36 hours in Rotorua, New Zealand

This is an article in the 36 Hours In… series. To find more in the series, head here.

Rotorua, or ‘RotoVegas’ to New Zealanders (goodness knows why, it’s absolutely nothing like the real Vegas!), is a small city in the middle of New Zealand’s North Island. It’s a tourism hub with heaps of adventure activities, geothermal attractions, and pretty lakes. We recently visited and were blown away by how much was on offer – we recommend you get there to try out all the fun stuff there is to do!

It was a struggle to decide what to put into this 36 hours post – but we’ve tried! Let us know in the comments section if you’ve been to Rotorua and have other things to add. We hope to visit again soon to try new things out!

rotorua new zealand

Friday evening

Start your weekend in Rotorua with a delicious South American meal at Sabroso. This little home-style restaurant serves tasty and fresh eats. Highly recommended!

Saturday morning

Rotorua is home to New Zealand’s best mountain bike trails, and best of all, the Redwoods Forest (where most of the trails are) is free to visit if you have your own gear! If you don’t, there are plenty of places you can rent bikes.

We spent a morning zooming around the trails, trying not to hit trees. It was such fun and we can’t wait to go back to Rotorua to do it again.

Wise old beings leading me to the light ?? @rotoruanz ‘s Redwood forest • Canon 6D, Canon F4L 17-40

A photo posted by Rach Stewart (@rach_stewart_nz) on

Saturday afternoon

Rotorua is known as the geothermal hotspot (excuse the pun) of New Zealand. As soon as you arrive you’ll notice the rotten egg smell (sulfur) and steam coming from the stormwater drains. There is even a park in the middle of town with boiling mud pools (Kuirau Park)! rotorua new zealand There are three major geothermal parks near Rotorua. We visited Waimangu Volcanic Valley, about a half hour drive south of the city. We visited on a Saturday of a holiday weekend and were pretty much alone in the park which was great. The valley was formed during the 1886 eruption of Mt Tarawera nearby, and it’s still bubbling and fizzing away today.

The path through the park takes about 1.5 hours to walk and you pass by lots of steaming streams and lakes, mini geysers, and colourful rock formations. You can also go on a boat tour across Lake Rotomahana, over the top of the famed Pink and White Terraces which were covered up during the Tarawera Eruption. Perhaps on a sunny day the boat tour would be great but it was very drizzly and foggy on the day we did it, so we didn’t get the full splendour!

Saturday evening

Keep the geothermal theme going into the evening with a visit to the Polynesian Spa on Rotorua’s lakefront. Although quite pricey, the spa has a lovely natural feel and a nice outlook over the lake. There are private pools and adult-only pools too if you want some quiet time (the cheapest family pool was like a zoo). We spent a couple of hours in the different temperature pools easing our aches and pains. We didn’t want to leave!


There are so many things to do in Rotorua that it’s so hard to fit them all into 36 hours – and there are so much more activities that we didn’t cover. For your last day in Rotorua we would recommend choosing between these two activities – or if you have more time, do them both!

Tarawera Trail

This 15 km, 4.5 hour walk along the side of Lake Tarawera is an excellent way to spend a day near Rotorua. The bush is lovely and cool and you can peek through the trees to the lake. And – best thing ever – the walk ends at a beach with natural hot pools! What could be better than soothing your sore legs with a hot swim (or a cold one in the lake, if you prefer).

tarawera trail

If you don’t want to walk all the way back to your car (there is no car access to Hot Water Beach) you’ll need to pre-book a water taxi with Lake Tarawera Water Taxi & Ecotours. We loved seeing where we had walked from on the water, and if you get a beautiful day like we did there’s nothing better than speeding across a glassy lake back to your car!

tarawera trail

Check out this post for more in-depth information about the Tarawera Trail.

Summit Mt Tarawera

Mt Tarawera erupted on June 10, 1886. The blast killed about 20 people and changed the surrounding landscape significantly. An awesome half-day trip with Kaitiaki Adventures Aotearoa departs from Rotorua and heads up to the top of Mt Tarawera in a 4WD bus. Bumping your way up the narrow gravel access road is heaps of fun, and the stunning raw volcanic landscape at the top of the mountain is well worth the journey.

mt tarawera

You get to spend about 2 hours on the mountain – you’ll walk up to the summit across the raw volcanic landscape (with plenty of photo opportunities) and you also get to do an epic 400 m scree run into the crater!

mt tarawera

Check out this post for more in-depth information about going up Mt Tarawera with Kaitiaki Adventures Aotearoa.

We stayed at a B&B about 5 minutes drive from central Rotorua that we found on Airbnb. If you haven’t used Airbnb before, it’s fantastic – use this link to get $25 off your first stay!

We could go on and on about things to do in and around Rotorua – there really is just so much on offer. We were so surprised! Rotorua is definitely on the list of places to re-visit in the near future. So if you’re travelling through the North Island, make a stop at Rotorua for at least a couple of days – it’s well worth it.

Thanks to Waimangu Volcanic Valley, Polynesian Spa, Lake Tarawera Water Taxi & Ecotours, and Kaitiaki Adventures Aotearoa for hosting us. As always, you’ll receive our honest opinion regardless of who foots the bill.

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Have you ever visited Rotorua? Can you recommend other things for us to do next time? Share your thoughts in the comments below!


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