Rotorua.  in New Zealand, Oceania


in New Zealand, Oceania

New Zealand_771 Photo © Jason Jones

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	Zealand_765 - Rotorua
New Zealand_765 - Rotorua. Photo by Jason Jones
Not only a hotbed of geothermal activity, the city's rich indigenous Maori culture will enchant you. Maori revered the Rotorua region, naming one of the most spectacular springs WaioTapu (Wikipedia Article) (Sacred Waters). Today 35% of the population is Maori, making it one of the hubs of Maori culture in New Zealand.


Rotorua is part of the Volcanic Zone, a geothermal field extending from White Island off the Bay of Plenty coast to Mount Ruapehu in the central North Island. The basement rocks that form the hills and ranges of the region are sedimentary in origin, formed during the Mesozoic era (250 - 65 million years ago). These are overlain by younger sedimentary and volcanic rocks. Volcanism in the Bay of Plenty has occurred sporadically within the Okataina Volcanic Zone over the last 7 million years, increasing in tempo through time to today, where the Bay of Plenty now boasts spectacularly active geothermal features and White Island, New Zealand's most active volcano.

Such a dynamic geology is due to the positioning of the North Island above an active plate boundary - the Pacific tectonic plate being subducted beneath the Indo-Australian plate. This process involves very active plate movements which not only cause volcanic eruptions, but earthquakes.

The sulfur smell hanging over the city, especially pungent in the central-east "Te Ngae" area, is due to the dense sulfur deposits located in the Government Gardens, in the area known as "Sulphur Point".

Rotorua. Photo by unknown


The city's name comes from the Maori "Te Rotorua-nui-a-Kahumatamomoe", which means "the second great lake of Kahumatamomoe". Kahumatamomoe (Wikipedia Article) was the uncle of Maori chief Ihenga, the ancestral explorer of the Te Arawa. It was the second major lake the chief discovered, and he dedicated it to his uncle.


The area was initially settled by indigenous Maori people, of the Te Arawa iwi (tribe). The first European in the area was probably Phillip Tapsell who was trading from the Bay of Plenty coast at Maketu from 1828. Tapsell later married into the Te Arawa iwi.

The lakeshore was a prominent site of skirmishes during the New Zealand wars of the 1860s. A "special town district" was created in 1883, in order to promote Rotorua's potential as a spa destination.

Up until the 19th century, the Pink and White Terraces (Wikipedia Article) were natural wonders of New Zealand. The "tattooed" rocks were formed by geothermally heated water containing large amounts of silicic acid and sodium chloride from two large geysers. In 1886 nearby Mount Tarawera erupted in one of New Zealand's largest historic volcanic eruptions, covering the terraces. The Tarawera eruption destroyed several villages within a 6km radius, and the eruption was heard as far away as the South Island. The death toll from the eruption is thought to have been around 120.

The town was connected to Auckland with the opening of the Rotorua Branch railway and commencement of the Rotorua Express train in 1894, resulting in rapid growth and a surge in tourism. Rotorua was officially declared a city in 1962.

The Bath House / Museum in Rotorua -
The Bath House / Museum in Rotorua. Photo by Mundus Gregorius

Sights to See

Te Whakarewarewa

At Whakarewarewa, "The Living Thermal Village", visitors have been welcomed for over 100 years. Located among a seemingly hostile geothermal landscape, the people of Tuhourangi Ngati Wahiao have made their home among the geysers, bubbling hot pools, thermal springs and steaming fumaroles. Inhabitants skillfully use the unique geothermal environment in their daily lives, as they have done for centuries.
Te Whakarewarewa features more than 500 springs, the most famous of which is Pohutu ('Big Splash' or 'Explosion'), a geyser which erupts up to 20 times a day, spurting hot water up to 30m skyward. An easy way to know when it's about to blow is that the adjacent Prince of Wales' Feathers geyser will start up shortly before.

In the village you can visit the fully carved ancestral meeting house, as well as seeing Te Pakira traditional song and dance performances, and the telling of history and Maori legends linked to early migration, geothermal activity and the infamous Tarawera eruption. You can also explore the walking tracks, which include trails to the Pohutu and Prince of Wales Feathers geysers, which can be seen from dedicated viewing platforms. The area is also home to the National Carving School and the National Weaving School, where you can discover the work and methods of traditional Maori woodcarvers and weavers.

Entry to the village includes a guided tour (leaving hourly), and a cultural performance for $ 30 USD for adults and $ 13 USD for children.

Hells Gate

Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw was so moved by the raw power of the earth in this place that he gave the English name "Hellsgate" to this part of Rotorua, believing he had indeed arrived at the gates to Hell. Today, Hells Gate is Rotorua's most active geothermal park. Featuring boiling hot pools and erupting waters with temperatures in excess of 100 degrees Celsius, the park also features New Zealand's largest active mud volcano. Hells Gate also boasts the Southern Hemisphere's largest hot water fall, sulphur crystals, and even examples of land coral.

