Geysers bursting from the ground below. Mud pools bubbling like witches cauldrons. Maori culture, rainbow trout, endangered kiwis, treetop walkways and so much more. They are all fantastic reasons to visit one of the most unique cities in New Zealand, Rotorua. But with all those things to do in this buzzing tourist hotspot, where do you begin? We’ve put together a comprehensive itinerary for you including all the best things to do and what to expect when spending time in this captivating city. So, buckle up and get ready for our ultimate 2 days in Rotorua itinerary!
Why go to Rotorua?
We’re under the assumption that if you’ve reached this article, you’re already set on spending time in Rotorua, it which case: awesome decision. But if you need just a touch more persuasion as to why you need to allow yourself 2 days in Rotorua (or more!), here are a few of the reasons why you must go to this awesome town:
- First and foremost, Rotorua is one of the best places in New Zealand to understand more about the Maori culture and the important role the Maori people have played in sculpting the history of Aotearoa.
- And you’ve probably heard the rumours that it can smell a little bit? Well it’s true, Rotorua does have a pretty distinct odour, but definitely don’t let that put you off! That smell comes from the sulphur gas emitted across the city and without it there would also be none of the geothermal activities and parks that Rotorua is world famous for… you really quickly get used to it after arriving.
- Interestingly, Rotorua sits within a volcano’s caldera, and the thickness of the earth’s crust is some of the thinnest on the planet (don’t worry it’s still about 4km thick!) However, along with that thin crust, and mix in the position of some of the earth’s place and you get the perfect recipe to create the geothermal activity and all the wonderful experiences that tie into it.
- If you’re looking to experience high adrenaline-packed activities, Rotorua is the best spot in New Zealand north island and second only to Christchurch in the whole of New Zealand. So whether it’s some extreme downhill mountain biking, luging, jetboating and the rest, don’t worry you’ll find more than enough ways to get your heart-racing fix.
- Then more within the gentle outdoor activities area – and probably more within our own sweet spot – there are amazing nature conservation and hiking trails to try out, you can get close to the bird that symbolises the country (yup, the kiwi), and even learn more about the importance that farming has played in New Zealand. Trust us, this last one is a must!
- And finally, Rotorua is located in a great spot in the Bay of Plenty, and so super handy to base yourself in this city, explore all it has to offer and also look at accessible day trips in and around the region.
The perfect 2 day Rotorua itinerary
This is our tried and tested 2 day Rotorua itinerary, where we believe that we have combined a number of the most important activities and Maori cultural experiences, to ensure that our readers get the best out of their time in the city. Let us know in the comments below if there are any other activities that should be added into our 2 days in Rotorua itinerary.
- Day 1 | Polynesian Spa, Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland, Redwood treetop walkway & Tamaki Maori Village
- Day 2 | Te Puia, The Agrodome Farm Show, Rainbow Spring Natural Park, Hobbiton & Dinner at Eat Street
Is two days enough in Rotorua?
The short answer: yes.
Although you could easy spend longer than 2 days in Rotorua as part of a larger itinerary in New Zealand’s north island, this is probably the right balance between enough time to get around and visit the important sights, but also not eking out too much time out of your longer itinerary.
If you do have much more time on New Zealand’s north island, then you could quite easy expand our 2 days in Rotorua itinerary to a 3 or 4 day itinerary, by including more adrenaline based activities along with some of our bonus day trip ideas.
However, it’s good to note that if you are planning to also head to New Zealand’s south island, you may want to save some of the adrenaline experiences for Christchurch and Hanmer Springs.
How to get to Rotorua
Rotorua, set in the Bay of Plenty is only about 3 hours drive from Auckland, so very accessible if you are landing into New Zealand’s largest city.
If you’re on a road trip around the North Island and have actually started in Wellington, you’re more than likely be heading towards Rotorua from Lake Taupo. It’s really a short skip and a jump between the two, so allow yourself an hours drive.
Don’t forget to check out the best rental car costs for your North Island road trip.
