If you’re looking for an action-packed Rotorua itinerary (which just happens to be perfect for a weekend or short break), we’ve got you covered. Offering something for everyone, this hub of culture and adventure is one you can’t miss whilst visiting New Zealand.
Rotorua is widely recognised and the cultural capital of New Zealand and the adventure capital of the North Island. With incredible geothermal activity, it’s unlike anywhere else you’ve ever visited and is a must-see destination on any New Zealand trip.
Whether you’re looking to experience New Zealand’s unique Māori culture, immerse yourself in nature, or up your dose of adrenaline, Rotorua has you covered.
Though we visited Rotorua over a weekend, this itinerary works just as well if you have a few days in Rotorua as you’re passing through within a larger North Island or New Zealand trip.
Day One of Your 2 Day Rotorua Itinerary
Day one will see you enjoy a wee sleep-in before jumping into an action-packed day.. Geothermal activity, a spa treatment, unbelievable waterfalls (that you’ll raft over) and more, it’s the perfect introduction to all of the exciting and varied that Rotorua has on offer.
Soak in the Sights at Hell’s Gate
The most active geothermal reserve and mud spa in New Zealand, Hell’s Gate is the perfect way to start your Rotorua itinerary.
Steeped in history and local culture, you’ll find Hell’s Gate to be a great balance between nature and all things uniquely kiwi.
Hell’s Gate (which is named Tikitere in Māori) proudly carries the history of both names.
The region was first named Tikitere in memory of a local Māori princess. Over 650 years ago princess Hurutini took her own life in the boiling pools of Hell’s Gate, due to the mistreatment of her husband (a Māori chief). Her mother’s heart-broken cry of “Aue teri nei tiki” was shortened down to Tikitere and it become the Māori name by which Hell’s Gate is known today.
Whilst visiting this remarkable site, you will have the opportunity to visit the pool where Hurutini was said to take her own life, in a bid to save her family from shame and war with her husband’s iwi.
The park’s English name was proposed by Irish playwright, George Bernard Shaw in 1934. Though the reserve drew visitors in from 1871, it was over 60 years later when Shaw remarked that the are “could be the very gates of hell”. It was then decided by the local Māori iwi that this would become the English name for the site, and so it is known to this day.
What Happens at Hell’s Gate?
Upon arriving at Hell’s Gate, you’ll have the opportunity to take a self-guided walk or to join a guided tour at no extra cost. We strongly recommend you join the tour! By doing so, you’ll gain fantastic local insight into the site and its intriguing history.
As you wander the park over an hour or two, you’ll be taken aback by the incredible geothermal activity. From vast bubbling pools to mud volcanoes (you read that right!), Hell’s Gate is really like something from a different world. Whilst on the guided tour, you’ll also spot native birds and learn about how the Māori people used flora and fauna to flourish in this harsh but fruitful environment.
Should you wish, you’re able to try your hand at traditional wood carving.
As we were tight on time, we decided to bypass that, instead making a beeline for the naturally-heated hot pools and mud spa.
Minerally-rich and thermally-active, these pools are the perfect spot to melt away the stress of the week. Not only is the water relaxing but the natural mud (which they collect from the mud pools onsite) is incredibly good for your skin! That’s not to mention how much fun it is to cover yourself in silky geothermal mud (it’s nothing like what you’d get from the garden, trust me).
Make time to relax after your walk – it really is a highlight and one of the most unique activities you can do in Rotorua.
Time: 9am – 12pm
Location: 351 State Highway 30, Tikitere, Rotorua
Take on the Tallest Commercially Rafted Waterfall in the World: Rafting the Kaituna River with River Rats
One of the best value adventure activities in the country, rafting the Kaituna River is not only world-record breaking, it’s world class!
Though I’d normally say something like this isn’t for the faint of heart, with incredible guides and impeccable safety (over a period spanning more than 35 years), it’s actually possible for you to take on this challenge – even if you can’t swim or have never been rafting.
It was, in fact ,my first go at rafting (around 10 years ago) and I had such a great time that I took Nathan back less than a month later!
After being kitted up with everything you could possibly need, you’ll take to the river for a quick training session before taking on the first few waterfalls of the trip. Following on from this, you’ll build up your confidence on a number of relatively small rapids before taking on the main event – the 7m waterfall (which, as we said, just so happens to be the biggest commercially rafted waterfall in the world)!
Though the big waterfall is massive, we really would encourage you to head out on the Kaituna River – it’s not as scary as you might imagine and the feeling you’ll experience after coming off the river is unlike anything else.
