Uncover geothermal wonders, immerse in Maori culture, & experience great outdoors thrills in this 3-day Rotorua itinerary. Hot springs, hikes, cultural shows & more.
Nestled in the heart of New Zealand’s North Island, Rotorua is a top destination for travelers seeking an authentic Māori cultural experience, geothermal wonders, and outdoor adventures.
The settlement itself has developed inside a 240 000 year old caldera, one of the biggest sleeping volcano in the area. This is why, Rotorua is mainly known for its bubbling mud pools, shooting geysers, and hot springs, all caused by the region’s geothermal activity. It’s the place to witness the grand Pōhutu Geyser in action, explore the geothermal parks, and soak in mineral-rich hot pools for a truly relaxing experience.
Rotorua is also home to a rich Māori heritage, and visitors can experience this through traditional cultural performances, authentic Māori cuisine, and interactive tours of Māori villages. You can also try your hand at traditional crafts, such as carving or weaving, or learn about the customs and beliefs of the local people.
For adventure seekers, Rotorua offers a range of exciting activities, such as ziplining, mountain biking, and whitewater rafting. And opportunities to explore the city’s beautiful parks, such as Redwoods Forest, or take a scenic hike to one of the area’s many stunning waterfalls.
Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase after clicking one of these links, I earn a small commission from that website at no extra cost to you. Learn more: Disclosure policy.
Rotorua Itinerary Overview
Day 1: Discover the famous Wai-O-Tapu geothermal park, walk around Rotorua City Center (Ōhinemutu living Māori suburb, Government Gardens, Kuirau Park & mud pools) and spend an evening in a traditional Māori setting.
Day 2: Start by relaxing for a few hours at the spa, and then go visit the cute Kiwi birds in their natural habitat. Have lunch at the Eat Street, take a tour of the lakes and reserve your evening for a forest walk and geysers erupting under the stars.
Day 3: Great day for spending some time in the great outdoors of Rotorua: a bit of adrenaline, volcanoes and panoramic views of Rotorua.
How Many Days in Rotorua?
For a general visit to Rotorua, a 3-day itinerary is a good starting point.
If you’re interested in experiencing the geothermal wonders, Maori culture, and adventure activities, then the 3 days would enough to explore the city and its surroundings. This would give you enough time to visit the popular attractions like Te Puia, Wai-O-Tapu, and experience Maori culture. Added to that, you would have plenty of opportunities for nature walks and adventure activities like ziplining or mountain biking.
⌛ Best is 3 days. But in case one day in Rotorua is all you have, don’t worry! It’s still possible to catch a glimpse of Rotorua’s highlights. I wrote about this here: Spending One day in Rotorua (Map & Tips).
How to Spend 3 Days in Rotorua
🚡 Day 1: Wai-O-Tapu, Rotorua City Center & Parks, Maori Experience
08:30 a.m. – Visit the Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland
Start your first day at Wai-O-Tapu, an active geothermal park in Taupo Volcanic Zone. It’s all about walking trails and natural wonders: hot springs, geysers, waterfalls and bubbling mud pools.
One of the highlights of the park is the Lady Knox Geyser. Each day, at 10:15 a.m., boiling water shoots high into the air. The Champagne Pool, a naturally coloured lake, which you’ve probably seen in plenty of photographs while searching for things to do and see in Rotorua, with its vibrant blue and green hues, is another beauty.
12:00 p.m. – Go to Rotorua City Center: Government Gardens & Lakefront
Government Gardens in Rotorua City Center, Copyright © Cooltourismical.com
The historical Government Gardens sits on the lakefront of Rotorua. This place is in fact a park where heritage and legend meet.
Originally gifted to the British crown by the Maori people, the 50-acre geothermal scrubland was cleared in the 20th century and transformed into an elaborate spa attraction: a Tudor-style bathhouse and a Mediterranean-style public pool. The gardens are home to these ancient geothermal pools, along with stunning multi-trunked Japanese firs and Californian weeping redwoods, all dating back to the early 1900s.
The iconic bathhouse hosts a museum and a remarkable exhibition, while the ornate Blue Baths, are source for relaxation: heated waters and a reminder of the old Hollywood-style ambiance.
