Despite its guidebook reputation as one of the great places to visit in New Zealand, Rotorua is probably our biggest disappointment so far. I expect this is because the town itself is an urban sprawl which makes everything seem a little artificial. This is unlike most of other experiences we have had so far which have been closer encounters with nature which have felt a lot more unspoilt. Rotorua is very much geared up to extracting as much money as possible from the tourist but we have decided to save (some of) our money for later in the trip.
We spent our morning at Wai-o-Tapu “Thermal Wonderland” which is one of the main areas where you can go and see the various geothermal activities in Rotorua. Of course it’s relatively touristy but actually it’s not too bad. There are three things to see; first of all there is the Lady Knox geyser which is “forced” to erupt at precisely 10:15 every morning (arrive at 9:45 as it’s a short drive away from the park). Then there is the park itself which has around 3 km of trails around various craters, bubbling pools and steam (and of course smells) which is pretty interesting. Then finally there is a small bubbling mud pool just away from the main park. All in all with the 30 minute drive outside of Rotorua this is something that you can allocate a morning for.
We took a drive over to the “Skyline” cable car which has various facilities attached to it (a luge run and a zip wire). There are two things to consider here; firstly, whether you will be visiting Queensltown on your trip which has a much better gondola experience; secondly, if you’ve been on a gondola at any major ski resort in the world, this will be underwhelming; finally do you have a bottomless pit of money as its pretty expensive especially if you are travelling as a family. We gave it a miss.
After that we decided to try and look out some cost free entertainment, so we headed over to Whakarewarewa Forest (apparently the number 2 attraction on trip advisor). This was quite surprising (relative to the rest of Rotorua) as it’s actually a very nice place with several marked trails for walkers, mountain bikers or horse riders in the forest. We took a 5km walk through the woods and although there were several people around, it is rural enough and the trees are spectacular enough to make it a very nice place.
After a short pit stop back at our hotel we headed out to one of the local Rotorua parks to experience some of the geothermal activity close up. The local parks have various free patches of activity and also some pools where you can put your feet! The water is really hot, in fact as hot as stepping into a very hot bath!
Overall we are not so impressed with Rotorua and I wonder that was in part due to the fact that the hotel (reviewed here on trip advisor) did not really suit us. We did not need two nights in Rotorua.