You might be surprised to learn that 70% of the guests on the river have never been white water rafting before! Though it’s a grade 5 river (which is the most challenging river that commercial rafters are allowed on), each and every rapid/waterfall is followed by a period of calm water. This ensures rafters have a good chance to catch their breath before the next challenge.
This really is a must-do on any thrill-seeker’s Rotorua itinerary!
Time: 12.15pm – 3.30pm
Location: 837 Te Ngae Road, Rotorua Airport, Rotorua
Transport Tip: If you require transport out to the River Rats base, they offer a complimentary shuttle service. Just let them know that you’d like a ride.
Zorbing: Giggle Yourself Giddy on your 2 Day Rotorua Itinerary
Imagine flinging yourself inside a giant plastic ball and then racing off down a steep, winding hill. Now imagine yourself laughing yourself silly in the process and you’ve pretty much summed up the zorb experience!
As true-blue Kiwi invention, zorbs are still made onsite by one of the very first inventors. Though they export these massive balls of fun all around the world, there’s nowhere better to experience a ride in one than in Rotorua.
With four different tracks on offer, there’s a zorb experience to suit almost everyone. Choose from any combination of the following:
- Dual straight tracks – The most relaxed of all the tracks, this is the perfect introduction to zorbing. 250m
- Sidewinder track – With six twists and turns, the sidewinder flings you up and around on every corner – it’s serious fun! 300m
- Big air track – This is the newest track on the block and they’ve thrown in a great big drop. It’s full-on and then nice and relaxed – a great combination. 350m
- Mega track – If you’re looking for the fastest, steepest, straightest track around, look no further. I’ve ridden this track solo and as a group of three and can promise you, the more people you throw in, the faster it will go. Strap in and prepare for speed!
For maximum fun, you’ll definitely want to do a wet zorb, which is best likened to a crazy waterslide.
The site is well equipped with spa pools (at both the top and bottom of the tracks) and changing rooms (complete with heaters and hair driers), so regardless of the weather, you’ll be comfortable and have a chance to relax between rides.
If travelling with friends, we suggest jumping into the same zorb together too – it’s great fun having a buddy to giggle along with and you’ll have a faster ride also.
Time: 4.00pm – 5.00pm
Location: 525 Ngongotaha Road, Rotorua
Incase you’re confused between Zorb and OGO: Zorb was the first company to bring these big bouncy balls to the world but the original owners actually moved across to OGO. Recently, OGO bought Zorb out, so now there’s just one company in town – Zorb are back at the old OGO site and all is right in the world.
Have a Rip-Roaring Time on the Luge
A perennial favourite amongst families, no Rotorua itinerary is complete without a visit to Skyline Rotorua for a zip around on the luge!
After all, where better to ride than at the home of the luge world-wide?
Riding on these fabulous carts was one of the most constant memories of my childhood – whenever we’d visit Rotorua, it was always straight to ‘the luge’. From doubling up with my dad to finally graduating as a solo rider, my childhood just wouldn’t have been the same without our visits to this top spot.
After riding the gondola up (which is one of only three in all of New Zealand), you’ll enjoy incredible views out over all of Rotorua. Views aren’t the reason you’re there though – as I’ve said, for me, the Skyline is all about the luge.
At the top you’ll be presented with three different tracks. Initially you’ll pop a helmet on and get your bearings on the scenic track (don’t be deceived though; yes, this track is presented as one for beginners but you can still pick up serious speed and have a whole heap of fun).
Once you’ve completed your first ride for the day, you’ll then be able to choose between repeating the scenic track or taking on the intermediate and advanced tracks.
When you complete a ride, you’ll find yourself at the bottom of a chair lift, ready to ride back up to the top for your next luging adventure right on down again! And so the cycle continues.
The carts themselves are incredibly easy to use and comfortable to ride. Sitting in the luge, you’ll pull the handlebar back to move down the hill and even further back to brake. They’re operated by gravity, so you don’t have an engine or gears to contend with – just pull back and go!
On the tracks, you’ll find plenty of opportunities for speed (and even some jumps that will see you briefly airborne), but the speed at which you choose to descend is entirely up to you.
Time: 5.30pm on (though you’ll want to double check that night rides are happening when you visit – if not, you’ll need to head there during the day).
