But get past the smell and you’ll discover that there’s much more to this destination than simply its odour. This is the birthplace of tourism in New Zealand. It was once home to the pink and white terraces, a spectacular flight of steps and pools formed by geothermally heated water from two large geysers which was considered one of the natural wonders of the world. Visitors would make the journey from Auckland and beyond to bathe in the pools and take in the unusual scenery. But the terraces were destroyed by the 1886 eruption of Mount Tarawera.
But despite the loss of the terraces, tourism lives on in Rotorua thanks to its enduring geothermal appeal. For example, at Hells Gate, visitors can bathe in mud baths or instead head for Lake Tarawera’s Natural Bush Hot Pool for a relaxing soak.
The majority of hotels in the area have also tapped into the area’s natural gifts to offer guests facilities such as outdoor and indoor pools filled with the geothermal waters.
The Marae Rotorua
At Te Puia, a Maori cultural centre set in the Whakarewarewa Thermal Valley, the Pohutu Geyser puts on an explosive show for visitors, bursting steam and scalding hot water into the air as pools of hot mud bubble below. The geothermal properties of the site also heat up the menu, with a selection of canapés are lowered into a hole in the ground in a wooden box to be cooked by the heat of the steam escaping from below - a pretty unique twist on dim sum.
While Rotorua’s attractions have expanded well beyond the geothermal to include adventure activities such as whitewater rafting, canopy tours, jet boating and mountain biking, its Maori heritage and geothermal remains its true point of difference. After all, the mineral waters and mud are both impressive to look at, relaxing for the body and offer restorative and therapeutic benefits – all of which are well worth enduring that curious smell.
Places to Visit in Rotorua
Unique Things to See and Do in Rotorua
Experience Maori culture and the bubbling Pohutu geyser at Te Puia
Bathe in the geothermal spring waters at spas across the town
Take a dip in the mud baths of Hells Gate
Cruise the calm waters of one of the area’s 18 lakes
Go mountain biking on one of the area’s many trails
Renowned as a hub of Maori culture, Rotorua is the perfect place to immerse yourself in New Zealand’s unique way of life.
With Maoris making up 36% of the local population, there are many cultural experiences on offer across the town giving visitors the opportunity to sample a hangi feast cooked within the steamy ground or to take a tour of a pre-European village.
But the best way to gain an authentic glimpse of the culture is to visit the marae (meeting house) in the town, where you’re likely to come across Maori speeches and singing within the elaborately carved walls.
The town, where tendrils of sulphur scented steam escape from manhole covers and cracks in the pavements, is also home to low key tourism attractions such as unusual churches and historic graveyards all set alongside a spectacular lake.
Getting around Rotorua
Rotorua’s main attractions are relatively spaced out, so a hire car is probably your best bet for making it around them all. Otherwise, Bay Bus operates a CityRide bus service around Rotorua with 10 different routes to choose from.
Best time of year to travel to Rotorua
Summer brings warm sunshine to Rotorua while winter heralds clear, crisp days so it’s a destination suited to year round visits, depending on the activities that are on your agenda.
But whichever season takes your fancy, don’t forget to pack your togs for refreshing dips in one of the area’s lakes in summer, or for warming geothermal soaking in chillier climes.
Did you know…?
Zorbing was invented in Rotorua! The downhill spinning plastic ball was created by Kiwi brothers David and Andrew Akers along with scientist Dwayne van der Sluis in an attempt to walk on water. Adventure seekers can now try it out on grassy slopes just outside the town.
Did you ALSO know…?
The 1886 Mount Tarawera eruption buried the village of Te Wairoa, but certain areas have now been excavated and can now be explored by visitors.
Ready to plan your visit to Rotorua? Check out these popular guides and trips.