We had a great experience using Intercity as part of our travels in the South Island, so check out their frequent bus service between most major cities and Rotorua. They also offer a nifty pass that will help you plan your New Zealand travels, with a one off payment (hop on/hop off coach) approach based on suggested popular routes. Check that out here.
Although Rotorua only has a regional airport, you can get direct flights from Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch. So if you’re a little tight on time or don’t fancy the drive, check out the latest flight options through Skyscanner here.
Where to stay in Rotorua
Tourists are starting to flock to the Rotorua Lake District so if you’re travelling in the busy season around Christmas/New Years, make sure that you book in your hotel well ahead of time! We did find Rotorua quite expensive compared to some of the other cities or towns in New Zealand so it’s definitely worth booking well ahead of time. Here are a few of our suggested hotels to book:
Budget: Backpackers and budget travellers will be happy with Rotorua Central Backpackers, which is a great option on a tight budget. It’s got a good location, a lovely garden, shared lounge and a very social atmosphere, plus free wifi.
Mid-range: We stayed at the Ibis Rotorua, a stone’s throw from Lake Rotorua itself. As with any Ibis, you know you’re getting a budget hotel but we were actually very impressed with this hotel. Not only is it paired with the Novotel next door (offering you free use of their gym, hot pools and other facilities), but the rooms were well-appointed, the restaurant had great value and the wifi was strong! A tip for booking here – wifi is free in all rooms for Accor loyalty members. If you aren’t a member, just sign up for free when you check in.
Luxury: The Regent of Rotorua gets our vote. A brilliant location, impeccably furnished rooms, a high-end restaurant and wine bar, two pools (heated outdoor and mineral indoor), and a fitness centre to rival all; this is a great place to stay in Rotorua.
So what better way to kick off your 2 days in Rotorua itinerary than visiting the world famous Polynesian Spa? These geothermal baths have been hosting hordes of people for the baths’ healing abilities since the 1800s. If you head there around opening time, you’ll notice many locals waiting to soothe their aching bodies (it’s meant to be miraculous for arthritis).
There are four separate bathing areas for you to enjoy, each with their own magical properties to choose from, along with water from two natural springs that fill 28 bubbling hot mineral pools.
Alongside the wonderful pools to ease those aches and pain, you could splash out on one of their luxury spa treatments.
Location: 1000 Hinemoa Street, Rotorua 3010
Opening Hours: Daily from 8.00am – 11.00pm
Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland
After you are fully relaxed and refreshed from your time at the Polynesian Spa, head south of Rotorua to visit the Wai O Tapu Thermal Wonderland. Try to time it this morning so that you make it to the thermal park by 10.15am to see the incredible morning eruption of the Lady Knox Geyser. This towering water spout produces eruptions that peak at 20 metres height and can last well over an hour (so don’t worry if you’re running a touch late).
After seeing this magical sight, wander around this huge geothermal wonderland, seeing the beautifully coloured hot springs and mud pools. Our favourite? The most instagrammable one of course! The Champagne Pools.
Are you looking for your entry ticket to the Wai-O-Taupo Park? Book it here.
Redwood Treetop Walkway
So, we are both obsessed with hiking and nature but James is a little less keen on heights. That being said, he conquered that blood rushing, knee trembling feeling and managed to make it all the way around the 20 metre high treetop walkway. And both of us absolutely loved the experience of the Redwoods Tree Walk.
The tree walk is a 700 metre award-winning activity in Rotorua, and something we hugely enjoyed. Depending on how much you stop for rests and to enjoy the platforms, the network of 28 suspension bridges and 27 platforms can take around 45 minutes to an hour to compete.
Located only a few minutes’ drive outside of Rotorua, this is a must visit. And what’s even better, they also have an awesome evening experience, where they light up the redwood forest for a truly epic journey through the towering trees.
