Visiting New Zealand’s “Sulphur CIty”
An approximate one hour drive from Taupo had us at our next destination – Rotorua.
Why Travel to Rotorua, New Zealand?
While the “Sulphur City” may have you covering your nose, the city is still a great destination. The town has many pretty buildings, hills, and several geothermal spots to view all within walking distance. You can also enjoy a Maori (the indigenous people of New Zealand) dance, music, and feast experience at Tamaki Village. There is also a nice downtown area full of restaurants and shopping.
The town is a great centralized base for many day trips including Hobbiton (a.k.a the “Shire” in the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies) and the expansive Waiotapu Thermal Wonderland where you can see mud pools, colorful acidic lakes, steam vents, and a geyser.
You can also day trip to white water raft class five rapids on the Kaituna River or have a dolphin swim (in the wild) adventure in the nearby city of Tauranga.
How Long to Stay in Rotorua, New Zealand?
We spent four full days in Rotorua and enjoyed all of the activities we noted above. We’d recommend doing them all and taking 3-4 days like we did here. You can also take a look at other possible day trips or things to do in the area and add days as necessary.
Top Things to Do in Rotorua, New Zealand
(~ 1 hour from Rotorua)
Hobbiton is the film set for the “Shire” in the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies. But, you already knew that…right?! If not, how can we be friends? The set is only an hour’s drive from Rotorua, in Matamata, and boy was the trip worth it!
Interestingly enough, Hobbiton was torn down after the making of the movies. Shortly after, it was fully rebuilt to resemble the town as it was in the films.
Rotorua 101: To save $$ on tours and activities, book through Peter Pans, a travel agency that offers deals on activities throughout Australia and New Zealand.
The price for the Hobbiton tour is a bit steep. But we were able to book a discount through Peter Pans at a rate of $73 NZD/person (~$55/USD per person at the time of our travel). Direct from the Hobbiton website, the current rate is $89 NZD/person. The rate is for the basic Hobbiton movie tour which includes an informative walk through by a knowledgeable guide followed by free time to roam the “Shire”. It is a two-hour tour. You’ll also have time to grab a pint of Hard Cider, English or Amber Ale or non-alcoholic ginger beer straight from the Southfarthing barrels brewed in Middle Earth at the Green Dragon Inn (one pint included with your tour).
We were worried that the tour/experience wouldn’t be worth the price but we left smiling ear to ear.
Avid Lord of the Rings and Hobbit fans should not miss this adventure.
If you have time left to spare, there is a visitor center in town where you can visit Gollum. Tell him we say hi.
2) Waiotapu Thermal Wonderland
( <30 minutes from Rotorua)
This geothermal park is like hell’s wonderland. The Earth beneath you is bubbling, the stink of sulphur fills the air, and the ground and waters are a rainbow of colors that have been sculpted by thousands of years of volcanic activity. This is a place like you have likely never been before.
Several highlights include:
Walking the expansive geo-thermal park
Rotorua 101: Bring a mask, towel, or extra shirt to cover your nose from the powerful noxious smells.
Viewing the Lady Knox Geyser
This geyser shoots water into the air at heights of 10 to 20 meters (32-65 feet). Soap is fed into the cone daily (typically at 10:15AM) to activate the geyser.
The Mud Pool
Mud Pools are acidic hot springs that occurs when steam and gas rise to the surface of the surrounding clay and mud. The mud pool at Waiotapu Thermal Wonderland is the largest in New Zealand.
3) White River Rafting
(~40 minutes from Rotorua)
Experience the thrill of rafting several rapids and waterfalls, including the seven-meter (23-foot) Tutea Falls, the highest commercially rafted waterfall in the world. Our guide let us know that the drop is typically 4-5 meters based on the water level. When we went he estimated four meters or 13+ feet.
Make sure to bring your sense of adventure and a second pair of underwear.
These are grade five rapids so be ready for an adrenaline rush. These rapids were also rated #1 Best Rafting in New Zealand.
