Since arriving in New Zealand a few months ago, we hadn’t yet managed to head out of Auckland and start exploring. So, we decided to coincide my birthday with a trip down to Rotorua – the activities capital of the North Island!
The 3 days we were down there were so jam-packed that we barely had time to smell the sulphur *that’s a lie – it hits you like a brick the minute you get out the car and you will spend the entire trip feeling like you’re trapped inside a giant fart.* In fairness, you actually weirdly end up getting used to the smell pretty quickly – some spots are worse than others, but as a general rule, it’s actually quite manageable! There’s a crazy amount of things to do down there – including bungee jumps and slingshot swings which we were too chicken-shit to partake in. It can get pretty expensive, but there’s also a bunch of free or cheap options of things to do if you’re happy to avoid some of the more intense itineraries. Overall, we had a great time and have recommended it to everyone, so here’s our top 10 list of the things you can’t miss while down in Rotovegas!
1. Zorbing – ZORB Rotorua
By far our absolute favourite thing we did while down in Rotorua was climbing into a massive inflatable ball filled with water and rolling down a hill a few times – otherwise known as zorbing. Who knew hamsters had it so good?! ZORB Rotorua were awesome – they had 4 different tracks and hot tubs at both the top and bottom of the hill – which in winter was 100% necessary! The entire time we couldn’t stop laughing – it was so much fun and not painful at all which was what we had originally slightly anticipated. For 20% off your tickets head online to www.zorb.com and pop in the promo code: friendsandfamily – trust us, it’s totally worth it!
2. Luging – Skyline Rotorua
Another activity that had us laughing til our sides hurt was the luge at Skyline Rotorua. We donned our helmets and channelled our inner super mario characters before racing down the hills on our little luge carts. The views were insanely beautiful and the track was so much fun! We had purchased 5 luge & ski-lift rides – which, because 2 of 3 tracks were out of use on the day was probably a little bit too many, but we still had an amazing time. Wouldn’t recommend purchasing the addition of the gondola ride – they encouraged it for the views but as the windows were all scratched up and dirty those views weren’t given justice! Stick to the ski-lifts after your luge rides and don’t forget to take a pic next to the iconic Rotovegas sign before you leave! Check out www.bookme.co.nz for cheap tickets.
3. WhiteWater Rafting – Kaituna Cascades
Surprised I’m even alive to recommend white water rafting with Kaituna Cascades but it was 100% worth what felt like a near-death experience! The team were awesome and the adrenaline rush wasn’t comparable. Tutea falls is the world’s highest commercially rafted waterfall and at 22 feet high you definitely feel the drop once you shoot off over the edge! Our raft flipped and I was underwater panicking and contemplating who gets what in my will for 45 seconds (I have Go Pro evidence for the timing and definitely should have listened to the instructions when they said hold on to your raft!). Thankfully, I didn’t drown or become a mermaid and I can now officially say we did it and lived to tell the tale! Plus, the workout you get from rafting is also pretty intense so skip the gym for the day and throw yourself off a waterfall instead!
4. Maori Experience – Mitai Maori
Whenever I visit a country, the three things I’m most interested in doing is learning about the culture, understanding the history and trying the country specific foods. Over at Mitai Maori I was able to check all of three of them off my list! The evening starts with Maori warriors arriving on a traditional canoe, a mini talk about the freshwater springs and an incredible performance including traditional poi dancing and a haka finale. We were then taken to the dinner hall for a tasty hangi buffet – which definitely filled us all up! After dinner there was a lot of boring ‘audience participation’ style questions about where the 120 of us had come from etc, then a flashlight walk into the little village to see glow-worms. Unfortunately, no-one could see them because people wouldn’t listen when the guide kept telling people to turn off their flashlights! This dragged out ending did slightly dampen an initially amazing activity but the performance was so engaging that it still stuck out as a must do in Rotorua – just maybe leave after you’ve licked your buffet plate clean!
