Rotorua: An introduction

Rotorua, where Māori culture thrives in an otherworldly geothermal landscape, is a cultural treasure, bubbling with history, stories and outdoor adventures.

Since the early 19th century, tourists have flocked to Rotorua’s natural hot springs, bubbling mud pools and active geysers – all of them spectacular thermal wonders on the "Pacific ring of fire". 

Māori culture and history infuse Rotorua life. The city, on the shores of Lake Rotorua, is home to Te Arawa iwi, one of New Zealand’s largest Māori tribes. A third of Rotorua's population is Māori.

The name Rotorua translates as "second lake". It is one of 18 sparkling lakes, each surrounded by magnificent native and exotic forests.

This mystical volcanic landscape provides a dynamic backdrop to many adventures – mountain biking, trout fishing, bathing in natural hot pools, whitewater rafting and many other of the adventures New Zealand is famous for. 


Rotorua was discovered about 600 years ago by a Māori leader called Ihenga. According to legend, Ihenga was out hunting food for his pregnant wife when one of his dogs ran away after a kiwi. When the dog returned with a wet coat and threw up a half-digested fish, Ihenga realised there must be water nearby, so he explored the area, discovering Lake Rotoiti and Lake Rotorua.

Rotorua’s Te Arawa people were New Zealand’s first tour guides. Since the 1800s, they’ve been hosting visitors from all over the world.

Celebrated as the eighth wonder of the world, the Pink and White Terraces were the region's major attraction until 1886, when the massive Mt Tarawera volcanic eruption destroyed the colourful silica terraces and thermal pools. About 150 people died in the eruption, which also destroyed the village of Te Wairoa, now known as The Buried Village.

Survivors of the Tarawera eruption moved to Whakarewarewa Thermal Village, where they continued their guiding tradition. Today, about 36 percent of Rotorua people identify as Māori, many with Te Arawa roots. 

Māori culture

Rotorua offers a rich Māori experience based on many local legends and a long cultural history. 

At Whakarewarewa, a living Māori village in an active geothermal setting, residents still use natural resources for cooking, washing and bathing. Guided tours include bubbling mud pools, mineral springs where families bathe, and local cuisine cooked in thermal waters and traditional hangi earth ovens.

Te Puia is home to the New Zealand Māori Arts and Crafts Institute, an important Māori cultural centre. It has visitor experiences covering traditional art forms, carving and weaving, Māori storytelling and authentic cultural performances.

Personalised tours with local guides offer in-depth experiences of Māori culture, taking visitors off the beaten track into the region and the local culture.

Geothermal wonderland

Rotorua's geothermal activity has drawn sightseers since the 1800s and continues to awe visitors to the region’s spectacular thermal parks.

Te Puia is home to Pohutu geyser, the world’s most reliable geyser and star of the Whakarewarewa Valley, erupting up to 20 times a day to heights of 30 metres (100 feet).

Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland is noted for its colourful waters and Champagne Pool, while Hellsgate is New Zealand’s most active thermal park and known for its mud baths. Waimangu Volcanic Valley is the youngest geothermal eco-system in the world.


Rotorua’s natural spas and the rejuvenating benefits of thermal waters have long been an attraction for travellers wanting to unwind and indulge, and the region also has some of New Zealand’s top luxury lodges.

Treetops, an exclusive eco-lodge, is in a private 1,000 hectare (2,500 acre) property with seven trout streams, four lakes and extensive hiking trails through native forest. A number of lakeside lodges also offer five-star luxury and spa experiences.

Pure Cruise New Zealand's luxury private charters cross Lake Rotoiti's pristine waters as guests sip chilled champagne surrounded by native flora and fauna.

Taking a flight with Volcanic Air and landing on White Island – New Zealand’s only permanently active volcano – is a must-do experience. The return flight reveals why Rotorua is known as "the lakes district", and a landing on Mt Tarawera offers the chance to see the site of the eruption that buried the Pink and White Terraces and created the Waimangu Volcanic Valley.

Adventure / outdoors 

With more than 140 kilometres (87 miles) of tracks accessible just minutes from the city centre, Rotorua is New Zealand's leading mountain-biking destination. In Whakarewarewa forest, cyclists weave through thick forest past flashes of beautiful lakes, geothermal action and iconic Mt Tarawera. Te Ara Ahi is a new 74 kilometre (46 mile) two-day cycle trail that follows a gentle gradient through a thermal landscape.

The Rotorua region is an angler’s dream, with trout-filled river and lake fishing locations and the option of cooking the catch in hot sands on a thermal beach.

Rotorua also offers world-first adventure activities, such as the Zorb/Ogo and Shweeb. Zorbing involves rolling down a hill in a large inflatable ball, while the Shweeb is the world’s first human-powered monorail racetrack.

Adrenalin junkies can also luge down Mt Ngongotaha, raft the world’s highest commercially rafted waterfall, whitewater sledge, or go off-roading, body flying (a form of aerial yoga), zip lining (like a flying fox) or bungy jumping.

And by the way...

  • Lake Rotorua was formed 140,000 years ago. 
  • Waimangu Volcanic Valley is the world’s only hydro-thermal system created within recorded history. 
  • Named New Zealand’s most beautiful city in 2010, Rotorua has earned the title a record six times.
  • One-third of Rotorua's population is Māori.