Located in the heart of New Zealand’s North Island, the Rotorua region is one of the country’s oldest tourist destinations, all because of some smelly water. The geothermal activity has made the lake area a spa destination for as long as there have been visitors to New Zealand. Today it’s much more than just spas, there are a variety of attractions and activities near and around Lake Rotorua, making it a fun and relaxing place to spend a few days.
A comprehensive list of all there is to do in Rotorua would be too large for the purposes of this post, so instead I will highlight a great way to spend a full day in the lake region.
Let me preface this by saying that spending some time at the Agrodome may not appeal to all travelers, but I think that it is a fun way to spend a few hours and learn more about the region. Located just a few minutes from Rotorua proper, the Agrodome is a working farm that offers guests a look at the importance of farming in New Zealand. Kids will love this, but even adults can’t help get carried away with the sheepy goodness. The key is to be prepared for a cheesy, touristy experience; then you’ll be ready for the Agrodome. There are several tours for purchase, including the classic farm tour, hedge maze and sheep show. I did the sheep show and while it was a little pricey ($27) I think it was well worth it. Even though you may drive by thousands of sheep on your trip, this is one of the few opportunities to learn more about them and how they’re used in New Zealand.
After you’ve learned all your brain can take about sheep, drive a few miles towards Rotorua for a real adrenalin rush at the OGO zorbing facility. If you’ve ever wondered what it feels like to be in a huge, human hamster ball filled with water, this is your opportunity. Participants are placed into a large ball that may or may not have water added. Then, the ball is rolled downhill and the zorber gets to experience what it feels like to be in a washing machine. After my first roll, I was hooked. This is a fun, family friendly activity that offers a safe and fun way to experience Kiwi adventure travel at its best.
The price for one person is $45 and there are discounts for additional people and combo packages available. OGO is located on the main road into Rotorua and is not to be missed.
After lunch, it’s time for a little relaxation and to see what has made Rotorua so popular for so long. The original draw to the region were the Pink and White Terraces, described as the Eighth Wonder of the World and tragically destroyed in 1886 when Mt Tarawera erupted, burying them. The same geothermal process that created the terraces have made Rotorua a famous spa town. This is perhaps best seen at one of the oldest spa facilities in the city, the Polynesian Spa.
One of the top 10 spas of the world, the Polynesian Spa has something for everyone. There are a series of bathing pools, all naturally heated, overlooking beautiful Lake Rotorua. There are even alkaline pools for those so inclined. The first thing I noticed when I arrived in town was the sulphur smell, and I wanted to see for myself if the cause of the odor was worth the hype.
After enjoying an hour in the hot spas, I can absolutely attest to their ability to relax and soothe aching tourist muscles. It was hard to pull myself away, but was thankful for the rejuvenation I enjoyed at the Spa.
Located in the heart of Rotorua, this is an easy walk from many hotels and no more than a five minute drive from all others. There are a variety of bathing options, but for as low as $14 per person, you can enjoy the curative powers of The Waters just as millions of visitors have for more than a century.
To finish your day, try indulging in a unique evening experience, Te Puia. It’s impossible not to learn about Maori culture when visiting New Zealand, even if it’s just trying to pronounce some of the city names. But everyone should take some time to delve deeper and learn more about the people who have called the islands home for centuries. Te Puia is the perfect place to learn more about the splendor of Maori culture in a fun and engaging way.
The principal goal of Te Puia is to act as a centre for the preservation of Maori arts, crafts and culture. It accomplishes this in a number of ways, all while interacting with the curious public. Built around the site of natural geysers and mud pools, Te Puia encompasses a traditional village and schools for wood carving and traditional weaving. The visitor can experience these, and much more, on a guided tour that is best done in conjunction with the evening hangi.
Hangi is a traditional method of cooking in the ground, but at Te Puia it’s so much more. The guides take visitors through a traditional welcoming ceremony and performance demonstrating Maori dance and music. It’s not just a demonstration though, the staff go to great pains to explain the importance of the ritual for them and their ancestors. The evening is capped off by the hangi, a delicious meal of meats, vegetables and camaraderie.
Rotorua is a fun place to spend a day, or a week. No matter what you chose to do, this is a must see stop on your New Zealand tour.