Rotorua, the Volcanic City of the North Island.
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Schedule of the Visit.
- 1A Day in Rotorua.
- 2Champagne with Arsenic.
- 3A Red Forest and Multicolored Lakes.
- 4Maori Culture in the Rotorua Museum.
- 5Welcome to Kiwi Land!
- 6Lovers of the Lake Rotorua.
- 7Adventures in New Zealand.
A Day in Rotorua.
Rotorua is one of the main tourist destinations of the North Island of New Zealand after Auckland. The region is famous for its green mountains, colourful lakes and tropical forests (with giant trees) and most of all for its hot pools.
Rotorua is built at the junction of two great tectonic plates.
The underground activity rises to the surface, even in the city streets. The steam emanates from thermal springs, the mud pools are boiling and the powerful geysers gush to incredible heights.
It is nicknamed the “sulfur city” because of the sulfur hydrogen which spreads throughout the air.
If your chemistry memories go back to childhood, you may recall that this gas has an unpleasant smell! But what seems to be an inconvenience doesn't scare the visitors, on the contrary...
Rotorua is a famous for its spa activities since 1908. But the Maori had already settled in this region of New Zealand for centuries.
Over time, the Maori had learned to use hydrotherapy to heal people but also for laundry or cooking purposes.
Geothermal tourism is now booming with 2 million visitors each year.
Historical recreations, spas and amusement parks are mushrooming all around the city.
Most of these attractions require a transport solution. You must also consider the distances to establish your schedule because there are many things to see and do. Planning all the visits could become a nightmare! Fortunately, Kiwipal's itinerary is very reliable and easy to follow.
The day ahead will be dense with many different activities. This is a great opportunity to escape your daily routine to regain strength before the Tongariro Alpine Crossing.
Be sure to charge your camera's battery while you prepare sandwiches for today's lunch. Be sure to have a solid breakfast then get ready for departure!
Champagne with Arsenic.
Wai-o-tapu is a vast geothermal park located 25 minutes from Rotorua. Its name means “sacred waters” in Maori. The area is not dangerous, but it is still a volcanic region and you'll be exposed to direct sunlight all the time. You should wear appropriate walking walking shoes, and you must not forget to bring water bottles and sunscreen with you.
The tour begins with “Champagne Pool”, a pool of 65 m in diameter as wide as deep.
It owes its name because of the gas bubbles rising to the surface.
The green colour of the 75° C hot water reveals the presence of arsenic. The orange edges are made of antimony deposits, while the ground which is white as flour is actually made of silica.
This landscape would fit better on another planet or on the White Island Volcano. Because of the sulfur steam, I already have itchy eyes, so I will step back for a moment to take pictures. Allow me enough time to put the polarizing filter to my camera, a nice trick to get better pictures.
It takes about an hour and a half to go round the 25 original attractions of the park. I'll meet you later in front of the “Primrose Terrace” (easy to recognize because of the sulfur deposits that resemble laces). Do not miss crystal caves and waterfalls of “Bridal Veil Falls”.
The famous geyser “Lady Knox” is only a few minutes' drive.
It would normally rise randomly, but it is possible to give it a little push every morning at 10:15.
More than a century ago, the convicts were washing their clothes there and one of them dropped his soap by accident. The chemical reaction produced a powerful geyser of 20 meters' height!
Today, this special trick is still used to help nature.
Although the phenomenon is a bit staged it remains interesting and fun to see.
It worths a visit if you've never seen a geyser in your life, but watching the audience in the first row getting soaked is probably even more fun ...
The lunar landscape of Wai-o-tapu is extraordinary, but after inhaling the steam of sulfur, a little fresh air will do us well before the next activity.
A Red Forest and Multicolored Lakes.
Next stop at “Whakarewarewa” where is the famous Redwoods Forest. In 1901, the government of New Zealand has planted 170 different tree species to identify the most suited to the climate of the region.
This is the place where I have taken some of my best pictures, thanks to the extraordinary rays of light between the trees.
In fact, the Giant California Coastal Redwood has adapted so well to the climate that the forest's name was even renamed. The contrast between the red barks and the lush green ferns is a delight. But these quiet section covers only 6 of the 288 hectares of the forest. Other trails are reserved to mountain bikes, with 60 km of slopes that will please both beginners and professionals.
The morning comes to an end and I guess you must start to feel hungry. We are only minutes away from Rotorua by car, but I prefer to avoid the sulfur smell during the lunch!
The intense volcanic activity has given birth to seventeen lakes around Rotorua.
