Leaving the South Island of New Zealand was bittersweet for me. The mountains of the South Island stole my heart, so the few days we spent there was not nearly enough.
But I also couldn’t shake the anticipation of visiting Hobbiton, the one place that was on my New Zealand bucket list for years. It was my one consolation as Steve and I boarded the little plane to Rotorua.
The flight over was beautiful as we saw the luscious hills and the stunning blue of the ocean with perfect clarity from our window seat. The smell, however, was a totally different story! I was prepared for a sulfur smell once we arrived on the island, I just did not anticipate it reaching the plane. haha! (You get used to it rather quickly, so it’s really not all that bad.) 🙂
Rotorua was most interesting for me, I’ve never been anywhere with sulfur springs so it was an experience that I was thankful to have and so glad my husband had it on our list of visits. This post lists our short time there and some of the top things to do in Rotorua.
Lodging in Rotorua
Steve reserved a room at Hotel Ibis, one of the nicer places we stayed while in New Zealand.
I really loved the layout of our room, it was definitely designed with small spaces in mind. It felt rather large when you walked in even though it wasn’t actually bigger than most motel rooms.
The amenities were also nice, however, if you want WiFi you will have to sign up for a hotel membership at the front desk. Otherwise, you’re only granted 30 mins of WiFi for your entire stay and you have to be in the lobby to access it. We wanted to call our children every day so the membership was our only option. It’s free, so it was not a big deal for us to sign up.
The lobby itself was large and doubled as a restaurant where you could order pizza or a hamburger. Both options were excellent and one was big enough to feed us both! Allow me to recommend the Aloha pizza!
Rotorua Restaurants we Enjoyed
Just a block from the hotel was an open mall called Eat Streat (sic).
I do not recommend visiting unless you plan to eat there; the smells that greet you are enough to rival the Sirens. haha The only problem is trying to decide which restaurant to choose; there are so many delicious options and I loved how many of them offered outdoor seating.
We decided on the Solace Cafe & Restaurant mainly because the outside menu offered the best sounding dishes. It was the right choice; the food was sooo good!
One thing I should mention, if you have never been to New Zealand, there are some small differences you should expect when you visit a restaurant. They almost always place a pitcher of water on your table which I loved because the water is delicious! The waiter/waitress will take your order and deliver your food and that is usually all you’ll see of them. So no refills, which probably explains the pitcher of water. Also, there is generally no tipping. From what a local told me once, they can always tell the tourists by their effort to tip. haha
I ordered the fish and chips and loved every bite. We were the only ones in the restaurant the entire time we were there (I believe we got in before the dinner rush) so the staff were very attentive to us. If we had more time in Rotorua, we would have returned for another meal for sure!
After our meal we continued down Eat Streat and found this little gem. Although we were so full from dinner, we couldn’t pass up some ice cream here. Hands down the best ice cream I’ve ever had! The fact they were only a block away from where we were staying was not good on our wallet. haha!
If you are in Rotorua and enjoy ice cream, add this to your list of things to do. I’m not a huge fan of ice cream and I made more than one stop here!
Boysenberry is by far my favorite flavor of ice cream in New Zealand. Steve ordered the Raspberry Lemonade Fizz; I thought it tasted like a lemon sucker. 🙂
Attractions in Rotorua
There are so many interesting things to do in Rotorua! The first day there we visited what we could in walking distance from our motel and came across the Kuirau Park which has wooden walkways taking you through a geothermal wonderland.
The steaming pools and bubbling mud were a welcome sight on our chilly walk. It was like venturing into an open sauna! It was pretty neat for me as I’ve never experienced anything like it.
Walking through the steam at dusk was eerily similar to many horror flicks I’ve seen growing up, so we visited it again in the daylight the next day and felt more at ease. haha It was a really neat place!
If you are ever in Rotorua, let me just say, you MUST plan some time to visit the Polynesian Spa. Due to time, I can’t give all the reasons why but you can read them for yourself in my review of the Spa.