Entry tickets cost: $30 NZD for adults (20 USD/15 GBP)
Location: 1 Long Mile Road, Whakarewarewa, Rotorua, 3010
Opening hours: Daily from 9.00am to 11.30pm
Tamaki Maori Village
So onto the last activity for your first day of the 2 days in Rotorua itinerary, and it’s a really unusual one. Voted as one of the top 10 experiences in the world (yes, the entire globe!), the Tamaki Maori Village is a 3 hour Maori cultural evening experience, where you’ll receive a traditional Maori welcome, tour a pre-European village to understand the Maori peoples’ way of life, get involved in cultural activities, see preparation of a traditional Hangi meal and then enjoy a full Maori feast.
The cost for the experience is $130 NZD (86.50 USD/66.25 GBP), so although on the expensive side it’s really something that you can’t miss when you’re in Rotorua.
Note: The Tamaki Maori Village Head office is located right next to the Government Gardens and Rotorua Museum. It’s really worth popping down to have a quick look around these if you book your show at the head office. Unfortunately you cannot enter the museum as it is undergoing serious earthquake prevention renovation. Although it’s a lovely building just from the outside, and worth a quick snap on the camera.
Show times: 3 shows a day at 5.00pm, 6.15pm and 7.30pm
Te Puia Geothermal Geysers
Here’s hoping you’re not tired of all the fantastic thermals and geysers just yet? Since the first stop on day 2 of your Rotorua itinerary is to head to Te Puia; another geothermal sight to behold.
Te Puia is actually an area that consists of Te Whakarewarewa Thermal Valley, with the largest geyser in the southern hemisphere, along with a number of other impressive geysers, mud pools, a Maori Village where many things are still done in traditional ways (ie. cooking the food using the hot geothermal waters), a kiwi conservation project and is home to the New Zealand Māori Arts and Crafts Institute. Yup, there is a lot to see here!
On arrival, head down and get close to Pohutu, the largest geyser, which erupts between 1-2 times an hour. Just before it goes, you’ll notice the smaller ‘Prince of Wales Feathers’ geyser also venting.
Pop in to see the conservation work going on in the kiwi enclosure, before getting a better understanding of the local Maori culture and way of life. For hundreds of years, the Maori have used the hot pools and water in the Te Whakarewarewa Valley to cook, wash and bath.
And finally head to the Maori Arts and Crafts Institution, which has been protecting New Zealand against the loss of traditional Maori arts since 1963. They have just opened a new facility where you can watch students carving wood and making textiles and woven goods in traditional ways.
Opening hours: 8.00am to 5.00pm (winter) and 6.00pm (summer)
Location: Hemo Road, Tihiotonga, Rotorua 3040
The Agrodome Farm Show
Potentially Lee’s favourite show ever, we were both surprised at how entertained we were at the Agrodome Farm Show. So make sure this is a definite in your 2 days in Rotorua itinerary.
The show is broken up into two parts. The first, a 45-minute introduction into the 19 breeds of sheep that make up such an important part of one of New Zealand’s industries, along with a sheep shearing demo and introduction into the sheep dogs used on a farm. This all happens in an indoor arena and is led by a comedic genius of a showman; half the fun of the show are the jokes cracked at the audience’s expense.
Then the second part, where you head outside to see a live demonstration of the sheep dogs rounding up sheep in a field.
Show times: 3 per day at 9.30am, 11.00am and 2.30pm
Location: 141 Western Road, Ngongotaha, Rotorua 3010
Rainbow Spring Nature Park
The final stop for the morning of Day 2, we would suggest that you head out to the Rainbow Spring Nature Park, to learn more about New Zealand’s wildlife, particularly the Kiwi – with the Nature Park being the most successful hatchery in the country. We’d recommend that you get a tour guide for your visit, so you can learn all about the native birds, reptiles and fish.
Opening hours: 8.30am to 10.30pm
Location: 192 Fairy Springs Road, Fairy Springs, Rotorua 3015
This afternoon take the tour to visit the amazing movie set and New Zealand landmark that’s played a huge role in the making of both the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit film franchises. What’s great is that twice a day you can take a coach to and from Hobbiton directly from Rotorua, making it a much easier process.
