About 3 hours south-east of Auckland, the Rotorua geothermal area is famous for its technicolor sulphur pools, bubbling springs, mud baths, and geysers. It also offers a plethora of fun activities, from mountain biking to whitewater kayaking as well. Our family stayed here for about 2 days in total, but could have easily stayed a week and still have plenty to see and do with the kids. With so many options to choose from, you can’t possibly be wondering what to do in Rotorua New Zealand.
Driving east from Waitomo (another 2 hours on the road), we arrived in the early evening; so the first thing we did was look for a restaurant. Based on reviews, we headed to the aptly-named Eat Street, a pedestrian-only covered street with restaurants, cafes and bars lined on both sides. After checking out the many options available to us, we decided the kid-friendly choice was a restaurant called CBK. It turned out to be a very good choice. Famous for it’s stone grilled meat, I had an amazing rib-eye steak sizzle in front of my eyes, the stone grill allowing each bite to be grilled to the just right temperature. My mouth is watering remembering this meal. But the deal of the day (evening) had to go to Nolan, who ordered a Flintstone Grill Plate kids meal with beef medallions and a cut of lamb on a stone grill for under $14 NZD. Crazy good deal no matter in any part of the world.
Wai-o-Tapu Thermal Wonderland
After a good night’s sleep, we were off to our first attraction in Rotorua – the Wai-o-Tapu Thermal Wonderland. The attraction is about 30 minutes south of the city, and we got just around 9:30am to catch the daily eruption of the most famous of Rotorua geysers, Lady Knox Geyser. Unlike Old Faithful in Yellowstone, the timing of Lady Knox’s eruptions are not natural, but rather a induced by a park ranger by adding some detergent into it’s spout to trigger the 20 foot eruption. While I wouldn’t call it spectacular myself, there were some ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs’ and it was good for taking pictures.
After viewing of the geyser, we spent the next 2 hours touring the actual sulphur hot springs park itself, which was much more memorable as an experience. Pools of champagne gold, mountain-dew greens, rusty reds – it was a virtual rainbow of multi-colored pools spread throughout the park. If it weren’t for the scores of other tourists with us, we could have easily imagined ourselves having just landed on whole different planet.
This was an easy attraction for “kid management” with very straight-forward boardwalk trails with a small pine forest to give yourself a break from the baking sun.
After exploring the surreal geothermal pools of Wai-o-Tapu, we ventured back to Rotorua. Along the way we picked up some New Zealand meat pies – I didn’t know there were so much variety of options! I think we spent 15 minutes decided what we wanted (and what our picky eaters would eat). Once we had our share of food, we visited the Government Gardens. With the rose and tulip gardens, and the Edwardian-style museum in the background, there was a very European (English to be exact) feel to the location.
The museum itself was closed when we were there, so we just let the kids burn off a little of the lunch energy, which meant chasing butterflies in grass fields, and exploring the rose gardens scattered in the park. We finally found a a small playground under a canopy of trees and let the kids played while the adults refueled our caffeine reserves.
Not too far from the Gardens was Kuirau Park, a public park that also had some geothermal pools, so we thought we’d check it out. I’d call it a poor man’s version of Wai-o-Tapu. There were some steaming hot pools bubbling here and there, without the spectacular rainbow colors. However, there was a nice thermal foot bath which we quite enjoyed after a long day of walking.
After walking around the park and exploring the mix of manicured gardens and bubbling pools, we called it a day and headed to dinner and before settling back to the hotel for the evening. We were very happy with the long list of Rotorua New Zealand things to do that we checked off in one day.
Super dad (verified by Nolan and Cady) who does his best to keep a roof over our head and chauffeured around. He picked up cross-fit in 2017 and has stuck with it, so far.