Among them, blue Lake “Tikitapu” and green lake “Rotokakahi” (both of them close to Redwoods) are the most beautiful in the region.
The Blue Lake owes its colour to the igneous rock deposits, while the Green Lake color is due to the sand accumulated at shallow depth.
The contrast with the exotic trees of the forest is fantastic.
We will enjoy the picnic tables on the shore of the Blue lake. If we would have been given more time, I would have suggested to try water skiing or kayaking.
If you want to put your feet in the water, enjoy yourself!
Close to the Blue Lake, the Green Lake is a sacred Maori place and its access is strictly prohibited to the public.
However, we can have a glimpse of it from a promontory close to a car park.
The legend of the ghost canoe is still as popular since the eruption of Mt Tarawera, which buried an entire village in 1886.
A disaster that did not discourage the survivors, and the Maori community of Rotorua is now the most important of the country.
But we have enough explored the region for now, it is time to return to the city.
Maori Culture in the Rotorua Museum.
The Tikis (which are carved totem poles painted in red), mark the entrance to the “Paepaekumana”, known today as the famous “Government Gardens” of Rotorua. This former battlefield is of particular significance for Maori who yielded it to the British crown in the late 19th century.
The proximity of “Sulphur Point” explains the rotten egg smell that impregnates the area. But this minor problem usually does not prevent the visitors to appreciate the English garden.
There are large beds of roses, ponds with large nenuphars, and green lawns where beautifully dressed locals enjoy to play croquet.
After the great Te Papa of Wellington, the Rotorua Museuma is one of the most photographed buildings in New Zealand. This former Spa is built in an elegant Tudor style. It takes about two hours to explore the large indoor galleries without rushing the visit.
The ground floor offers a fascinating kinematics about the geological history of the region and narrates the best Maori legends.
You will be surprised to feel the seats vibrating during the volcanic scenes. And as the smell of sulfur came with us from the city up to the museum, the recreation is nearly perfect!
The old Spa installations are located in the basement. This is the part of the visit that I like the least and I find the place a bit sinister.
Some experimental treatments, such as exposure to radium or even electric shocks did not really meet the expectations of the so-called "doctors" of that time...
The galleries of the north wing are dedicated to temporary exhibitions of paintings or photography.
If the daily theme does not interest you, you may join directly the south gallery dedicated to the Maori culture.
Before entering, you must observe the ritual of purification and dip your fingers in a basin filled with water and leaves.
The cheap products sold in the souvenirs shops all around the country can't match the beauty of the authentic sculptures exhibited here. The pounamu jewels (the jade of New Zealand), are true wonders. Unfortunately, taking pictures of these sacred treasures is prohibited!
Do not forget to climb to the belvedere where you can enjoy an overall view of the Government gardens and the Rotorua Lake.
The Spanish-style building that can be seen on the edge of the park houses the famous “Blue baths”.
Our tight schedule does not leave us enough time to enjoy the hot pools at 37° C. But this is for a good cause because you can't leave Rotorua without greeting the local celebrity.
Welcome to Kiwi Land!
Rainbow Springs manages to gather a zoo, a botanical garden and an amusement park in a same forest. The paths lined with a variety of tropical plants lead to natural ponds where thousands of wild trout and eels swim.
But the park's star is undoubtedly the kiwi mascot of New Zealand and Kiwipal!
This flightless bird easy to recognize thanks to his long beak only comes out at night. These adorable Kiwis are protected from the predators and artificially plunged into darkness until 17h.
At Rainbow Springs, four brown kiwis waddle in search of earthworms. I have always been amazed to see how quickly they move despite their awkward and funny gait.
The thin barrier allows us to admire them closely, but we must be very discreet.
Our new friends are very shy and they hate the flashes of cameras (naturally prohibited in here).
There is also a rare species of white Kiwi.
I advise you to pay the extra to gain access to the “Kiwi Wild Park” section where veterinarians help the kiwi babies to grow up safely. A circuit allows to observe the incubator and every step that will prepare these cute animals to the great return in mother nature. Your 10 bucks will not be spent in vain because the chances of survival of each kiwi increases by 90% thanks to your donations!
However, the kiwi is not the only of the endangered species having found refuge here.
The kea is a mountain parrot, known to be the most intelligent bird of the world. However, another species, the tuatura, has always fascinated me.
This creature belongs to a distant branch of reptiles, surviving since the dinosaurs' epoch, nearly 65 million years ago!
The “Big Splash Water Ride” is a boat tour that follows a stream in the forest.