Hobbiton, set in the hills of Matamata is the largest experience related to the LOTR and Hobbiton franchise. And it all happened by chance…
Back in 1998 a location scout was flying over Alexander Farm and thought it would be the perfect place to film the Hobbiton scenes for Lord of the Rings. However, after filming for the LOTR trilogy finished in 1999, they actually completely disassembled ‘the Shire’ movie set, leaving virtually no trace of it. But then in 2009 with the Hobbiton trilogy filming in the mix, the owners of the farm worked with filmmaker Peter Jackson to re-build the movie set, with a more permanent set in mind, that could provide a legacy to the filming that was done at the farm. And so the Hobbiton Movie Set experience was born.
We were initially a little sceptical about the tour (even though we’re both Lord of the Rings fans), as we thought that it was going to be super busy and, let’s face it, commercial. And yes, although you’re going to be in relatively large tour groups shown around the movie set, we were really surprised by how amazing this tour was. It’s well-constructed, well-organized and guided by true Hobbit and LOTR fans; our guide was a veritable guru on the films and the set, and had so many fascinating facts to share with us, making this one of the best tours that we had in New Zealand and a must for anyone’s Rotorua itinerary.
Departure from Rotorua times: Twice daily at 8.00am and 1.20pm
Dinner on Eat Street
So, your final stop for the 2 days in Rotorua itinerary, head out to Eat Street to get some delicious grub. The walkway has loads of options for drinks and dinner, and comes with a retractable roof, so the perfect place to venture, whatever the weather.
Location: Tutanekai Street, Rotorua
Insider tip: Instead of trying to race between all of these activities, we did this full day activity with leading tour operator, Great Sights. It’s a really handy way to explore some of the best activities and sights within Rotorua and tag on the afternoon at Hobbiton without exhausting yourself. We’d highly recommend you book it – it runs out fast though so book it in advance!
Our 2 days in Rotorua itinerary interactive map
High adrenaline activities
New Zealanders seem to live their pulse-racing, heart-thumping activities. After all, bungy jumping, jet boating AND zorbing were all created in New Zealand! Rotorua is, of course, no different. So, to get that adrenalin going, here are some of the best activities you can do in Rotorua:
Skyline Rotorua Gondola and Luge
What better way to see the city views from the comfort of a cable car ‘bubble’? Well, and then to race back down on a purpose-built track in a small 3-wheeled luge?! You definitely need to head to the Luge in Rotorua, as its one of the best extreme activities to do!
Tutea Falls White Water Rafting
So if there is one adventure activity that we really recommend adding into your 2 day Rotorua itinerary, it has to be the Kaituna River and Tutea Falls white water rafting experience. Admittedly, this wasn’t something that we managed to squeeze in this time around. But James is a massive fan of white water rafting and managed to try this out last time he was in New Zealand.
What’s more, you’ll be able to brag that you’ve done the highest commercial waterfall in the world!! Book your ticket here.
So you’ve probably heard of Zorbing, but what you probably didn’t know was that it was invented in New Zealand. And just like going to Christchurch and not going bungy jumping, you can’t go to Rotorua and not try out Zorbing! Zig zag your way down Mount Ngongotaha with ZORB, the guys who invented the crazy sport!
Jet Boating on Lake Rotorua
The best way to explore Lake Rotorua is to book yourself onto a Jet Boating experience. This hair-rising sport will have your blood pumping – trust us! Another adventure activity created and perfected in New Zealand.
Whether you’re looking to try out bungy jumping, your first BMX ramp jump (yes, even beginners can do it), Shweeb Racing (think biking capsule on a monorail), a giant swing or experience a skydive freefall (but on the ground), get yourself down to Velocity Valley; a full on adventure playground.