01:30 p.m. – Wander Around Ōhinemutu Suburb
Marae – traditional meeting place of the Maori
But Ohinemutu is, in fact, much more than a suburb. It is a living Māori village and the original settlement of Rotorua, located on the shores of the lake.
The neighbourhood hosts several historical landmarks, including the Tamatekapua Meeting House, one typical marae, dressed up in the intricate Maori carvings, and the Tudor-style St. Faith’s Church, built in 1914. The cemetery close by honours fallen soldiers. Their graves are raised above ground due to the constant geothermal activity.
Ohinemutu is also home to many local artisans offering, overall, a unique cultural experience and insight into the contemporary Maori way of living.
📌 For a traditional cuisine lunch break, you can try the delicious hot pies at Patrick’s Boutique Bakery.
03:30 p.m. – Have a footbath at Kuirau Park & Check the Mud Pools
Only a few minutes’ distance from Ohinemutu heritage village, this park is another hotspot for closely observing Rotorua’s geothermal activity. With water temperatures exceeding 100 degrees, bubbling mud pools and steam all around. Remember to bring a towel to sit and enjoy the designated hot pool area for soaking your feet.
Each Saturday the park hosts a local products market.
06:30 p.m. – Maori Evening at Mitai Village
Maori warriors at Mitai Village
Rotorua is widely known for its rich Maori cultural heritage, Maori being the indigenous people of New Zealand. The city is home to several traditional forest villages and cultural attractions. Each establishment belongs to a family. One of these is Mitai Maori Village.
Here you can have a tour of an ancient settlement replica and feel the Maori’s deep spiritual connection to land and sea. Added to that, partake in unique traditions that have been passed down through generations: legendary song and dance performances including Haka war dance, witness the uncovering of a traditional hangi dinner, discover ta moko tattooing and watch warriors paddling down in a canoe the Wai-o-whiro stream.
And after, you can marvel at the glow worms!
🚡 Day 2: Steamy Spas, Cute Kiwi Birds, Military Ducks, Geysers by Night
09:00 a.m. – Take a dip at the Polynesian Spa
First thing in the morning, go to a spa! Rotorua is the heaven for geothermal pools.
For example, you can unwind and soak at the Polynesian spa. There are multiple pools filled with natural, mineral-rich waters And you can enjoy all this rejuvenating and healing bliss having Lake Rotorua as backdrop. Another option are Hell’s Gate mud baths and sulphur spa after exploring another out-of-this-world geothermal park. And last, but not least, the Secret Spot Hot Tubs hidden in the lush forest and surrounded by the thrill of birds.
All three options can be booked below.
12:00 p.m. – Visit the cute kiwi birds
The National Kiwi Hatchery Aotearoa is a wildlife sanctuary and a breeding facility for New Zealand’s iconic, flightless kiwi bird.
Get ready to fall in love with one of the cutest, fluffiest, and most unique creatures in the world. The hatchery is dedicated to kiwi conservation efforts, with the goal of releasing kiwi birds back into the wild to help restore and increase their population.
There is a behind-the-scenes tour that takes visitors through the various stages of the breeding program. But the loveliest thing is that you can witness the magical moment of baby kiwis hatching from their eggs, and be filled with awe as they take their first steps in this world.
02:00 p.m. – Have Lunch on Eat Street
Eat Streat is a lively pedestrian street located in the heart of Rotorua, New Zealand. It is a culinary and fun hub, home to a variety of restaurants, cafes, bars, and shops. The street is known for its vibrant atmosphere, featuring outdoor dining areas and fire pits for warmth during cooler months. Eat Streat is a popular destination for locals and tourists alike, and is often buzzing with live music and entertainment.
Some of the standout eateries on Eat Streat include the iconic Lady Janes Ice Cream Parlour, serving up delicious treats in its famous Danish waffle cones and Atticus Finch, a contemporary New Zealand cuisine restaurant and bar. It’s open for casual, café-style lunches with an eclectic menu of sharing plates. From the menu: Ginger Sesame Chicken Pork dumplings Salted Pork Belly , chicken tikka, Crunchy Fish, Chick pea curry, roasted pumpkin with lentils.
03:30 p.m. – Duck Tours
Rotorua Duck Tours WWII Military Vehicle, Copyright © Cooltourismical.com
This is something I highly recommend, especially if you’re on a family trip. It’s a 2-hour fully-guided adventure on land AND WATER aboard an authentic WWII amphibious military duck, affectionately known as “Matilda”.
