Family Travel Adventures in Rotorua, New Zealand

Rotorua Museum, Rotorua, New Zealand


Today I’m thrilled to feature a guest post by one of the coauthors of one of the top travel blogs in the world. Craig Makepeace is the co-founder of y Travel Blog and has been traveling and living around the world since 2002, first with his wife Caz, and now with his two daughters Kalyra and Savannah. He also shares tips, photos and stories on his interactive facebook page and via twitter. Today Craig shares with us his best tips for family adventure travel in New Zealand.


Our recent trip to Rotorua in New Zealand was our first ever as a family of four. My youngest daughter Savannah was just eight weeks old when we boarded our Air New Zealand flight from Sydney to Auckland with a connection to Rotorua. The amazing thing is, this is the exact same flight I took on my first ever trip on a plane, except I was sixteen years old. It’s been twenty two years since that flight, which is way too long between visits as our recent trip reminded me how great of a place Rotorua is for a family getaway. Below is a list of family activities we recommend on your visit to the city…

1. Geothermal Pools

Rotorua is best known for its geothermal activity, and features skyrocketing geysers, hot springs and boiling mud pools. Called ‘Nature’s Spa of the South Pacific’, it sits squarely on the Pacific Ring of Fire, so volcanic activity is part of the city’s past and present. Because of the hydrogen sulphide emissions, which gives the city its famed “rotten eggs” smell, Rotorua also has the nickname “Sulphur City”. With all this on offer it’s a great place for all the family to see nature at its most powerful. You and the kids can play around in geothermal mud and hot springs (great for year round swimming), witness the sky-high geysers or unwind with a therapeutic massage or mud wrap. Following are places to experience all this first hand…

Polynesian Spa We had been dreaming of our therapeutic indulgence in Rotorua ever since we discovered we were visiting New Zealand. I mean, who doesn’t love a hot tub, a massage and some spa therapy? Voted as a “World Top 10 Spa” by the prestigious Conde Nast Traveller’s magazine the Polynesian Spa in Rotorua has adult only areas with seven hot mineral spring pools overlooking the lake, plus a family spa area with a kiddies water slide and toddler pool.

Mummy & Kalyra in a hot spring
hot springs
Kalyra enjoying the kids slide

Hell’s Gate Geothermal Park & Mud Spa Located just five minutes past Rotorua Airport with a daily shuttle available, Hell’s Gate is actually Rotorua’s most famous thermal attraction. This sacred Maori site boasts 50 acres of mud pools, geysers, hot springs and the Southern Hemisphere’s largest hot-water waterfall. Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland Only 20 minutes drive south of Rotorua this place is known as New Zealand’s most colourful natural volcanic area, including the world famous multi-coloured Champagne Pool, Lady Knox Geyser which erupts to heights of 20 metres, hot springs, and huge volcanic craters.

2. The Redwoods of Whakarewarewa Forest

Redwoods in New Zealand? Who knew? We have seen them in California before, love them, and couldn’t believe it when we found out. So just five minutes drive from Rotorua you can find yourself walking amongst the towering Californian Coastal Redwoods in the Whakarewarewa Forest. On offer for all the family are some of the finest mountain biking and walking trails in the world. Plus scenic picnic spots and panoramic views of Rotorua City and the surrounding area. There is also a visitors centre and Educational Group guided tours. This is a place where we could have spent all day.

me and Kalyra
redwood forest
pretty stream

3. Rainbow Springs Kiwi Wildlife Park

If there was one thing our four year old daughter Kalyra wanted to do, it was see a real life “Kiwi” bird. At Rainbow Springs you can get up close and personal with kiwi in their natural habitat, either in the nocturnal house or the outdoor enclosure for night-time viewing. Not great for photos, but great memories for the kids. This 22 acre park is beautiful with a friendly, fun atmosphere. Other activities include walking through free flight aviaries, hand feeding wild trout, watch a bird show, or take your seat in a boat for a 9 minute journey and experience the big splash.

