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Rotorua – Guide for Backpackers

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Backpacking in Rotorua.

Also known as “Rotovegas” by the locals, the town is a mix of action, relaxation and natural wonders. Rotorua is located in the lower part of Bay of Plenty and is New Zealand’s geothermal capital. In Rotorua, you literally stand on active volcanoes surrounded by boiling mud and geysers.

Volcanoes aside, Rotorua has more adrenaline to offer than any other town in the North Island of New Zealand. From Zorbing to the highest commercially rafted waterfall in the world, you will be entertained! Finally, for those looking to dive right into New Zealand’s history and learn more about the Maori tribes that populated the country over 700 years ago, Rotorua is the place to be.

Check out more things to do in 10 Free Natural Spots Near Rotorua and 7 Ways to Spend a Rainy Day in Rotorua.

Things that you can’t miss in Rotorua

  • Visit the Buried Village.
  • Relax in a natural hot pool.
  • Marvel at the Wai-O-Tapu geothermal park.
  • Check out the Waimangu Volcanic valley.
  • Spend some time in a Maori village.
  • Raft the highest commercially rafted waterfall in the world – the 7m Tutea Falls.
  • Take a hike or bike in the Redwood Forest.
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Natural wonders in Rotorua

At first, the smell of rotten egg wrapping up the city can be a bit off-putting but this small detail is just the first sign of the powerful activity that is happening underground. Hot mud pool, geysers, craters… Rotorua is a reminder that earth is a living and breathing mechanism. Here are a few options to enjoy Earth’s power in Rotorua:

Wai-O-Tapu is a geothermal park, home to the Lady Knox Geyser, huge mud pools and what is considered to be New Zealand’s most colourful geothermal attraction. It is one of our favourite spots in Rotorua. Be aware though, the Lady Knox Geyser only erupts once daily, at 10:15am, time your visit accordingly. For more natural wonders visit: Natural Wonders of New Zealand.

The most famous thermal area in Rotorua is Te Puia, combining Maori cultural experience and geothermal attraction like the Pohutu Geyser that erupts 30m high and over 20 times per day.

Last but not least, the Waimangu Valley: a 17km rift in a mountain split in half by an eruption. The seven craters around display colourful lakes, small geysers and silica terraces. Impressive!

Make sure you have a look at the 10 Free Natural Spots Near Rotorua too!

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activities in Rotorua

Nothing feels better than relaxing in soothing natural hot water after a long day in a bus, car or hiking. Rotorua has many spas around filled with the famous Pure Spring Rotorua water naturally heated. Dip yourself in the living waters of Te Manora Spring, for example. Or check out the 5 Free Natural Hot Pools in Rotorua.

If your budget allows it, Rotorua has plenty of activities to offer within a short walk, drive, shuttle ride from the city centre. On the Kaituna River, you can raft the highest commercially rafted waterfall in New Zealand, a 7m drop into water that is populated by sacred eels and breathtaking scenery.

We also love the canopy tour, a 3-hour journey deep into virgin native New Zealand forest. Stand up to 22m high in the forest, zip-lining from tree to tree.

Other activities include Zorbing: going down a hill in a huge hamster ball, Shweebing: a suspended aerodynamic capsule on track, or luging. Luging is essential downhill go-karting – simple, but heaps of fun. Grab a bunch of mates and race to the finish!

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Discover local culture of Rotorua

Rotorua is a perfect example of living history, the term often used to describe the city applies perfectly to this mix of technology, ancient beliefs and ancient geothermal wonders. The many Maori villages (Maraes) in Rotorua await you to share their stories, legends, songs and myths. Immerse yourself in the rich Maori culture in one of the three main villages: Tamaki Maori village, Whakarewarewa thermal village, and the Buried village.

You will be treated with traditional food like the Hangi, a roast cooked with your help in an oven underground, while an elder tells you the story of his ancestors. The young warriors will train for combat in front of you and teach you their famous Haka dance. Be prepared with the Maori etiquette by checking out our guide on what to do when entering a Marae.

The Rotorua Museum is also a great way to learn about the history of the city and the tribes of the area. Around the town you can also look for a carved bone in the most traditional way. Or for the bravest, get a Maori tattoo.

Get more information in 10 Places to Experience Maori Culture in New Zealand.

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Hike around Rotorua

On the hiking side, there are many tracks and trails around worth visiting:

Redwood Memorial Grove Track (30 minutes)

The Redwood Memorial Grove track will take you on a journey deep into the Redwood Forest, it is also a great place to mountain bike.

Okere Falls Track (30 minutes)

This waterfall is the site of white water rafting, kayaking and sledging. Take a walk to the falls to watch people get their adrenalin rush. Get there by taking State Highway 33, about 21km from Rotorua. Drive down Trout Pool Road to find the track to Okere Falls.

Blue Lake Track (1 hour)

Starting from the northwest corner of the Blue Lake Reserve, the Blue Lake track is only 1 hour but passes through an exotic forest, isolated beach and a worthwhile view of the Green and Blue Lake.

Rotorua City Walkway (4-5 hours)

The Rotorua city walkway runs for 26km and will lead you to all important historic site of the area. Start at the Kuirau Park.

Rainbow Mountain Crater Lake Walk (15 minutes)

About 15-minute drive south of Rotorua, the Rainbow Mountain’s Crater Lake Walk will amaze any volcano fans, with a great view of the crate lakes from the top, a view of the Wai-O-Tapu thermal area and other lakes.

Hinehopu/Hongi’s Track (1h30mins)

About 60km north of Rotorua, between Lake Rotoiti and Lake Rotoehu, the Hinehopu or Hongi’s Track follows the steps of chief warrior Hongi Hika.

If you have some extra time in Rotorua

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Where to stay in Rotorua?

For more accommodation options, check out Where to Camp in Rotorua.

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