Location: 178 Fairy Springs Rd, Rotorua
Have hunger pangs set in after your luge rides? Head to the cafe at the top of the Skyline, or even better to their world-class buffet…
Treat Yourself at the Stratosfare Restaurant
Located conveniently at the top of the Skyline gondola, there is no doubt that the award-winning Stratosfare Restaurant has the best views of any restaurant in Rotorua. A favourite with locals looking to celebrate special events, it also makes for a memorable stop on your Rotorua itinerary.
Renowned for fresh, delectable seafood and an amazing dessert selection, the Stratosfare Restaurant really is one of the best buffets in the whole country.
They get bonus points too, as you know they’ll be able to cater for each and every cuisine preference in your group!
Combining incredible views, a beautifully appointed restaurant and delicious fresh food, you really can’t go wrong. Whether you swing by the Stratosfare after you’ve been luging or make the trip up there especially for dinner, we recommend paying them a visit for a night to remember.
Location: 178 Fairy Springs Rd, Rotorua
Day Two of Your 2 Day Rotorua Itinerary
Hike To the Incredible Pools of Waimangu
Located just outside of Rotorua, Waimangu was a totally new experience for us in this incredible part of the world.
A beautiful geothermal nature walk, Waimangu makes this incredible scenery accessible to almost everyone. Whether you want to wander, hike, travel by coach or travel by boat, there’s a world of options onsite.
The trails mostly travel downhill or are fairly flat (unless you choose to take on the optional hiking trail, that is).
If you’re short on time, the main highlights can be seen in an hour, whereas the entire walk to the lake takes approximately 1.5-2 hours (depending on how often you stop for photos). Keen to add the lake cruise in, like we did? Allow the 3.5 hours that we’ve suggested in this Rotorua itinerary.
We chose to walk right to the lake where we enjoyed the cruise, and then caught the shuttle back to the start.
If you’re not up to the whole walk, the shuttle stops at a number of places along the route, allowing you to walk as much or as little as you choose. This service is included in the price of your entry ticket.
Though it’s hard to pick out a few highlights, as the geothermal activity in the areas is just spectacular, the following two spots really are the heroes of Waimangu.
Frying Pan Lake Crater
The largest hot spring in the world, Frying Pan Lake is an imposing sight as you first descend down into Waimangu.
The acidic water in this crater maintains a temperature around 550–60°C (122–140°F)! The lake is relatively shallow and the water crystal clear, making for some interesting plant-spotting near the shore of the lake.
Another large hot spring, Inferno Crater was my personal favourite at Waimangu.
Water here swings a massive amount between 35 and 80 °C (95 and 176 °F). With highly acidic water, you’ll notice the spring appears to be different colours depending on the time you visit. Range from a dull grey to an intense sky-blue colour, it cycles around every 38 days. When we visited, it was a stunning shade of turquoise blue.
We were surprised to find out that not only in the Inferno Crater lake stunning, but it is also record-breaking; it’s the largest geyser-like feature found anywhere in the world. Though the geyser itself isn’t visible (as it’s found at the bottom of the lake), you will be able to spot fumaroles on the shore of the lake and also on the rock wall behind it.
All Aboard the Cruise on Lake Rotomahana
At the end of your hike (or shuttle bus ride, if you’d prefer not to walk), you’ll have the option of jumping aboard the Lake Rotomahana boat cruise. It’s a fabulous little journey (complete with detailed commentary) that will take you around a number of key points that are only accessible by water.
Whilst onboard, you’ll watch a geyser go off, learn about the local flora and fauna and get a gimpse at what the incredible pink and white terraces looked like (before they were destroyed in the eruption of Mount Tarawera in 1886). This is as close as you can possibly come to the 8th wonder of the natural world.
It’s the perfect way to kick your feet up and relax in a beautiful setting, before boarding the shuttle back to home base.
Time: 9.00am – 12.30pm
Location: 587 Waimangu Rd (off State Highway 5), Rotorua
Is Waimangu family friendly? Absolutely – children are more than welcome and the reserve is setup for pushchairs.
Pro Tip: Before heading out on your nature walk, be sure to download the complimentary Waimangu app – it will make your visit that much more immersive and informative.
Hungry? There’s a fantastic cafe onsite; it makes for the perfect lunch break before continuing on your Rotorua itinerary.
Go Wild at OffRoad NZ
Tucked away on the road back to Auckland, we’d driven past the sign for OffRoad NZ countless times in the past. I had always wondered what exciting activities took place there and on this visit to Rotorua, I was pleased to finally find out firsthand!
