Rotorua
Tel (07) 348 9667
Website www.paradisev.co.nz
Admission $25
Open 8am-6pm daily (last entry 5pm)

Rainbow Springs

This animal park features sheep shearing and sheep dog shows plus trout feeding and native New Zealand wildlife including kiwis and tuatara.

Fairy Springs Road, Rotorua
Bus 1
Tel (07) 350 0440
Website www.rainbownz.co.nz
Admission $24.50
Open 8am-9.30pm daily

Rotorua Museum

This excellent museum describes the culture, environment and history of Rotorua. It gives you a better understanding of the city making it an excellent place to start before tackling other attractions.

Government Gardens, Rotorua
Tel (07) 349 4350
Website www.rotoruamuseum.co.nz
Admission $11
Open Jan-Mar 9.30am-6pm daily; Apr-Sep 9.30am-5pm daily; Oct-Dec 9.30am-6pm daily

Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland

This geothermal reserve, 30km south of Rotorua, is home to an impressive array of thermal wonders including volcanic craters and bubbling mud pools but the highlights are the huge Champagne Pool and Lady Knox Geyser, which erupts daily at 10.15am.

State Highway 5, 30km south of Rotorua
Tel (07) 366 6333
Website www.geyserland.co.nz
Admission $27.50
Open 8.30am-5pm daily (last entry 3.45pm)

Waimangu Volcanic Valley

Waimangu was created on 10 June 1886 by the eruption of Mt Tarawera, making it a relative baby compared with other thermal areas. It features Echo Crater, the world’s larges hot water spring, and Inferno Crater, the world’s largest geyser-like feature. The park has several walkways and you can also take a boat cruise on Lake Rotomahana.

Waimangu Road, 20km south of Rotorua
Tel (07) 366 6137
Website www.waimangu.co.nz
Admission $30 walking tour; $37.50 boat cruise; $67.50 boat cruise and walking tour
Open Jan 8.30am-6pm daily (last entry 4.45pm); Feb-Dec 8.30am-5pm daily (last entry 3.45pm)

Whakarewarewa Thermal Village

Whakarewarewa combines a geothermal reserve with an authentic Maori village. Thermal features include boiling mud pools, silica terraces, a steaming hot lake and the Pohutu and Prince of Wales geysers. At the village you can see demonstrations of Maori craftspeople at work and twice daily cultural performances.

Sala Street, Whakarewarewa, Rotorua
Bus 2
Tel (07) 349 3463
Website www.whakarewarewa.com
Admission $25
Open 8.30am-5pm daily; guided tours 9.30am, 10.30am, 11.45am, 12.30pm, 1.30pm, 3.30pm; cultural performances 11.15am, 2pm; hangi meals noon, 2.30pm

Activities

AgroJet

This exciting jet boat ride at the Agrodome claims to be New Zealand’s fastest, reaching 100km/h in 4.5 seconds.

Agrodome, Western Road, Ngongotaha
Bus 1
Tel (07) 357 2929
Website www.agrojet.co.nz
Price $45
Open 9am-5pm daily

Bungee jumping

Rotorua Bungy operates bungee jumps from a purpose-built 43m-high tower at the Agrodome complex.

Agrodome, Western Road, Ngongotaha
Bus 1
Tel (07) 357 4747
Website www.rotoruabungy.co.nz
Price $90

Four wheel driving

Off Road NZ offer a range of activities that include a 4WD Bush Safari where you drive small 4WDs through a muddy course and a Monster 4WD Thrill Ride where you come along for the ride in an expertly driven specially modified vehicle.

Amoore Road, Rotorua
Tel (07) 332 5748
Website www.offroadnz.co.nz
4WD Bush Safari $85; Monster 4WD Thrill Ride $40

Freefall Xtreme

This is the only skydive simulator in the southern hemisphere. It involves leaping into a 150km/h column of wind that is generated by a DC3 aircraft engine. There’s a safety net to prevent you from falling into the engine plus a 12m wide air cushion.

Agrodome, Western Road, Ngongotaha
Bus 1
Tel (07) 357 5856
Website www.freefallxtreme.com
Price $49-79

Shweeb

Shweeb is a suspended monorail that you pedal like a bicycle. The Shweeb track near the Agrodome consists of two 200m-long overhead rails with suspended pedal-powered pods. The aerodynamic design of the pods mean that you can reach speeds of 45 km/h and it is possible to race, as there are two parallel rails.

Paradise Valley Road (500m off State Highway 5), Ngongotaha
Bus 1
Tel (07) 357 5856
Website www.shweeb.com
Shweeb ride $45
Open 9am-5pm

Skyline Skyrides (Gondola & Luge)

This complex, south of the town centre, features gondola and luge rides. The gondola is aimed mostly at older tourists, but the luge is a cheap and fun activity for many backpackers. There is 5km of luge track including a 1km advanced track for thrill seekers.

Fairy Springs Road, Rotorua
Bus 1
Tel (07) 347 0027
Website www.skylineskyrides.co.nz
Gondola Ride $24; luge ride $9; five luge rides $30; gondola ride & five luge rides $45

Swoop ride

This ride at the Agrodome involves up to three people being hoisted in sleeping­ bag-like harnesses 40m above the ground and then falling at 130kmh as you swoop above the ground.

Agrodome, Western Road, Ngongotaha
Bus 1
Tel (07) 357 4747
Website www.rotoruabungy.co.nz
Price $45

White water rafting

Several companies offer white water rafting trips around Rotorua with the Kaituna, Rangitaiki and Wairoa Rivers being the most popular. The Rangitaki boasts grade 4 rapids and is perhaps the most scenic option, but the Wairoa and especially the Kaituna River offers grade 5 rapids with more excitement. The Kaituna River features the legendary Tutea Falls with its massive seven-metre drop, which is claimed to be the world’s highest commercially rafted waterfall.

 

Rafting trips cost $89 on the Kaituna River, $110 on the Rangitaiki River and $99 on the Wairoa River.


The main rafting companies operating in Rotorua are Kaitiaki Adventures (tel (07) 357 2236), Raftabout (tel (07) 343 9500 or 0800 RAFTABOUT (0800 723 822)), River Rats (tel (07) 345 6543 or 0800 333 900), Wet ‘n’ Wild Rafting (tel (07) 348 3191 or 0800 462 7238) and Whitewater Excitement (tel (07) 345 7182).

White water sledging (Hydrospeed)

White water sledging, or hydrospeed, involves riding a custom-designed river sledge through rapids. Hydrospeed puts you in control, as opposed to rafting where the guide does the steering.


Kaitiaki Adventures (tel (07) 357 2236 or 0800 338 736) and Sledgeabout (tel (07) 343 9500) run white water sledging (hydrospeed) trips on the Kaituna River. A 3½ hour trip on Kaituna River costs $99. Kaitiaki Adventures also run eight hour trips on the Rangitaiki River that cost $149.

Zorbing

This unique activity was invented in Rotorua and involves rolling down a hill inside a big inflatable ball. There’s the option of a wet zorb, where a bucket of water is tossed into the zorb before rolling down the hill.

Agrodome, Western Road, Ngongotaha
Bus 1
Tel (07) 357 5100 or 0800 227 474
Website www.zorb.com
Price $59


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