Try to take a sit in the middle row and forward, because there will be a surprise before the end of the trip...
The nine minutes of this attraction allow visitors to discover the ecological evolution of New Zealand.
The Weta Studios of Peter Jackson, director of The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, designed the special effects and the audio commentaries you can hear along the tour.
The full-scale animatronics dinosaurs are particularly realistic and might even scare the young ones!
Then we go back in time to meet the moa, a three-meter high ostrich that Maori hunted until its extinction in the 13th century. At the same epoch, the giant Haast eagle was able to fly at 80 km / h, and was being feared because it was able to attack and even kill children!
The Haast eagle was powerful enough to attack and carry a man in the air!
Before the very end, our boat hurtles down a steep slope and a big splash is spraying a great amount of water in every direction. If you sat in the middle row as I said before, you won't have to change clothing before dinner.
Lovers of the Lake Rotorua.
You may want to buy a Maori sculpture as a souvenir of your trip in New Zealand? I guess I won't discourage you from visiting the souvenirs shop downtown… You'll see by yourself that the quality is quite low (most of what you can see comes from China).
Please, do not spend all your budget in such products, and save some cash for the dinner instead.
The Fat Dog is my favorite restaurant, with its funky atmosphere and poems that adorn the walls.
I'm a big fan of their “Dollox Burger” and the roast lamb is not bad either! The addition is not of the lightest, but the portions are very generous.
Look at the menu on the large slate and place your order directly at the bar. You'll receive a colorful plastic toy that will allow the waiter to recognize our table later.
We will have other opportunities to taste the Hangi, which is the traditional Maori food. This is a cooking method that cannot be improvised. It consists to deposit ashes in a hole, with the wrapped food to be cooked (meat and vegetables). The hole is covered with earth and the food is cooked slowly. The result is a healthy meal with an inimitable smoky flavor.
You may have seen postcards of the Rotorua Lake in the souvenir shops. We were so close to the lake today without having the time for a pause.
So, I suggest ending the day with a nice walk on the waterfront to enjoy the sunset and admire the lake.
Lake Rotorua is the largest in the region with 10 km in diameter. In the Maori language “Roto” mean “lake” and “rua” means "two".
This is the second largest lake discovered by the Maori tribal chief Ihenga (who lacked some imagination that day, apparently).
At this late hour, one can still spot the Mokoaia Island in the middle of the Lake. The legend says that a couple of lovers were living here, against the will of their rival tribes.
This kiwi version of Romeo and Juliet is celebrated by a famous Māori song known as the “Pokarekare Ana”. Even the last fishermen are leaving, and the black swans are going to sleep. I believe that we will imitate them. Tomorrow is another adventure in New Zealand.
You certainly took a thousand amazing pictures today, and you probably want to share them with your friends. Best place for this is probably at the hotel bar, with a last evening drink.
Adventures in New Zealand.
This is probably one of the most intense days that one can live during a trip to New Zealand. The number of activities makes your head spin and it is difficult to resist the temptation. Be careful because it is easy to exceed your budget here!
There are so many things to do in Rotorua, with completely crazy activities that will attract thrill seekers like a magnet!
You can also reach the Skyline using the gondolas, to enjoy the summer luge tracks on the mountainside.
Of course, Rotorua is not devoid of some negative points. By multiplying the motels with neon lights, the city has earned its nickname of “Roto Vegas”.
Fortunately, this weak point does not affect the whole city, and the most beautiful attractions, like the Government Gardens and its museum are not concerned at all.
The sulfur smell may eventually bother you... but this is part of the Rotorua's experience. This is a souvenir that you will evoke with pleasure long after the trip!
I will not bother you again with security issues. Honestly, do I need to state that going off-track would be a very bad idea in a geothermal region?
The region is famous for its Maori spectacles. Te Puia, Whakarewarewa or Tamaki allow their visitors to attend dances and traditional songs in reconstituted villages. But these are entertainments not to be confused with cultural events. Do not forget it or you might be disappointed by the atmosphere.
I rather recommend a short visit to Ohinemutu, the real Maori heart of Rotorua.
The beautiful marae Tamatekapua and its Wharenui (the communal Maori house) can be visited for free (with great respect of course). This is a truly authentic place and not too much crowded for the moment.
In this regard, it is noteworthy that most costly activities also have free alternatives in the region.
Kuirau is a free geothermal park downtown, but it suffers from the comparison with Wai-o-tapu (but worth a look if your hotel is nearby).
Te Puia, however, is a great geothermal park that should be visited if you spend two days in Rotorua (there are impressive geysers to be seen).
