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Last updated 08 May 2013
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Rotorua's famous boiling mud
Rotorua or more commonly referred to as Roto-vegas is the North Island’s main tourist town. You’ll come here to see boiling mud pools, geysers, coloured lakes and soak in the hot pools. It’s also great for swimming, walks and mountain biking and extremely popular with families. As the name “Roto-Vegas” suggests it can be a little tacky with tourist buses everywhere but the actual underlying draws, all the volcanic and thermal activity make it worthwhile; and because of the regular influx of tourists there are loads of accommodation and masses of additional attractions beyond the thermal ones.
What does being on a or volcanic plain or thermal activity really mean? Ironically it means that it’s kind of smelly. All this heat and gases under the ground (namely sulphur) needs to find ways to escape, so Rotorua’s other name is Sulphur City, which is a polite way of saying it smells like rotten eggs. The only advantage is that you get used to it and will hardly notice after your first day. It also means that driving through the streets you’ll often see steam rising from the drains and one of the local parks has boiling mud as a feature (fenced off). Although they have to keep adding & moving the fences; and occasionally some poor resident in this suburb gets a new ‘feature’ to their backyard.
With loads to do, both free natural activities and tonnes of paid attractions, many with a family focus, Rotorua is the type of place most New Zealanders have been at least once, usually as kids and is a stop on nearly every tourist bus. Whilst this might put you off visiting or visiting again, there really is so much going on here that’s it no surprise that it’s popular and should be.
As the North Island version of Queenstown, Rotorua has developed an adrenaline edge to it. This is the sort of place you can roll down a hill in a bubble or see the native bush via high wires (aka flying fox) but it also means that many of attractions can be expensive, which is why we have a great list of the free things to do in Rotorua.
The name Rotorua actually means 2 lakes, but there really loads of lakes, some of which are swimming and boating lakes, others trout fishing, others tapu (off -limits). What makes the main lake, Lake Rotorua, quite unique is that it’s really shallow. The other key aspect of Rotorua is Maori Culture, there is a strong Maori community, and Maori style to the city, which you’ll notice just hanging out here. However there are also numerous culture shows, places to see Haka’s, visit a Marae (meeting house) and partake in a hangi (traditional) dinner. Which if you’re a local you’ll probably ignore, but makes this a great place to bring visiting friends and relatives to show off NZ.
Geyser’s (steam volcano’s)
Loads of free things to do like the Redwood forrest and Kurai Park
The smell. If your not used to it, it can be a little arresting to be confronted with rotting eggs smell.
It’s a tourist town, so attractions are expensive.
Being a tourist town, it attracts a little more crime than you might experience elsewhere in NZ. Don’t leave valuables in your car, especially in more remote locations.
There is tonnes of accommodation all over town.
Of particular note one of the main roads “Fenton Street” is nicknames Motel Alley as it is lined with Motels & Hotels.
Much of the accommodation is on the fringes of town, which if you have a car is fine, as most attractions are a driving distance, however if you want to be able to walk around a bit more, you’ll need to pick somewhere between the lake and Amahou Street, with between Kurai Park on your left.
Loads of tourist manage to see heaps of Rotorua in a day or a weekend. However being a tourist mecca their is stacks here. You would equally be happy staying 7 days or more.
The Rotorua town centre is not looking as fab as it was a few years ago with the local shoppers being drawn to the mega shops area just beyond Amahou St with a Warehouse, Countdown and Farmers. Head here for if you need something.
The town centre still has smaller clothing stores, loads of souvenir shops and is where most restaurants and cafes are located.
The closer you get to the lake the more tourist focused the shops are.
There are buses, but most people drive. Nearly all the major attractions are driving distance from the city, some 15-20mins away.
To get the most out of your stay (assuming you haven’t come on a packaged tour bus) then you really need a car.
There’s plenty of parking but remember to feed the meter, it’s quite cheap, but this local has been stung a couple of times for overstaying.
Last updated 08 May 2013
Official tourism site for Rotorua
Tourism site for Central Plateau and Ruapehu
Nothing beats raw local information from people who live it everyday. Here’s our pick of great websites and blogs that focus on Rotorua. Are we missing one? add it here
10 best free things to do in Rotorua What can you do in Rotorua that's free
Walks in the Central Plateau (Ruapheau, Turangi Ohakune) Dept of conservation site for walks around Ruapheau, Turangi and Ohakune
Hot Pools in Rotorua Reviews of the hot pools in the region
Wikipedia page Find out more about the history and geographical aspects of Rotorua
Mt Ruapehu the ski area Quick link to the ski field information for Mt Ruapehu ( Whakapapa & Turoa)
Should Rotorua keep the name Roto-Vegas A look into Rotorua's slang name.
Rotorua Travel Secrets A great site by a dedicated local - as she describes and intimate insiders guide to Rotorua.