Bonus day trips and activities from Rotorua
If our 2 day itinerary wasn’t enough for you, dotted around the city and in short driving distance are a number of awesome places to add to your itinerary. So, what to do near Rotorua? Here are some of our favourites:
About 80km or an hour’s drive from Rotorua is Lake Taupo. Whether it’s going on a cruise of the biggest lake in New Zealand, or visiting Craters of the Moon, an awesome geothermal park, through to hiking to Huka Falls (New Zealand’s most popular natural attraction) or finishing off your day at the most interesting McDonald’s restaurant in the world (it’s in an airplane), there is loads to do in Lake Taupo…!
Tongariro Alpine Crossing
One of the most popular day hikes in all of New Zealand and set in the stunning Tongariro National Park, this one day hike will take you around 7 hours to complete. The 19km route (best done from Mangatepopo to Ketetahi Hot Springs as it’s more downhill), will take you past beautiful blue lakes, jawdropping craters and views that will last you a lifetime.
Waitomo Glow worm caves
Around 2 hours drive from Rotorua, the Waitomo Caves are the most famous glow worms caves in New Zealand. A really unique and stunning experience that you cannot miss. If you prefer, you can actually adjust your Great Sights tour to do Waitomo Caves instead of Hobbiton. Book it here.
Hells Gate Mud Bath and Spa Experience
Just 15 minutes outside of Rotorua, relax in the therapeutic spa pools and mud baths at the Hells Gate Geothermal Reserve. What better way to cleanse the skin and get yourself looking fabulous after your strenuous 2 days in Rotorua itinerary?!
Within walking distance of Rotorua city centre, Kuirau Park is the perfect Geothermal Park to visit if you’re on a budget. That’s because it’s free! They also have a great Rotary Market every Saturday morning if you’re in town on the weekend.
Keen to get out on a tramping or hiking trail? Head to Rainbow Mountain (or Maungakakramea), an active geothermal mountain with two great walking tracks. You can do the Crater Lakes walk for views of two volcanic craters or the Summit Track, which takes you up for panoramic views of the Rotorua lake; you can even see as far as Lake Taupo and Tongariro National Park!
When is the best time to visit Rotorua?
If you’re sunshine worshippers like us, then we’d definitely recommend that you look into the summer months in New Zealand, (so between December and March) – and not surprisingly Rotorua experiences its best weather at this time too. During those months it can still get a little chilly in the evening, but you’ll also get some good sunshine.
It’s also worth avoiding around the Christmas and January school holidays if you can. The attractions can be much busier and accommodation costs far higher. We’d suggest both February and March as the better two summer months to visit.
So what do you think about our 2 days in Rotorua travel guide? Are there any activities that we are missing? Or restaurants and café’s that we just have to add in? Let us know in the comments below or drop us an email here.
Read next: Heading north? Why not check out the best things to do in Paihia…
What camera equipment and other gear do we use?
We’re living proof that you don’t need the most expensive gear to travel the world and take good photos. Here are some of our must have items that make it into the packing list for all our travels.
- Main Camera: Panasonic Lumix FZ1000
- Drone: DJI Mavic Air – Fly More Combo
- GoPro: Hero 7 Black
- GoPro Dive Case: Go Pro Housing
- GoPro Case: Smatree GoPro Carry Case – Small
- Packing Cubes: Eagle Creek Packing case
- Backpack: Osprey Farpoint 70
- Powerbank: Anker Powercore
- Phone: Xiaomi Mi 9
- Hard drive: Transcend Slim Storejet 2TB
- Laptop: Lenovo IdeaPad 720s
- Headphones: Bose Quiet Comfort 35
- Wifi Hotspot: GlocalMe G4
Disclosure: The Travel Scribes were very fortunate to be hosted by Great Sights on their Rotorua Sights and Hobbiton Tour. However, all views are our own, and we were not paid to include Great Sights or their experiences as part of our itinerary, but rather have included it as we believe that they offer a very convenient and high quality way to do these activities as part of any Rotorua itinerary.
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