The first part of our trip in New Zealand was a bit slowed down by the weather. It rained often so we changed often our plans so we didn’t really get to enjoy all the outside activities that the South Island, as we originally hoped we would.
Once we got to the North Island though, the sun started showing up more often, the days got longer (thanks to daylight savings!) and it got much warmer, so we went a bit wild on things to do. We had to make up for the time we lost!
I want to share with you all the things we did in the Rotorua area because our kids really enjoyed every moment of it! In case you do want spend time there, this post will give you a better idea of how much time you should set aside to really enjoy it.
Rotorua is a city on the southern shores of Lake Rotorua, it is in the Bay of Plenty region of New Zealand’s North Island. It is renowned for its geothermal activity and Maori culture.
The name Rotorua comes from Maori language, the full name for the city and lake is Te Rotorua-nui-a-Kahumatamomoe. Roto means ‘lake’ and rua means ‘two’ or in this case ‘second’, meaning ‘Second lake’.
1. Redwoods walkway
Whakarewarewa Forest is just a few minutes from the center of Rotorua and is well-known for its beautiful walking tracks in the Californian coast redwoods. The tracks are throughout the forest and can go from a simple 30 minutes stroll to all day. The trees were planted in 1901 and now reach heights of 60m.
In a section of the forest there is a walkway on the trees, which you can visit by day or night or both. There are a series of 23 suspension bridges and 22 living platforms, elevated from 9-metres to 12-metres at its’ highest point, for the length of 700 meters. There is no need to wear any type of harness to walk on them and it is suitable for all ages. This is New Zealand’s longest suspended tree walk over half kilometer long!
We experienced the tree walk by night and it was truly magical. The lanterns suspended all around the walkway were one of the most fascinating aspects of the night walk. There are 30 lanterns, up to 2.5 meters tall, made at the David Trubridge workshop that lit all the way. The atmosphere is incredible, I have never felt so in peace while walking in a forest in the dark.
For pricing and times check their website here.
We returned a couple of days later to enjoy the forest also by day, by taking one of the walking tracks. The sounds are so muffled in there, it feels like the craziness of the world is completely zoned out in this protected environment. We hugged some trees, did some sword fighting with broken wood, admired the many ferns that were all over the place and then happily and more connected with the earth headed to our next stop.
2. Skyline and Luge
We could not miss out on seeing a the beautiful view over Rotorua by taking a gondola ride up to the side of the dormant volcano Mount Ngongotaha.
Once up there is many more activities that will keep you entertained all day if necessary! For example: nature trails, a zipline, mountain bike trails, sky swing and the Luge!
Luckily Luca could go too so we all ventured down the mountain with the Luge! In case you never saw one, the Luge is a light toboggan for one or two people, ridden in a sitting position. In Rotorua they have 3 different routes down, only 2 accessible for kids under age 10 (the 3rd is the toughest and shortest). It is a lot of fun and Luca that was riding with Mass and later with me had a blast, he also told us to go fast or slow down. A tip is to buy the family package when going up the gondola, it includes a number of Luge rides, we did 3 and then ended up buying an extra one because it was too much fun!
For pricing and information for Skyline and activities check their website here.
3. Maori village
As we drove into town one of the first things we really wanted to make sure we found was a Maori Village. We had been recommended to have a Hangi meal experience to get a better feel of what their culture is all about.
I’ll be honest, I don’t honestly think that going to one of these places, that are of course mainly for tourists will give us the true experience of what a Maori Village traditions is all about, but it is what the Maori are willing to share and we have to respect that. What we really liked about this village in particular was that the community actually lives there and our tour guide told us stories of his childhood and some of their traditions.
The Whakarewarewa village, the Tuhourangi/Ngati Wahiao tribe has been living for our 200 years, in this unique geothermal valley.
As you walk into the village you can smell the strong odor of the sulfur, experience mud pools, see the 30m tall Pohutu Geyser (which erupts many times daily), see the cultural performance, learn about how they make their Hangi food and how they use their bling hot water pools to cook as well. Once we were done with the tour we took a walk around the area to see more of the environment this community lives in.
4. Jetboating on Rotorua lake
A year ago we saw a video about jet boating. Our kids were hooked and we have been trying to do it for weeks. Once we got here we found out that Luca could come too, so we could not miss out on this activity!
We went with Kawarau Jet on the shore of Lake Rotorua. They offer different options of time, we were fine with 30 minutes, we were pretty sure that it was going to be enough for a first experience. We had the thrill of doing speed, spins and even some cultural information about Mokoia island which sits in the middle of the lake. For pricing and times check their website here.
But who invented the jet boat? In the 1950s Bill Hamilton needed a boat that could navigate the shallow fast flowing rivers (propeller would hit the river bottom), where he lived in New Zealand. So he produced the first useful modern jet boat. Today it is a very common activity to do all over New Zealand!
On the way to or from Rotorua
Usually after visiting Rotorua or before getting there, depends whether you are coming from North or South, there are a few great stops that you might want to consider.
