Exploring Rotorua, a volcanic wonderland

Driving my car on Road 5, I can smell I'm almost arrived. It stinks like rotten egg, and the hills are all steamy and weird. Welcome in Rotorua, one of the most fascinating areas in New Zealand... A true volcanic wonderland.

A volcanic wonderland : Things to do in Rotorua

Known for its geothermal activity, the region of Rotorua is one of the most popular destinations in New Zealand. The city sits within a volcanic crater and as you walk through the streets of the city, you can literally see holes in the ground with bubbling mud pools and steam! From giant shooting geysers, colorful crater lakes and natural hot springs all over the place, Rotorua is a spectacular and very unique stop you can't miss on your New Zealand itinerary.

Not only a volcanic wonderland, Rotorua is also gifted with great outdoors and a fascinating Maori heritage. There's enough to explore for you to stay at least 4 days. Discover what to do in Rotorua, and get ready for a captivating trip...

Exploring a volcanic wonderland : Things to do in Rotorua

> birdwatching on Sulphur point's nature heritage trail

The craziest thing in Rotorua is, you don't even need to leave the city to explore the volcanic activity! Within walking distance from town, you'll find a beautiful area called Sulphur Point, where the Nature Heritage Trail goes along a fantastic thermal lake with steaming vents, mud pools and beautiful views on the hills on the background.

A volcanic wonderland : what to do in Rotorua

The trail provides plenty of informations about the plant and animal species found in the area. There's even a wildlife refuge, which is home to an array of very rare bird species from New Zealand. 

> admire Rotorua museum's architecture and relax in the park

Near Sulphur Point, Rotorua Museum is a stop you can't miss. The Elizabethan architectural style of the building is very unique, and the park a beautiful place to just chill out, with many Maori references to discover. Initially, the museum was a thermal spa called the Bath House. It opened in 1908, and was the New Zealand Government’s first major investment in the tourist industry. So it's obviously now a very symbolic place in the country. 

A volcanic wonderland : what to do in Rotorua

The museum parc is absolutely gorgeous, a perfect place to spend a sunny afternoon.

> hike/Run around stunning blue lake (aka tikitapu)

On top of a fascinating thermal wonderland, Rotorua is also gifted by many, many lakes-18 exactly! During my stay, I had the chance to stay in a place with breathtaking views on Blue Lake -the photo below was the view from my bedroom! 

This lake is a true paradise for runners and hikers, but also fishermen, kayakers, paddle boarders and wake-boarders. There's a beautiful 5.5km loop trail that goes around the lake, into the bush, unveiling secluded beaches and going through the deep Whakarewarewa Forest. It's a perfect place to avoid the crowds and simply connect with nature.

A volcanic wonderland : what to do in Rotorua

Get your swimsuit, your hiking boots and your picnic, you're in for a magical day. Next to Blue Lake is Green Lake, that also offers plenty of outdoors opportunities.

> explore Wai-O-Tapu Thermal wonderland

They say you haven't seen Rotorua if you haven't been to Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland... And I couldn't agree more! This geothermal park is a SURREAL place. You'll discover a stunningly diverse range of natural geothermal activities in an abundance of colors. Something you won't see anywhere else.

Even though it's full of tourists, the Lady Knox Geyser eruption is a must see in Rotorua. It's induced to erupt at 10:15am daily, and it's truly impressive. Imagine it can go up to 20 meters!

I didn't know a thing about volcanoes when I got there, and couldn't believe all these colors were natural! The Champagne Pool goes from bright orange to bright blue whilst reaching temperatures of up to 70 degrees. Hot springs offers different shades of green, from dark to luminous green, or even yellow! As I walked around the park, I was in awe with the beauty of nature: geysers, boiling mud pools, volcanic craters, steaming vents... It's incredible, it feels like it could all explode at any time!

A volcanic wonderland : what to do in Rotorua

There's so much to discover, you can easily spend half a day in Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland. The admission fees aren't cheap, but it's worth it (adult: 32.50 NZ$, kids: 11.00 NZ$). It's open every day except public holidays. 

> kuirau park : spot the bubbling mud pools in the middle of the town

You're walking in Rotorua's city center, along shops and cafes, and the next minute you're staring at bubbling mud pools and steaming craters in the middle of a geothermal public park. It's UNBELIEVABLE -yet a liittle bit scary when you think about it. 

> visit the most picturesque mauri village : Ohinemutu

You know it, New Zealand is a country to explore for its lush nature, not for its architecture nor its villages -if you want villages, go in Provence. Ohinemutu is the exception, and one of the highlights of our 6 months road trip in New Zealand.

Ohinemutu is a small Maori village in North Rotorua, set along the shores of Lake Rotorua. I got there early in the morning, to find myself alone in a mystical atmosphere. I met some Maoris covered with tattoos. They're so impressive -until they saw me and welcomed me with a big smile. The village is quiet and the steam adds a strange feel to the place. 

A volcanic wonderland : what to do in Rotorua

The Tudor style St Faiths Church is the reason why I wanted to visit Ohinemutu in the first place. Completed in 1914, it has a strong Maori influence on the inside with traditional carvings and woven panels, and a gorgeous architecture outside. The windows at the rear of the church offer scenic lake views. It's so picturesque it would make you feel like traveling back in time. 

> Let yourself being amazed by Waimangu Volcanic Valley

Waimangu Volcanic Valley is a different thermal park than Wai-O-Tapu. Even though I was traveling on a budget and the entrance fees aren't cheap (walking and hiking ticket for adult: 38.50 NZ$, 12.00NZ$ for kids), I just couldn't miss it. Wai-O-Tapu was so splendid I couldn't resist the idea of exploring another of these geothermal parks. And I wasn't disappointed: Waimango Volcanic Valley blew my mind! 

Once again, I felt like walking on another planet! I just hiked for hours through this amazing valley, amazed by the rare botany, steaming volcanic crater lakes, pristine bush, wildlife reserve, and the astonishing Frying Pan Lake, the world's largest hot water spring. There are many trails for you to choose from, from short ton long ones, with the option to get back to the Visitor Center with a courtesy shuttle bus at any stage of the walk. 

If you're looking for a challenge, Mt Haszard Hiking Trail provides spectacular panoramic views of the valley with a more challenging route (not advised for kids).

Waimangu Volcanic Valley offers different options for visitors, depending on how you want to discover the valley and of course... depending on your budget! There's also a fantastic boat cruise on sparkling Lake Rotomahana, a walk and cruise combo, and some guided tours. 


Where is Rotorua?

From Auckland:

228km South East, 3 hours drive.

But before hitting Rotorua, you should definitely stop for a road trip in the Coromandel Peninsula

From Wellington: 

452km North, 5h45 drive or 1h15 flight

But it will take more time, as you can't pass by Taupo and not stop for a trek in Tongariro Alpine Crossing. ;)