The park is steeped in history, and you can follow the paths of ancient warriors past the pool where the Maori Princess, Hurutini, lost her life for her people; see the violent geothermal activity of the "Inferno" with two erupting pools aptly named "Soddam" and "Gomorra" by Shaw, and then on to the Kakahi hot waterfall, where Maori warriors would return after battle to remove the "tapu" (curse) of war and heal their wounds.

The variety of unique geothermal muds are fascinating - the black geothermal mud has been used for more than a century in the treatment of arthritis and rheumatism; the ice cold white geothermal mud changes form from solid to liquid and back again, and is used for the relief of burns; and the warm silky grey geothermal mud gently exfoliates the skin.

Entry to the geothermal reserve is $ 35 USD , with entry to the spa and other services at an additional cost. Opening hours are 8:30am to 10pm daily.

Rotorua Museum

The Rotorua Museum is absolutely worth a stop to discover the history of the town. Situated in a former bath house, the beautiful building is home to some excellent exhibits. A short film on the city's history will catch you up to speed, including the Tarawera eruption. The Don Stafford Wing is a homage to the indigenous Te Arawa people, showcasing their crafts such as flax weaving, wood carving and greenstone/pounamu (New Zealand jade). The museum also houses two art galleries and a cafe. Entry is $ 20 USD for an adult, $ 8.00 USD for a child. Opening hours are 9am-5pm daily, with tours hourly 10am-4pm.

Waimangu Volcanic Valley

The Waimangu Volcanic Valley is the world's youngest geothermal system. Here you can take a guided tour or a self-guided walk through spectacular thermal activity and volcanic craters. Also available are half and full day sightseeing tours from Rotorua, including a lake cruise, as well as nature walks and hikes. Open 8:30am-5pm daily throughout the year, entry fees range begin at $ 35 USD . The valley is located 20 minutes south of the city.

Around Rotorua

The Rotorua region has 17 lakes, providing perfect opportunities for fishing, waterskiing and swimming.
Whakarewarewa Forest (Wikipedia Article) is also the heart of mountain biking in Rotorua, named one of the top 8 global locations by Red Bull Magazine in 2012. The forest includes over 100km of mountain bike trails.


For brunch or lunch, you can't beat Third Place on Lake Road. Offering delicious and dependable meals, Third Place won't disappoint. For New Zealand cuisine with a hint of an Asian influence, try Bistro 1284 on Eruera Streat. You can't go past the lamb dishes!

For a healthy bite to eat, check out Zippy Central Bar & Cafe on Pukuatua Street. Offering everything from breakfast to sandwiches, stir fries and curries, this is your one stop shop to satisfy any tastebuds. Should the sweet craving strike while in Rotorua, a stop by Mistress of Cakes on Lynmore Ave is a must. Check out the lemon passion fruit meringues - to die for!


Due to its popularity with international tourists, Rotorua has plenty to offer on the accommodation front. At the budget end, check out the Funky Green Voyager hostel on Union Street, which offers comfortable private rooms and dorms. At the other end of the scale, try The Princes Gate Hotel. Providing 54 different rooms, the hotel is warm and welcoming, with extras such as cascading mineral baths. For many more options, check out

Getting there

Located in the heart of the North Island, nearby cities include Tauranga (60km to the north), Taupo (80km to the south), Hamilton (105km to the west), and Auckland (230km to the northwest).
State Highway 5 is the main north-south route through Rotorua, connecting it to the south to Taupo, Hawke's Bay, Manawatu and Wellington. State Highway 30 runs southwest to northeast through the town, connecting it to Tokoroa, the Waitomo Caves and Taranaki.

For getting around town itself, many local attractions offer free pick-up/drop-off shuttle services. Baybus also operates local bus services around town, as well as to Ngongotaha and the airport.
Rotorua Airport is 10km northeast of the city, and hosts domestic flights from Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch. Shuttles are available for door-to-door airport service for around $ 20 USD . Car rentals are also available at the airport.


The Rotorua region enjoys a warm, temperate climate. Situated inland and sheltered by high country to the south and east, Rotorua experiences relatively low levels of wind compared with many other places in New Zealand. During the winter months (June-August) temperatures can drop well below 0°C, while in summer, the high temperature generally peaks around 23°C.

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Author: Amanda. Last updated: Mar 16, 2016

Pictures of Rotorua

New Zealand_780 - Rotorua
New Zealand_780 - Rotorua. Photo by Jason Jones

Rotorua Museum, Rotorua, North Island, New Zealand. - Rotorua
Rotorua Museum, Rotorua, North Island, New Zealand. - Photo by Tony Fernandez

Redwood Forest Morning - Rotorua
Redwood Forest Morning - Rotorua. Photo by Kathrin & Stefan Marks


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