4)Dolphin Swim and/or Encounter with Orca Wild Adventures
(~1 hour from Rotorua)
This unique all-day experience will have you cruising the Bay of Plenty in search of dolphins. As part of the trip, you will travel to one of the Bay of Plenty’s beautiful islands for snorkeling and a BBQ lunch.
You’ll see many amazing underwater flora and fauna which could include some up-close encounters with seals.
The main attraction however is the dolphin swim. The boat is equipped with custom made swim bars and mats that will actually allow you to hang from the boat while the dolphins swim around you. You can also free swim with them.
The dolphin swim, however, is not guaranteed. The Company estimates that the swim occurs on about 80% of the cruises. The two main reasons the swim would not occur is if the sea conditions are too rough or if the dolphin pod has babies.
Unfortunately for us, the pods we saw that day all had babies so we were unable to swim with them. However, it was still nice viewing these majestic creatures in their natural habitat.
5) Tamaki Maori Village
For an indigenous New Zealand cultural experience, take a walk with the Maori people, the ancient settlers of New Zealand, as they tell you a story through song, dance, and exhibits that explain their heritage.
Part of the experience will be a “haka” performance. The first hakas were created and performed by different Maori tribes as a war dance/ancestral war cry. The dance was meant to intimidate enemies and boost their own morale as they believed they were calling on the gods with their cries. The performance is very intense as the men and women grunt and cry in intimidating ways while bulging their eyes and sticking out their tongues aggressively.
At the end of the experience you will feast on a Maori “Hangi”. The Hangi is a classic way that Pacific Islanders use to cook their meat and vegetables. They wrap the food in big leaves and set it underground where it cooks on large rocks and uses the ground’s hot steam to cook the food.
6) Walk Around Town
While staying in Rotorua you can enjoy many sights with a long walk around the town. Here are some of the key destinations along the walk:
A park with bubbling mud pools, a foot bath, and an eerie bridge walk.
Take in the views of the city’s main lake.
This iconic Bath House building which was built in the early 1900’s, was a therapeutic spa. What’s really special about this building is its thermal fed pools and springs provided chronic treatments to many people from around the world. It is now a museum. Walking around the gardens makes you feel as if you are in a different era.
other Local Thermal activity / sulphur Point
There are many other local geothermal points to view while walking around the town.
Including this man-made walkway through wetlands and thermal areas.
Refer to this map to see the mapped out walking distances between destinations.
Eat and drink in the vibrant atmosphere of Eat Streat, which is lined with a dozen restaurants, bars, and a dance club that span an entire city block. This is a great place to sit back and relax, meet new people, or hit up one of the nightclubs.
Where to Stay in Rotorua, New zealand
Rotorua Central Backpackers
This backpacker hostel had a large spacious communal kitchen which was ideal for cooking and meeting fellow travelers.
Where to Eat in Rotorua, New Zealand
This street is home to several highly rated restaurant and bars all located on one city block.
Omanu Takeaways (1 hour away from Rotorua)
While we wouldn’t recommend making a separate trip to Omanu takeways, we would suggest stopping here if you do the dolphin swim adventure. This shop offers some of the best locally caught fish n chips around.
Other Recommendations of Things to Do
These are all adventures that we unfortunately didn’t have time to do on our own but would have considered if we had more time:
- Polynesian Spa – Enjoy a relaxing day as you soak in the centuries old geothermal spa where it is said many have healed their ailments.
- Mount Tarawera (~1.5 hour drive from downtown Rotorua)- This looks like an incredible hike passing through dramatic lava domes that were carved by a big eruption during the 1800’s. The landscape looks surreal, with bonus views of a scenic lake with hot springs.
- Redwoods Forest (short 10 minute drive from town) – Go on a hike and marvel at the tall Redwood trees. This forest supposedly has some of the best mountain biking around.
Questions For You
- Are you a Lord of the Rings/Hobbit fan? If so, have you seen all the movies or read any of the books?
- Did you know Hobbiton was in New Zealand?