Rotorua's - Best Of Culture
Besides its adrenalin-activity focused theme, another thing Rotorua is famous for – its very active geothermal activity - becomes patently obvious on arrival. The distinctive smell of sulphur hangs ever present in the air and random clouds of steam can be seen rising into the air all over the place. You don't have to make too much effort here to take in sights of boiling mud pools, soaring geysers, natural hot pools and silica terraces which come in a range of rainbow colours.
The third major string to Rotorua's bow is the high concentration of and easily accessed immersion into Maori culture. From marvelling at the intricate carvings of a 'marae' or getting a front row seat for a 'haka' display, through to feasting Maori style or witnessing full shows of dance and music – all is possible here.
Here's our pick of Rotorua’s must-do cultural and natural experiences.
The Buried Village of Te Wairoa
What with being a highly active geothermal area and all Rotorua's history includes some catastrophic episodes dealt up by Mother Nature. In 1886 Mt Tarawera blew its top, burying villages and claiming the lives of 150 of their inhabitants. In the 1930s one such village – Te Wairoa – was brought to life again and cleared of its rock, ash and mud coverings.
Wandering the pathways of this archaeological site offers a truly atmospheric air infused experience, helped along in no small part by the guides sporting period costume. Sensitive development has ensured full respect for those who lost their lives here while a series of interpretation panels allow the visitor to get some real understanding about what they are seeing.
If you want to have a little look at what kind of things were unearthed during excavation take a peep inside the on-site, award-winning museum.
Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland
All of you in search of geo-thermal attractions are going to be spoiled for choice but arguably one of the best and largest in Rotorua is the Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland. The natural bush setting gives it a huge head start but add to that the fact that here you can watch the largest boiling mud pool in the country bubbling away as well as taking in the Lady Knox geyser which kicks off daily.
Otherwise you can simply stroll around amid hissing steam vents and gaze at pools of incredible colours surrounded by multi-hued rock terraces.
Te Puia and Maori Culture
There are certain cultures which seem to have an eternal fascination and magnetism and without doubt the Maori way of doing things is one such. Cultural immersion opportunities abound in this region in which around a third of the inhabitants claim Maori descent. You can take in a little bit here and there or you can make your life super easy and do it all in one fell swoop at Te Puia.
It would be easier to list what isn't on offer here because the programme of events is almost overwhelming and comes with some really privileged glimpses into the Maori world along with some unique hands-on experiences. You can give flax weaving a go, visit a marae, try not to flinch at a weapons display, war dance or up-close haka, feast at an underground-cooked age-old traditional hangi or simply chat with local Maoris or listen to their tales of folklore, spirituality and legend.
And if you fancy taking in a geothermal attraction at the same time you're in luck because Te Puia adjoins the magnificent Whakarewarewa Thermal Valley.
Mount Tarawera happens to be both volcano and sacred place and a trek to its summit rewards those who take it with a bird's eye views of other volcanoes, sparkling lakes, meandering rivers and the ocean. Quite how you get to the top is up to you – on foot you can take a guided tour or go it alone while the cheat's way will get you there by 4X4.
And of course, because this is New Zealand, this particular hike has an extra draw for anyone who likes to put a high-speed thrill in their day. At the top you can zip your way into the volcano's crater on the 100 metre scree slide, if that's the kind of thing which floats your boat.
Natural Spas and Hot Pools
One of the bonuses of a geothermally active area is the abundance of natural spa pools present. These come complete with a range of therapeutic qualities but serve just as well to simply ease out a few bodily kinks which Rotorua backpacking visitors tend to find themselves suffering from after excessive partying or after partaking in much of the fun stuff possible in Rotorua.
Hot pools and spas come in every shape and size here in Rotorua. There are those hidden gems which are totally free, lakeside hot pools which can only be accessed by boat, indulgent award-winning Polynesian spa complexes where massage and other treatments are on offer too and there are even places where you can dig down to release steaming waters to create your own personal pool.