I am not a spa kind of girl normally, mainly because I don’t like spending a lot of money, but Steve planned this as a surprise and the price was surprisingly affordably, especially for New Zealand. I highly recommend checking it out!
Our first full day in Rotorua was jam-packed (that seemed to be the theme of our time in New Zealand, I will definitely be planning our next trip over! haha) so most of our tours were fast but that meant we got to see a lot in a short amount of time.
This tour was fun and our tour guide was hysterical, a Maori native who grew up on the land and had intimate knowledge of the Village. We learned so much about their culture on this part of the island and the rich minerals of the land. Quite fascinating!
This was my first time seeing a geyser and it was pretty incredible, especially to learn just how long that thing can spout!
But my favorite part of the tour was definitely the hot rocks! They have these massive rocks that are incredibly warm so we all took a quick break on the “seat warmers” while I contemplated ways to get one past customs. 🙂
This village offers longer tours, including authentic Maori dances, basket weaving, feasts, etc. but our time there was limited so we were not able to take part in those excursions. Maybe next time!
This little park was so neat!
It was more like a mini zoo with fish, birds, lizards and walkways through native plants. They even have the longest living Kea bird there in captivity.
We did take part in everything the park has to offer but I think we got to see most of everything. At the end of our tour, we were given the opportunity to fill our water bottles at their natural spring, which was a nice treat!
But my favorite part was getting to see our first Kiwi birds!
Rainbow Springs has their own hatchery of Kiwi birds and we had not been able to see one yet so we were soooo excited when we learned this was part of our tour!
We were not allowed to film or take pictures of the kiwis as they are very sensitive to light and noise as they are nocturnal, but being there and seeing them in as natural a habitat as the conservationists could construct was definitely something I won’t ever forget.
They were larger than I expected and so intriguing to watch as they stuck their beaks in the soil, smelling for bugs!
This tour was on my husband’s bucket list as he had always wanted to watch sheep trials and sheep shearing. I was intrigued but honestly just along for the ride. However, after it was all said and done, I was very glad I went.
I’m not sure if they offer different type of tours other than what we experienced but we arrived just in time for the Agrodome show and then the trials were afterwards.
The show itself was so much fun and involved tons of animals, sheep shearing and some demonstrations by the sheep dogs. In case you are wondering, yes, those are real sheep in the below picture. They were incredibly huge!
At one point in the show, I was chosen to help feed baby lambs which completely made my day!
If you are interested in these tours, we made a video of some highlights:
This was the one place I wanted to visit the most and although it technically isn’t in Rotorua, you buy your tickets and load a tour bus from downtown Rotorua and they take you to the movie set.
Matamata is the name of the village where the movie set is located and the drive there is simply gorgeous. Our bus driver actually worked on the set when they filmed The Hobbit and he gives you tons of neat information on the ride over as well as plays some short videos about the set. Also, our tour guide was a hobbit in the movie, so that was cool!
If you are planning a trip to New Zealand and you are a Tolkien fan, this stop is worth your time! But I do recommend reading my review for some things you might want to know before visiting.
Also, here’s a video of our trip there:
We actually took this tour on our way to the Bay of Islands but you can do a day tour while staying in town so I’m including it in my list of things to do in Rotorua.
I had never been inside a glowworm cave so I was pretty excited about getting to see one while we were in New Zealand. I wrote a review of our visit if you want to know some of the pros and cons before deciding if it’s worth it to add it to your schedule.
Our time in Rotorua felt short only because we packed so much into the time we had but I’m glad we got to experience all that we did. If you only have a short time to visit, I hope you see that there are so many things to do in Rotorua and you can get quite a lot in in a day.
Don’t forget to check out the links I added to schedule a tour or check prices and availability!
About the author
Kimberly McGraw is the founder of Life Worth the Living, a blog focused on helping mothers live their best life. Her desire is to help moms find purpose in who they are as a person, not just as a mom. Life Worth the Living has been featured in Making Sense of Cents, Outwit Trade and Believe and Create.