Trout feeding
Hungry ducks
Picturesque waterfall

4. Tamaki Cultural Village

I know what you are going to say, not one of those organized “touristy” shows where everything is staged and nothing is authentic. But the Tamaiki village experience is the BEST ”touristy” cultural experience we have had anywhere around the world. Not only did I learn a lot about the Maori culture, but I felt as if I was part of a family enjoying an experience together. From the moment we entered the village we were greeted with a Maori welcoming kiss (nose rub), learnt how to dance the Haka (tribal war dance), watched a song and dance performance, and sat down to eat a delicious traditional Hangi (meal cooked in the ground over hot coals). If three plus hours of learning and entertainment isn’t enough, why not stay overnight in a traditional Marae (sleeping house)?

traditional Maori greeting
Me performing the HAKA
Delicious Hangi
Stay in a Marae

5. Aquaduck Tour

You haven’t seen Rotorua until you’ve done the 90 minute fun duck tour. The kids, and adults, will love this unique experience in the amphibious vehicle as you splash your way into lakes, blow the duck whistle at passers by, and get a great introduction into Rotorua’s rich history and spectaculor scenery. We really enjoyed the fun commentary onboard which was both entertaining and educational, and the ability to go out onto the lakes without leaving your seat was something really different and fun for everyone.

Me and Savannah
Kalyra talking with the ducks
Happy family

6. The Buried Village

Before the tragic earthquake in Christchurch earlier this year, it was New Zealand’s biggest natural disaster. 153 people estimated buried under mud, volcanic ash and falling rock spewing forth from the erupting Mt Tarawera on 10th June 1886. Whole villages were buried and it destroyed the spectacular pink and white terraces, a natural wonder of the world. Our guide walked us through the village showing us the Maori style small houses, places where homes were buried and the sites where the old hotel and stores of the tourist village once stood. To end the tour we took a lovely walk through the forest along a stream to a waterfall. The Buried Village is suitable for the whole family. Guests can see the park’s wildlife, romp around the adventure playground, and kids can explore the Children’s Discovery Room in the museum which is an interactive discovery experience designed for children.

One of the remodeled homes
Kalyra pumping the well
The museum

pretty waterfall


By: Matt Long

Matt has a true passion for travel. As someone who has a bad case of the travel bug, Matt travels the world in order to share tips on where to go, what to see and how to experience the best the world has to offer.

13 thoughts on “Family Travel Adventures in Rotorua, New Zealand”

  1. Looks a lot of fun. Our kids were not a dissimilar age when we biked through Rotorua with them on an end to end tour of the country way back. Great to be reminded of some of these places. The kids still remember the smell of Rotorua…. and the hot pools too.

  2. I loved Rotorua. The place stank of rotten eggs but it’s totally enchanting & one of the few places I’ve visited where I knew I would never experience anything like this anywhere.

  3. howbudgettravel

    I just went through your blog of family travel adventures in rotorua. It’s an awesome experience not only for you but it’s also for us. Because the pictures you added tells us the complete story of your travel. Of course i have a feel right now to go for these places. It’s the perfect place for picnic along with family.. Hope sure will go for an adventure soon.. well, thanks for uploading pics and showing to us..

  4. Excellent article. Looks like there is lots of great stuff to do with kiddies in Rotorua. I’m ashamed to say that, even though I’m a Kiwi, I haven’t been to Rotorua. We’ve got six months or so here in New Zealand so will plan to make our way around all the key touristy sites in the country. It’s funny how sometimes we’re so quick to explore overseas, we forget to look in our own backyard!

  5. Great pictures tells the complete story of your travel in rotorua. You must have had a fantastic experience with your family. Loads of fun filled enjoyments will fulfill every one’s journey. Hope you had that fun to the core. Well, thanks for uploading pictures and showing it to us..

  6. More than the fact that I loved the place you’ve gone to, I was more attached to the fact that you brought your kids on this kind of trip and it seemed fun! You gave me an idea for a unique family vacation! Thanks!

  7. Glad you liked Rotorua so much. I am an artist/teacher and have lived here for over twenty years. it has a lot to offer in terms of amazing photo opportunities. I meet people from all over the world who come to my studio to make mosaics or art as a reminder of their stay.
    We need more people coming here to appreciate how much we have to offer people creatively.

  8. Excellent blog, especially for preparing our 8-weeks trip to New Zealand.
    Still confused where to go for Maori Culture in Rotorua: Tamaki Maori Village, Mitai Maori Village or TePuia????
    Maybe some insider could help? Thanks!

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