Lake Rotorua is superb, but it is not the largest lake in New Zealand. You should visit Taupo and its les chutes des Huka Falls, a little further south. These powerful waterfalls can fill an Olympic swimming pools in few seconds!
May I introduce Ben the Kiwi, our adorable mascot. Ben is above all an expert guide who knows everything about the activities of the region. You can ask him any questions. As for me, I will be happy to publish your best pictures of Rotorua on Kiwipal.
According to new scientific research, the “Pink and White Terrace” which were lost during the great eruption of Mt Tarawera might still exist. These large cascading roses basins were often regarded as the 8th wonder of the world. They are now buried under the water at 60 meters deep. Perhaps we will be able to see them again during the next decade.
Questions & Answers.
What can I do for you? Dear friends, to tell the truth, the smell of sulfur that you sometimes breathe in the city does not bother me. This is part of the charm of Rotorua. And it will make you an original memory to tell to your friends
- All topics ... 40 answers in total
- Rainbow Springs 7 answers
- Spas and Relaxation 6 answers
- The Lakes in the Region 6 answers
- Practical Information 5 answers
- Redwoods 3 answers
- Wai-o-tapu 3 answers
- Maori Culture and Shows 3 answers
- Rotorua Museum 2 answers
- Accommodation and Restaurants 2 answers
- Transports 2 answers
- Weather 1 answer
- Do you have a map of Rainbow Springs?
I discovered this interactive plan (a bit long to display, be patient).Rainbow Springs Map
- What are the conditions of access to Rainbow Springs?
The park opens at 8:30 am until late in the evening. Your ticket is valid for 24 hours, and you can return to see the kiwis in the evening in an outdoor enclosure. Any ticket purchased after 5pm is valid until midday. More details about the rates on the official website.Rotorua Rainbow Springs
- Am I certain to see kiwis at Rainbow Springs?
Ask the question at the front desk before taking your tickets. Sometimes the attraction is closed when the kiwis need care. Ask at the same time if the Big Splash works, you never know...
- Can I picnic at Rainbow Springs?
Yes, there are camping tables and you can bring your own provisions, or buy sandwiches (quite expensive) at the cafe.
- Is Rainbow Springs Big Splash for free?
It is included in the entrance ticket, you can make this attraction as many times as you want. Only inconvenience, there is often a long queue.
- What are the conditions of access to the Big Splash?
To climb alone, one must measure at least 1.1 m. The child minimum height is 80 cm, but it requires the presence of an adult.
- Will I get wet during the Big Splash?
Probably, but you will not be soaked either. Wear a wax jacket and come with spare clothes for the kids.
Spas and Relaxation
- How to explain the geothermal activity of Rotorua?
The city lies on a fault that extends from White Island to the Tongariro Volcano over 200 km. Two tectonic plates overlap slowly and generate intense heat that rises to the surface.
- Is the air toxic?
No, otherwise people would not have built a city in this location. But the smell of sulfur can be problematic in the long run, especially if one is asthmatic.
- Is there a danger of a volcanic eruption?
The Mt Tarawera which rises to 1111 m is a volcano. Its last eruption wreaked havoc in 1886 and resulted in the death of the 150 inhabitants of a village. The volcano woke up only five times over the last 18,000 years, you can sleep quiet.
- Do we have to follow the safety instructions?
In 2003, the mud ponds of Kuirau Park erupted. Some rocks with the size of a basketball were projected to 10 m tall! Stay behind the security barriers.
- What is the largest geyser in the area?
The Pohutu is located in Whakarewarewa. It gushes up to 20 times a day and amounts to 30 m. Its name means "explosion" in Maori.
- Can I bathe in a hot spring?
Water and vapors can be burning or becoming suddenly hot. Visit a thermal center or soak your feet for free in a special thermal source at Kuirau Park.
The Lakes in the Region
- Can we do cruises on Lake Rotorua?
You can embark aboard the Lakeland Queen, a paddle-wheel boat that used to be on the Mississippi.Lakeland Queen Rotorua
- Is there a stroll around Lake Rotorua?
Lakeside Trail is a trail that runs around the lake to reach Wakarewarewa Forest Park. Various explanations panels deal with flora and fauna during the course. Count 1h30 A / R knowing that you can give up at any time to return to the city.
- Are there hiking trails near the blue lake?
A circuit in a loop makes the tour of the lake in 1h30 crossing forest and beaches. The start of this walk is at the level of "Blue Lake Reserve" on your right, at one kilometer from the campsite. A promontory allows to admire the difference of tint between the blue lake and the green lake.