5. Lake Taupo and the hot springs
About 1 and half hour south of Rotorua is Lake Taupo, which sits right in the middle of the North Island. This beautiful lake offers many outside activities such as fishing brown and rainbow trout, kayaking, canoeing, sailing as well as biking all around the lake. This lovely area is surrounded by volcanoes and mountains so another great activity is swimming in the hot springs!
Lake Taupo was formed by a volcanic eruption 26,500 years ago. The bang blew a 660sq km hole in the earth.
We found a campsite Taupo DeBretts that had hot springs and hydroslides. Our kids were dying to get back in their bathing suits after 2 months of cold weather, so this was a really great afternoon for them. Mass and I just sat around in one of the pools, Cosimo and Emma went wild on the slides and Luca just came in and out of the different pools.
For hot springs pricing and times check their website here.
6. Craters of the moon and Huka Falls
Thanks to the volcanos in the area, Taupo has a lot of natural thermal activity. Craters of the Moon offers bubbling craters, steam vents and colorful soils.
What was my kids first impression? After being impressed by the steam coming out of the land, they were really unimpressed by the smell of rotten egg (we kept on smelling it for days!). This is an easy 45 minutes walk, mostly on a boardwalk and there is a little hike up to a beautiful lookout over the valley. There is a charge for entering this location.
For more information on time and pricing click here.
Right across the road you must stop and see Huka Falls, you cannot miss driving there, they are New Zealand’s best known falls and to see them is free! The waters of the Waikato River rush at almost 250,000 liters (2 olympic size pools) per second through a sudden chasm and leap over an 11 m ledge to foam in a deep semicircular basin.
You can view the falls from the bridge crossing over it and from various lookouts. If you are a bit more adventurous you can take a river cruise or go jet boating right next to it!
The color of the water is so crystal clear that you are just mesmerized by it and by the power with which it comes down the fall.
7. Orakei Korako, the hidden valley
On the road to Rotorua there is another magical example of geothermal field that you should consider visiting. Orakei Korako means “The place of adorning” and it is one of the few places still left unchanged. This area is privately owned so you pay a fee to visit it. In order to get access to it you have to cross the Waikato river by boat and then be ready to witness silica terraces, where 20 million liters of hot water flow daily. You will see boiling pools, the largest number of active geysers, a geothermal cave and mud pools.
This is about an 1 walk on safe walkways that take you all around the area. Cosimo and I explored Orakei Korako on our own because Luca was napping and Emma was done for the day with the smells. We loved it, every corner was captivating!
For pricing and times check here.
8. Waitomo Caves
During our drive up New Zealand we found many areas were we could see glowworms and we did go on two walks, they were all free. I had heard so much of Waitomo and how magical it was to see glowworms in a cave, so I decided to book a tour.
Waitomo is not on the way to anywhere in particular, you simply go there and drive back or drive somewhere else. For us it was a 2 hour drive from Rotorua and personally I would not do it again.
The caves are 30 million years old, formed by underground streams carving out apertures through the limestone rock. They are made of deep caves, luminescent glowworms and dark waterways as well as limestone formations. In order to witness all this you have to go underground. The tour takes you through just a small part of the caves so it is completely safe but of course lights have to be off if you want to see the glowworms. This is the reason also cameras are prohibited. Yes, you will not be able to capture this magical moment at all! All they let you photograph is once you get off the boat and out of the cave.
The first part of the tour explains the formation of the caves, what glowworms are and what they eat. You walk deep in one section of the caves and lights are turned off, so you can actually see what they look like. Finally you get to go on a boat, completely in the dark and silence, as you look up the magic starts. It looks like the universe of stars is getting closer! Unfortunately this magical moment is extremely short……
So I’ll be honest for the road we did, the price we paid and the expectation we had we were not as satisfied by our experience, it felt just like a tourist attraction and I guess that is all it was in the end. Our other glowworm experience were just as magical and they lasted as long as we wanted to be there. What we know now is that you will find glowworms almost everywhere in New Zealand!
Another tourist attraction, believe me there are tours every 30 minutes and they are all full, but oh my gosh it is so worth it!
This is about 2 hours north of Rotorua. I recommend you book your tour in advance otherwise you might get there and not have a chance to go. Kids 8 and under are free, which I thought was a great idea since many kids that age might not have seen the movie yet, my kids had not.
This is a 2 hour guided tour exploring Hobbit holes and the Green Dragon Inn, where you actually get to have a drink (you can pick between and brewed beer or ginger beer)! During the 2 hours you learn how this beautiful area in the Waikato region was transformed into Hobbiton for the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogy.
The guides points out some of the filming tricks, as well as some of the more famous locations.
The set sits on 12 acres on the Alexander Sheep farm. Jackson found this site as they were scouting to find the perfect shire “like a slice of ancient England”, and as they were flying above it, they saw it!
To book, check out times and price click here.
We loved visiting the set and our kids that didn’t see the movie yet were completely fascinated by all the stories the guide told us about it!