The tour includes splashes on one or two of the many beautiful lakes in the region and visits to scenic spots. The itinerary passes lake Tikitapu, crystal-clear blue waters and sandy beaches, Lake Okareka, a serene spot surrounded by lush greenery, and the sacred Lake Rotokakahe. With Mt. Tarawera as backdrop.
It’s a fun trip with fascinating insights into the history of the land, the culture, and the catastrophic 1886 eruption of Mt. Tarawera.
06:30 p.m. – Take a scenic stroll on the Redwoods Treewalk,
Rotorua Redwoods Forest By Night, Copyright © Cooltourismical.com
Have you ever dreamed of being a fairy or an elf, walking on treetops, way above a mystical grove? Well, Redwoods Treewalk can actually make that happen. Wandering among towering redwoods, 12-meter high, on swaying bridge-like paths that give you a bird’s-eye view of the stunning forest and its giant silver ferns below, is inexplicably beautiful.
And why visit Redwoods Treewalk at nighttime? The walkway is illuminated by huge wooden chandeliers and fire-flies-disguised lasers, giving the impression you’re surrounded by an enchanted forest.
I am a bit afraid of heights. So, for me, climbing at night, was both magical and bearable.
08:45 p.m. – Marvel at Te Puia Geyser By Night
Te Puia Park, Image Courtesy: Te Puia
Te Puia is another enchanting park in the Whakarewarewa Geothermal Valley. It’s home of the Pōhutu geyser, the largest in the Southern Hemisphere, boiling hot and bubbling mud. The landscpe is filled with scattered Māori Crafts, sculptures and structures such as the impressive Te Heketanga-ā-Rangi.
Walking down the mysterious, starlit trails of Te Puia with torches in hand reveals a completely new, black and white face of the volcanic hot spot.
That, along with the sound of the boiling earth, plus the faint mist rising in the air makes the evening experience even more otherworldly. While waiting for Pōhutu to erupt in all its strength, you can indulge in a traditional dessert and listen to ancient stories and myths of Māori people.
🚡 Day 3: Adventure Sports, Nature Walks, Glowworm Caves
08:30 a.m. – Take On a Thrilling Adventure
Kaituna River, Copyright © Kaitiaki Adventures
Rotorua is known for adventure sports, including ziplining, white-water rafting, and bungy jumping.
In this sense, on the west side of Rotorua lake the one popular spot for skyrocketing adrenaline is Velocity Valley. It’s an adventure park in the heart of Mother Nature. Sky swings, freefall rides, jet boat rides, all things that will make your heart beat harder. You can get your ticket here.
Not far from it there is also Rotorua Canopy Tours, voted as TripAdvisor’s #1 nature activity in the world. It’s a journey through 500 hectares of ancient native forest using suspended swing bridges, treetop platforms, forest trails.
On the east side of Rotorua Lake, you can choose rafting on the wild rivers of Wairoa, Kaituna and Rangitaiki. Pool drops along steep native bush clad canyons, waterfalls, scenic native forests, stunning boulder and tree lined gorge combining turbulent, white water rapids. Book your adventure here.
11:30 a.m. – Rotorua Skyline and Lunch
Rotorua Skyline Gondola gives the best panoramic views of the geothermal area, lakes, and the surrounding countryside as it takes you up on Mount Ngongotaha. Luge rides, zip lining, and mountain biking are some of the fun activities at the top, which makes it great place for families and adventure seekers.
There is also the Volcanic Hills Winery Tasting, the Market Kitchen restaurant with its scenic views and the Jelly Belly Concept Store where framed jelly bean versions of famous artworks such as Monalisa or the Starry Night decorate the walls.
Nestled above the top Gondola complex, there is the Skyline Nature History Walk. A relatively 1-hour return mountain trail with informative panels explaining the region’s past and culture.
In the Afternoon
Mount Tarawera on the horizon, Copyright © Cooltourismical.com
01:00 p.m. – Mount Tarawera Guided Hiking
It all starts with an off-road 4×4 vehicle into the North Island wilderness. And continues with winding hiking trails from the base of Mt Tarawera, a sleeping volcano, to the crater’s edge.
It’s a magnificent experience into the wild and rich geology of New Zealand, with views over the geothermal valley of Waimangu.