- Why is the green lake sacred?
The Maori of the Pae-o-te-rangi tribe buried their dead on the island of Motu-tawa in the middle of the lake.
- Can we visit Mokoia Island?
Mokoia Island Wairora Experiences is the only authorized operator to sail toward the island. There are 4 km of trails and the thermal spring of Hinemoa.Mokoia Island Wairora Experiences
- What are the opening dates of the fishing season?
Given the abundance of trout, fishing is permitted throughout the year in Lake Rotorua. Otherwise, the official fishing season opens everywhere else from October 1st to June 30th.
- Where is the Rotorua iSite?
At 1167 on Fenton St, the main street. The building resembles the Rotorua Museum. There is also a currency exchange desk and a café. It is the starting point of the shuttles for excursions. Open every day from 8am to 5.30pm in winter, and until 6pm in summer.
- Is the city dangerous?
Statistically, New Zealand is one of the safest countries in the world. The main problem is car theft. Avoid parking your car in the evening in a deserted car park and do not hang out in the Kuirau Park at nightfall.
- How many people lives in Rotorua?
Approximately 66,000 inhabitants, including 35% of Maori origin (the highest proportion in the country).
- Where to go shopping in Rotorua?
There are nearly 250 shops in the center. Rotorua Central Mall is the main shopping center. There is also a shopping arcade between Amohau St and Victoria St. For souvenirs, there are shops close to the Rotorua Museum.
- Are there golf courses in Rotorua?
The town's golf course is at the top of Fenton St. It is open to the public without registration. For $10, you can play 9 holes in the middle of the pools of bubbling mud.
- How to get a Redwoods map?
Redwood Gift Shop & Visitor Center is an information center with a shop and a museum. You will find it in the parking lot on Tarawera Road. Open from 8.30am on weekdays and 10am on weekends. Closed from 17h in summer and 16h in winter. The maps are distributed free of charge.Redwoods Official website
- Can we have a picnic in Redwoods?
Yes, there are camping tables.
- Can we rent bicycles?
Rent bikes in town or sign up for guided tours at "Planet Bike". You can usually rent mountain bikes directly from the forest parking lot.Planet Bike
- Do you have a map of the Wai-o-tapu park?
You can request a copy of this plan at the reception:Wai-o-Tapu Map
- How to explain the colors in the park of Wai-o-tapu?
Yellow is the color of sulfur, orange of antimony, green of arsenic, violet of manganese, red of iron oxide, black of carbon, and white of silica.
- Will our children find Wai-o-tapu interesting?
They tend to get tired quickly because it is hot and the smell of sulfur is strong.
Maori Culture and Shows
- Where does the nickname « Roto Vegas » come from?
There are many neon motels and some gambling halls. In reality, the city is not very busy at night, with only one disco, the "Heaven & Hell".
- What can we visit in Ohinemutu?
The old heart of Rotorua has an Anglican church built in 1914 in the Tudor style. The interior houses many Maori sculptures and large tukutuku (carved panels). In front of the church, the Marae Tamatekapua and its Wharenui (common house) Te Papaiouru can be visited, but remove your shoes before entering!
- What is the best Maori show in the region?
It's difficult to answer this question... I take the risk in suggesting Tamaki, Te Puia or Whakarewarewa who are fighting hard on this touristic market.Whakarewarewa
- What are the conditions for admission to the Rotorua Museum?
The museum is open daily from 9 am until 5 pm. Admission is $20 for adults, and $8 for children (free for children under 5).Rotorua Museum
- What are the movie schedules at the Rotorua Museum?
Each session lasts 20 minutes and the screenings start at 9am. The film is broadcast in 8 languages, and you may need to come back later. Schedules are indicated at the reception desk.
Accommodation and Restaurants
- Is it easy to find accommodation in Rotorua?
Yes, there is a wide variety of hotels, motels, not to mention the campsites.
- Where is the Fat Dog restaurant?
Meet in 1161 on Arawa St every day of the week from 8am to 9.30pm.Fat Dog Café Restaurant
- Is there an airport?
The Rotorua airport serves the main cities of the country and Australia in recent years. It is 9 km from downtown via State Highway 30. The Super Shuttle costs $20 + $6 per passenger.Rotorua Super shuttle
- Can we get to Rotorua by bus?
- What's the weather like in Rotorua?
The average temperatures are 23 ° C in summer and 12 ° C in winter.
On the Country Map
Rotorua is located on the North Island in the Bay of Plenty.
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