5. Mud Baths & Hot Pools – Hells Gate
If all the high adrenaline activities prove to be a little bit too exhausting for you – the best place you can head in Rotorua for some rest and relaxation is definitely Hells Gate. We purchased the ‘excite’ experience which combines all of their other tickets into one neatly done combo. It’s definitely on the pricey side at $99 each (click here for 10% off your tickets) but it was a great way to unwind. The excite package included a mud spa, cold and hot plunge pools, a geothermal walk around the premises and a lesson in Maori carvings – in which we were able to take home our little handmade souvenirs! Our session in the mud spa was shared with a couple who were definitely big believers in PDA – so most of the time we felt like we’d inadvertently entered into a swinger’s spa! Awkward forth and fith wheeling aside, we had a great time – we loved the carving lesson and the bonus was we left with the smoothest skin we’ve ever had!
6. Geothermal Park – Wai-O-Tapu
Because geothermal activity is the heart of everything in Rotorua you can’t head all the way there without checking out Wai-O-Tapu! The self-proclaimed thermal wonderland is an Instagram dream – with brightly coloured hot pools and weird bubbling mud baths. The ‘Lady Knox Geyser’ is a big feature – and only erupts at 10am with a helping hand from the staff – so wake up early & get down there! The park is split into 3 walks and to do all 3 it takes around 2 hours; including a healthy amount of selfie opportunities. Our favourite spots were the almost comic book coloured greens of Roto Karikitea, the beautiful views over Lake Ngakoro, and the multicoloured palette of the Champagne Pools. It’s definitely worth a visit and the upside is none of the walks are too challenging, so it winds up being a very chilled morning taking in the sights and smells of geothermal Rotorua!
7. Eat Eat Eat! – Pig & Whistle
Exploring is definitely hungry work! After a busy day of luging, zorbing and mud bathing we were ravenous. There’s a whole road, aptly named Eat Street, lined with restaurants, cafes, bars & coffee shops – so finding a decent dinner spot is simple! Though the best grub we had was hands down from the Pig & Whistle. The portions were absolutely huge, the burger was one of the best I’ve had and the garlic bread came out as an entire loaf – my carb intake was through the roof but I was happier than I’ve ever been! Another great spot to check out it the Rotorua night market, open every Thursday and lined with amazing food stalls stocked with every cuisine you could possibly imagine. You may leave Rotorua 10lbs heavier but it just gives you even more of an excuse to raft those calories off!
8. Redwoods Walks – Whakarewarewa Forest
Nature lovers – this one’s for you! The Whakarewarewa forest is home to the gorgeous redwood trees, towering over you and making you feel like you’ve appeared in the remake of ‘honey, I shrunk the kids!’ The forest has a bunch of marked trails – some as short as a 30minute return walk, others up to 4 hours long. The walks are super easy to follow and very peaceful, plus it’s one of the few places that doesn’t have the classic Rotorua whiff attached to it. They also have a tree-top walk that puts you 20metres high in the forest, but we opted out of it as we much preferred gazing up at the trees instead of looking down on the passers–by!
9. Free Geothermal Park – Kuirau Park
Another freebie worth checking out is Kuirau Park – apparently New Zealand’s only geothermal public park. It’s right in the heart of the city centre and consists of lots of mini hot springs, thermal foot baths and mud pools. The crater lake is super misty and if people haven’t filmed a horror movie there yet then they’re missing a trick! Spooky vibes aside – it really is a beautiful way to experience Rotorua without needing to dig out your bank card!
10. Shweeb Racer – Velocity Valley
Velocity Valley is home to some of the more ‘extreme’ Rotorua attractions such as bungee-jumping and slingshot swings – both of which gave us anxiety even watching from below, so there was no chance we were paying to do either of those! We settled for the shweeb racer – little aerodynamic racing pods that you pedal around for 3 laps racing each other. It was not only a mini-workout but also a lot of fun, and our competitive sides burst out of us way faster than our pods could even go! The only downside was that it was over within 3 minutes and it was super expensive at $50 each. Thankfully we found 50% off tickets on www.bookme.co.nz, but even then it’s a lot of money for a blink and you’ll miss it activity. It’s definitely worth adding it on if you’re heading to Velocity Valley for any of their other options but not worth it as a standalone attraction! Oh, and for those that wanna know – Kenny beat me by 7 seconds but he cheated, I’m sure.
We really did have the best time in Rotorua, it was fun-packed, laugh a minute and full of excitement. Our first proper trip in New Zealand was a massive success and it’s spurred me on even more to start planning more little getaways!