- ⏰ Tour lasts: 4 hours;
- 🎟️ Tour fee: NZ$ 190/ person. Book ticket.
03:30 p.m. – Lake Rotoiti Kayaking
Or you can embark on an enchanting evening of kayaking on Lake Rotoiti, where you’ll be able to explore glowworm and crayfish caves and unwind in natural hot springs.
The evening ends with a delicious barbecue picnic dinner in the Kiwi style: yummy steaks, gourmet sausages and more.
- ⏰ Tour lasts: 7 hours;
- 🎟️ Tour fee: NZ$ 190/ person. Book ticket.
If you want to spend the afternoon on your own and save some money, you can also go for a hike around the Blue and Green Lakes, also known as Lake Tikitapu and Lake Rotokakahi. These are stunning bodies of water located one next to each other. And many people prefer to walk just in between them, to the midpoint where they can witness and relish the contrasting colors from both sides.
The area offers multiple opportunities for water activities such as swimming, boating, and jet skiing.
Where to Stay in Rotorua?
There are many accommodation options in Rotorua, ranging from budget-friendly hostels and motels to luxury resorts and boutique hotels. Some popular places to stay in Rotorua include the city center, near the lakefront and Government Gardens, one such example being Pullman Hotel, one of the best rated in the area.
However, when you want to indulge in true luxury, Black Swan Lakeside Boutique Hotel is the fabulous one. It is ideally positioned right on the edge of Lake Rotorua, in the north-western suburbs of the city. 5 stars, fireplace in the rooms and views of the lake, pool or rose garden. Absolutely gorgeous!
Fenton street, the main street of the city, is very well know hub for cute boutique motels such as Silver Fern Rotorua Suites & Spa or Kings On Peace, while the suburbs offer plenty of spectacular, nature-surrounded BnBs. I could mention Geyser Lookout BnB, with its steamy view, and Rotorua Hideaway Lodge, set on 4 acres of peaceful, landscaped gardens, near the Agrodome.
Additionally, there are also many holiday parks and campgrounds in and around Rotorua for those looking for more affordable accommodation options or the ones who enjoy camping. An example would be Rotorua Thermal Holiday Park, a 10 minutes’ walk from the famous Pohutu Geyser and Whakarewarewa Thermal Reserve. And another one, Blue Lake Holiday Park, located on the edge of Blue Lake’s crystal clear waters.
Where to Eat in Rotorua?
Eat Street culinary Hub in Rotorua, Copyright © Cooltourismical.com
The abundance of locally grown fruit, vegetables, herbs, and various meats in the region, has led to a diverse range of dining options in Rotorua. These include upscale dining establishments, contemporary cuisine cafes and restaurants, casual pub fares, two weekly markets, steambox cuisine utilizing geothermal steam, hāngī, a traditional Māori underground cooking technique, as well as locally brewed craft beer and wine.
Urbano Bistro Cafe, Copyright © Cooltourismical.com
Atticus Finch, Copyright © Cooltourismical.com
Best Time to visit Rotorua?
The best time to visit Rotorua is during the autumn months of March to May, when the weather is mild and pleasant, and the crowds are smaller compared to the summer months.
The spring months of September to November are also a good time to visit, as the weather is starting to warm up and the vegetation is blooming. I visited in the second week of September and still it was a bit chilly.
However, Rotorua can be visited all year round, depending on your preferences and the activities you plan to do.
Getting to & Around Rotorua?
Rotorua enjoys a very good position being centrally located on the Northern Island of New Zealand. It is just a 1.5-hour drive from Hamilton, 3 hours away from Auckland and 6 hours from Wellington.
Getting around Rotorua depends whether you come with your own car or not. If yes, in Rotorua it is easy to drive and park. Simple city grid, large streets, and parking costs around $1 / hour from 9 to 5, Monday to Friday.
I mostly walked and used Uber. There are not so many drivers, and waiting time can be longer, but at that moment, it was most feasible for me. Added to that, distances are not so big and nature is so lovely that walking will be a joy. However, there are also buses (timetable here) connecting main areas of the city.
And last, but not least, Rotorua is fairly known as a mountain biking and leading cycling destination in New Zealand. Plenty of bicycle renting spots are on Fenton street, right in the center of the city.