Rotorua outdoor activities
Packing for outdoor recreation in Rotorua demands gear you can climb and hike in; cycle shorts for blasting along forested bike trails, sturdy shoes for walking across hot volcanic landscapes; and your togs (swimsuit) for recovering from your adventures in deliciously warm spa pools. There's an action-packed holiday awaiting you in the North Island's famous geothermal city.
Sit in a hot waterfall at Kerosene Creek
Hot water out of the ground never fails to be amazing, and it's even more enthralling if you can swim in it for free. That's why Kerosene Creek, just 35 minutes south of Rotorua on the way to Taupō, is one of Rotorua's most famous attractions.
Not too many years ago, this hot stream and waterfall near Waiotapu was something only locals knew about. Now the word's out, so aim for mid-week or early in the day to avoid crowds. There's a rustic shed for changing or just wear your togs under your clothes.
To find Kerosene Creek, look for the Old Waiotapu Road turnoff from State Highway 5. It's just a short walk through the trees from the parking area to the bathing area.
See free geothermal attractions at Kuirau Park
If you arrive in Rotorua from the north, you'll drive past Kuirau Park on your way to the city centre. It's a public park and garden, but like nothing you've seen before. Geothermal activity is everywhere at Kuirau Park - bubbling mud pools, simmering craters, steaming fumaroles and silica-fringed hot pools.
After a stroll around the park breathing in the aromatic steam, find the free foot baths and give your feet a treat. There's also a paddling pool for kids and plenty of play equipment.
Down at the edge of Lake Rotorua you'll find another area of free geothermal attractions - Sulphur Point. There's a clearly-marked path here, complete with information panels about the geothermal features. The birdlife's interesting too - look for shags, mallard ducks, dotterel, black-billed gull and a variety of terns.
Waiotapu also has a free geothermal attraction, which is on the way to the paid attraction (Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland). Just one kilometre past the Waiotapu Hotel on Waiotapu Loop Road is a large natural mud pool that boils and bubbles vigorously. The pool is particularly active and explosive after rain.
Take a geoscience hike at Waimangu Volcanic Valley, Rotorua
There are several geothermal park experiences in Rotorua and they're all captivating, but Waimangu has a special point of difference. It's a top-to-bottom walk down a volcanic valley that qualifies as the world's youngest geothermal system. Formed by the massive Mount Tarawera eruption in 1886, it's powered by magma (molten lava) that's two kilometres below the surface. Highlights here include Frying Pan Lake, the world's largest crypto geyser, beautiful silica terraces and a multiplicity of hot springs.
You can combine an on-foot adventure down Waimangu Volcanic Valley with a boat trip around Lake Rotomahana, which means 'warm lake' in Māori. There are two areas of high heat flow beneath the lake and underwater explorations recently discovered the legendary Pink and White Terraces on the lake bed. Using the Waimangu app, you can virtually recreate the terraces on your phone. This app also acts as a guide to the volcanic valley.
Play in the trees at Canopy Tours, Rotorua
It took five years to create the adventure-scape at Canopy Tours, so you know you're in for a spectacular experience. This attraction is much more than ziplines over the forest; it's about discovering a predator-free native forest environment that resembles pre-human times - but you'll also have an exciting time on the ziplines and swing bridges!
There are two canopy tours on offer:
- The Original Canopy Tour includes 600 metres of ziplines, two swing bridges, a conservation forest trail and multiple high platforms for viewing the forest. It takes three hours to complete
- The Ultimate Canopy Tour takes you deeper into the forest and includes 1.2 kilometres of ziplines, three sky-high bridges and a rocky cliff walk. A special highlight is hand-feeding native birds
Both of these tours are escorted by trained guides who share their knowledge of the trees and birds, so you'll come away understanding more about forest ecology. Children as young as six can participate and there's a free shuttle service if you don't have a car.
Hike or bike in Redwood Forest, Rotorua
The Redwoods, aka Whakarewarewa Forest, is a forest playground like no other. Planting started more than a century ago and now the Californian Redwoods are approaching 70 metres tall. Down at ground level, the forest is serene and surprisingly clear - the sunlight filters through, so you can see the understory of tree ferns and smaller natives. It's a magical setting for hiking and biking, and entry is free.
Maps and information are available from the Redwoods Visitor Centre. If you're going to explore the forest on foot, there are six sign-posted tracks ranging from 30 minutes to eight hours. For biking, the forest has beginner and easy trails, as well as intermediate, advanced and expert trails. Some trails are dual use - biking and hiking on the same path.
The Redwoods is also home to a commercial treewalk that runs during the day and after dark. The night experience is astounding - a fantasyland of swing bridges and platforms 20 metres off the ground lit with lanterns and lights.
Discover NZ's largest hot water spring at Waikite Valley Thermal Pools
Getting into hot water is almost compulsory in Rotorua. Most accommodation comes with hot pools (often a private pool with your unit or room) or you can spend half a day at beautiful Waikite Valley Thermal Pools, which harnesses water from New Zealand's largest hot spring. This pool complex is in a natural setting and there's an eco-walk to the spring.
Another option for hot water fun is the Rotorua Aquatic Centre next to Kuirau Park. This park has all sorts of pools for exercise and fun, including an interactive Splash Pad for kids, terraced outdoor spas and a heated indoor lazy river. Admission prices are low, making this one of the best things to do with children in Rotorua.
Watch Lady Knox Geyser at Waiotapu
Waiotapu, also spelt Wai-O-Tapu, is one of the Rotorua region's most beautiful geothermal parks. It demands at least half a day, because the walking trails are extensive. It's taken thousands of years for many of the geothermal features to develop, so you can expect to keep your camera app busy.
You'll particularly love the Champagne Pool, which fizzes with volcanic energy; and the sulphur-smelling craters with names like 'Devil's Bath' and 'Thunder Crater'. But the real showstopper is Lady Knox Geyser, a natural hot water fountain that erupts every morning at 10:30. It's induced to erupt with soap pellets, which lower the surface tension of the water to start the eruption process. There are bigger geysers in Rotorua, but this one is the most reliable. To make the most of extraordinary Waiotapu, wear covered walking shoes, apply sunscreen and take drinking water.
Get your thrills at Velocity Valley
Just west of Mt Ngongotaha, Velocity Valley Adventure Park is a hub for adrenalin-fuelled outdoor activities. There's every screaming-good pastime you can think of - flying in a giant wind column, zooming around a jet boat circuit at 100km/h, swooping on a giant swing, bungy jumping off a tower and racing laps in a Shweeb pod. This venue also has a freestyle airbag for mountain bikers who want to do mid-air tricks without damaging themselves (great to watch). Multi-ride and group packages are available to give you more bang for your bucks.