Whether you’re a seasoned 4-wheel-driver or brand new to this exciting sport, OffRoad NZ has something to suit!
4WD Bush Safari
We started on the 4WD bush safari; a self-drive, fully immersive 4WD experience. For 45 minutes or so, you’ll take complete control of your Suzuki Jimny – that’s right, you won’t even have your guide in the truck with you. Don’t worry for a second though, your professional driver will be perfectly stationed out on the course, relaying clear instructions back to you through your radio system.
With deep waterholes, poles-for-bridges and what is basically a 6-metre high slide (at a near-vertical 80 degree slope!), there’s nothing this course doesn’t throw at you!
With room for 4 in each car, you don’t have to drive yourself to be a part of the fun. But if you do have a valid drivers license, we really would encourage you to have a go at the wheel – even if you take turns as we did.
Serious adrenaline. Serious fun. Seriously worth doing whilst you’re in Rotorua for the weekend!
Monster 4X4 Thrill Ride
Once you’re back at the OffRoad NZ home base it’s time to pass your keys over and put yourself in the hands of the experts.
The monster 4X4 thrill ride really is unlike anything I’ve ever seen or done before!
Their custom made monster truck really is a beast – in the power it has, what it can do, and how it’s all been put together. Combining three totally different trucks, this truck steers both forwards and sideways. I’m genuinely not even sure how to describe it, other than to say that is has to be seen and experienced to be believed!
Once you’ve got your helmet and protective gear on, you’ll clamber into the monster truck and get tightly strapped into a 4-point harness. From there, the fun really begins…
Powering into native bush, your professional driver will race you in and out of the trees, often at touching distance. Together, you’ll take on ‘the widow maker’ and the ‘loggers long drop’ along with a variety of other exciting tracks. That’s not to mention pulling the most intense donuts of your life.
We giggled, we screamed, we wiped the dust off our faces and we asked to do it all over again!
Time: 1.30pm – 3.30pm
Location: 193 Amoore Rd, RD2, Rotorua
Dinner at Terrace Kitchen – See Your Rotorua Itinerary Off in Style!
Whether you visit Terrace Kitchen on your first night in town (in our case, Friday night) or as you’re heading out of town, make sure you include a stop here. The food is outstanding!
With modern, fresh décor and a fantastic buzz amongst the diners, this is the place to be and be seen in Rotorua.
From steamed pork bao buns to haloumi fritters, beautiful fresh fish to dry-rubbed pork ribs, everything on the menu is mouth-watering. It is seriously good!
For dessert, you really can’t go past the churros. Though we were chocka-block, I gleefully devoured each and every bite; they really are that amazing!
The atmosphere at Terrace Kitchen is fantastic, providing the perfect backdrop to sit back, relax, and reflect on what an amazing weekend you’ve had in Rotorua.
It might even be just the spot where you start planning your return to this incredible part of New Zealand?
Where to Stay in Rotorua
With your amazing weekend in Rotorua all planned, you’ll want somewhere fabulous to stay. Don’t worry – we’ve got you covered there!
On this trip, we stayed at the amazing Sudima Hotel Lake Rotorua and we unreservedly recommend it. With comfortable beds, recently renovated rooms, modern styling and the most delicious buffet breakfast, this lake-front hotel ticks all of the boxes.
The service throughout our stay was great and we appreciated the complimentary parking and speedy WiFi in this awesome 4-star property. That’s not to mention the spa and pool that was available and the fantastic kids station to help keep the little ones engaged.
Nice and central, the Sudima is perfectly located close to many attractions and restaurants, whilst still feeling private on the lake.
Would we return? In a heartbeat!
Travelling on a budget? We’ve also stayed at the family-friendly Aura Motel before and really enjoyed it. It’s a little more self-service but is also comfortable and incredibly friendly. It’s another great accommodation option in Rotorua.
Rotorua: A Must-Visit Stop in the North Island of New Zealand
Rotorua is a real standout in the North Island and the most unique and diverse city in New Zealand. With Māori culture, geothermal activity, incredible scenery, lakes galore and high-adrenaline activities around every corner, it really is the most magical spot.
Whether you’re planning a weekend getaway or you’re stopping by as part of a larger New Zealand itinerary, Rotorua should never be overlooked!
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Photo credit: Te Puia, OffRoad NZ.
Thank you to Rotorua NZ for hosting our amazing weekend away. As always, all thoughts are our own. We’ve organised many independent trips to Rotorua and will continue to do so – we just love it there!