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Updated: Mar 15

If you asked me about the one place I did not expect to visit, this would be it. Rotorua.

Now you may be wondering, where is this place exactly and why would you go there? Well, believe it or not, Rotorua is renowned for its world-class spa and geothermal landscapes. In Rotorua, you can also learn about Māori culture, and explore the lush forests, beautiful lakes and do so much more! It is an incredible destination that you need to visit at least once.

I was so excited to visit New Zealand as it's been on my list for a very long time. However, that excitement quickly died out once I landed in Auckland. Upon arrival, I found all car rental companies in Auckland to be completely sold out (normal as I visited in the summer and did not book in advance, because I always choose a destination spontaneously). Coming across zero rentals made me feel very down, as I felt like I couldn't experience the things I wanted to see, but I had to work with what I had.

I did the second-best thing; look for Intercity bus routes going to other places in the Northern Island and relied on day tours to get by (with the exception of my last day, where I just took public transit, more of that in details below!). There are many tours from Auckland that leaves you in Rotorua, or that brings you back to Auckland, such as this tour*, where you stop at the Waitomo Glow Caves on the way. I also found that booking tours from Auckland were much more expensive than getting them from Rotorua.

For the best experience and to make the most of your time in Rotorua, I would recommend at least 3 full days, and choosing wisely the things you want to do. I could see myself spending at least 5 days here, as there is so much to do, but it can add up quickly.

On our first day, we booked a day, we explored the town by foot and booked this cultural dinner experience*, which I found to be the best way to start our time in Rotorua. The experience was the perfect introduction to Māori culture. We played games, learned more about history, traditions and even got to try Māori cuisine. It was not only very educational, but also fun and interactive.

On our second day, I was excited that I managed to secure two spots at the last minute for a day-trip to Hobbiton*, with a buffet lunch included.

Whether or not you are a fan of Lord of the Rings, I strongly recommend visiting the movie set.

The attention to details, seeing how they have preserved everything, learning more about the place made the entire experience magical and one that simply left us in awe. Take it from me, who traveled with someone who never even heard of LOTR before.

Adding this stop to your itinerary will surely allow you to get a deeper appreciation for the effort and work that goes into producing a movie. It is an art in itself.

On our third and final day in Rotorua, as we could not get any tours back to Auckland. Instead, I booked the bus leaving at 4 pm to Hamilton, where I planned to overnight before heading back to the airport and onwards to my next destination.

I spent the morning at Te Puia, Rotorua's Geothermal Park! I got there using public transit, which dropped me right at the entrance. The bus only cost me $2.80 NZD per person. I pre-booked my tickets on the website the night before, for the 8:00 am tour.

Despite having a tour booked for 1.5 hours, give yourself extra time to fully experience the park. You can see kiwis (New Zealand's national bird!), the geothermal geysers, the bubbling mud pools and watch students craft Māori taonga (treasures). Do note that the smell of sulphur can get quite strong at the geysers, but it is worth seeing regardless.

The best part? 50% of the admission fee goes back to the Māori Arts and Crafts Institute, providing students with scholarships, which in turn is contributing to the protection and preservation of Māori culture. We loved the tour. It was quite fascinating to see the immaculate designs on every piece weaved, every wood carved and every stone.

By the time we came back to town, we still had a few hours left to spare and thus, decided to book the Rotorua Duck Boat Tour*. Though it was pretty nice to see the different lakes in Rotorua, I think the coolest part of this tour was being able to board an amphibious vehicle that was used in WWII and learning about its history.

The DUKW (as it was known in WWII) played an important role in transporting goods and personnel. This tour now offered in Rotorua is the first and only one of its kind.

I personally loved Rotorua and would strongly recommend it to anyone looking for an action-packed getaway, with a side of relaxation. If you happen to be in Rotorua on a Thursday like me, don't miss out on the Night Market, where you can get the chance to shop local and sample different cuisines.

It is worth stopping by Eat Street at least once or twice. Expect to find a dedicated area to several food options. It is definitely the ultimate place for any foodies!

Choose from Italian, Indian, Thai and so much more. I found prices to be quite reasonable at the eateries. Do treat yourself to a cold sweet treat at Lady Jane's Ice Cream Parlour at least once!

Though our time here is short, being able to connect with the local Māori population, and learning about the culture, made us feel like we were part of their whānau (family). These unique experience is one not to be missed and I feel like it can be truly experienced in only certain parts of the world, Rotorua being one of them.

There are many more activities I could have chosen to make my time in Rotorua more memorable, but I feel like I nailed it on choosing the right ones. Other optional activities include a tour to the Redwoods Forest, going zorbing* and/or ziplining*, seeing a farm show*, relaxing at the spa* and so much more! I truly feel that Rotorua has something to experience that suits everyone's tastes.

Have you added Rotorua to your list yet?

*This post contains affiliate links. This means I may earn a commission should you chose to book the same tours I recommended using my link. This won't cost you anything, but it helps me a lot. Please note all opinions are my own. Thanks for your support!


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