Smell the sulfur, experience the Maori culture, feel the history and let nature take your breath away in Rotorua. After over 100 years as the top destination in New Zealand, Rotorua is still evolving. New attractions are added and old ones are modified or maintained.
Rotorua is the only tourist destination in New Zealand that I’ve visited four times. I’ve been to the Rainbow Springs Kiwi Wildlife Park, The Agrodome and Whakarewarewa thermal village. On this trip we chose to spend time elsewhere. I always find new places to visit in this city surrounded by lakes, rivers, springs, thermal pools and forests.
Here is my pick of the top 11 attractions in Rotorua and the surrounding areas. Most of these attractions are not too touristy.
1. Whakarewarewa Forest
The Whakarewarewa Forest is a 15-square mile redwood forest with walking trails, biking and horse trails. There are 170 different tree species planted in the forest in the early 1900s but only a few species remain today. Among the most are the Californian Redwoods and the New Zealand ferns.
2. Blue and Green Lakes
You can either take a two-hour hike or drive to the lookout point to view the Blue and Green Lakes. The Green Lake also called Rotokakahi is a sacred lake. No one is allowed to dip into the lake or play around the lake. Meanwhile, the Blue Lake or Tikitapu was filled with visitors when we drove pass the area. It is a popular lake with motels and campsites.
3. Trek the Blue Lake Reserve
The area is filled with exotic plants and magnificent views of the lakes. This track starts at the Blue Lake campground. Walk to the peak to view the contrasting colors of the Blue and Green Lakes.
4. Blue Lake Beach
You don’t have to get to the ocean to enjoy a perfect day at the beach. The Blue Lake beach has crystal clear water. The area is surrounded by lush exotic forests and is non-touristy.
5. Horse Trekking Around Lake Okareka
See places that your vehicle can’t take you around Lake Okareka. Lake Okareka is one of the small lakes that few tourists go to unless they are doing the horse trekking. Hills and forests surround the area.
6. Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland
This is my ‘must-visit’ place when visiting Rotorua. Wai-O-Tapu is located south of Rotorua, and about a 20- minute drive. We stopped here on our way to Lake Taupo, which is another stop.
You can read more about Wai-O-Tapu here.
Lake Taupo is New Zealand’s largest lake. The town of Taupo is kid-friendly. There are plenty of cafés and restaurants including the unique 20-seat vintage plane that is part of the McDonald's in Taupo. According to DailyMail, when McDonald’s purchased the site in 1990, the plane came with the purchase.
After 24 years of staying put in the same place, the plane has been converted into a 20-seat dining room. You can read more about it on DailyMail.co.uk.
8. Waikite Valley Thermal Pools
Waikite Valley thermal pools are natural and untreated. The pools' water is drained every evening and replaced every morning with fresh spring water from the Te Manaroa natural boiling spring.
I like the Pergola pool with views of the Otamakokore Stream and Waikite Valley. My friend Edith, an Aucklander said Waikite Valley thermal pools are mainly catered to the locals. It is located between Rotorua and Taupo, about half an hour drive from Rotorua.
9. Government Gardens
The tudor-style Rotorua Museum of Art and History is the most photographed building in Rotorua. No trip is complete in Rotorua without a photo taking session at the Government Gardens in front of the tudor-style building.
The Rotorua Croquet Club lawn is located in front of the museum.
10. Huka Falls
More than 220,000 liters of water flow through Huka Falls every second. You can hear the gushing sounds of water at the foot bridge on top of the falls. Huka Falls is located just outside of Taupo, about five minutes from Lake Taupo and an hour from Rotorua. Huka Falls Jet boating and an hour trail walk are two of the popular activities at the Huka Falls.
11. Drive through farmlands
If you’ve already done the Agrodome tour, you may want to venture out and drive through farmlands just outside Rotorua. There are plenty of farms from Rotorua to Matamata.
The sheep to person ratio in New Zealand has dropped significantly in recent years. It used to be 3 million Kiwis to 70 million sheep when I was there in the late 80s. Now it is about half of the 70 million. Instead, with the increased demand of milk and beef, cows are increasing in numbers. I saw more cows than sheep during this trip.
Have you been to any of these 10 attractions? Let me know.