Rotorua, New Zealand’s most unique and smelliest town! Rotorua is like no place I’ve ever been to before. It somewhat felt like being transported into a mystical land. Mud baths bubbling in fields, hot springs rising up from the ground at every turn and a severe smell of rotten eggs! Rotorua is a geothermal utopia. Famous for hot springs, extensive Maori culture and epic landscapes you’ll find yourself speechless. Rotorua just has to make it onto your New Zealand North Island Itinerary. I must admit when we first drove through the town I wasn’t sure what to expect but the surrounding landscape left me open-mouthed and wide-eyed from the very moment I stepped out of the van. In this guide, you’ll find out How to Spend 2 Days in Rotorua that will have you itching to return again and again.
Where is Rotorua?
Rotorua is in the North Island of New Zealand and close to the likes of Matamata and Lake Taupo so easy to fit into your road trip itinerary. We dedicated 2 days in Rotorua after visiting the Hobbiton Movie Set (another must-do on the North Island of New Zealand). Rotorua is also 3-hour drive direct from Auckland so could easily be done as a day trip with an early start and late night. Find a map with driving instructions from Auckland to Rotorua below. Speaking geographically Rotorua is located in the Bay of Plenty and built upon Lake Rotorua. The volcanic activity going on below the surface causes the geothermal activity happening in the district and it’s so impressive.
Why Should You Visit Rotorua?
Rotorua is like another land. Exploring Rotorua will open your eyes to how extreme mother nature can be and how fascinating the earth below us really is. Marvel in mud pools, hot springs, experience spouting geysers and walk amongst layers of the land bubbling away next to you higher than 100 Degree’s Celsius. Rotorua will show you just how insignificant, no matter what we may think, us humans really are. If you aren’t interested in the geothermal activity of the land then there are plenty of spas and Maori history to enjoy but I honestly think you’d be mad not to explore the wondrous activity of mother nature.
How to Spend 2 Days in Rotorua
Firstly I want to point out that we originally only had one day organised in Rotorua. In the end, we ended up spending a whole two days and two nights in the region. There was a lot more to be discovered than what I first thought and we still didn’t cover it all. One of the main attraction’s in Rotorua is the Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland which is a geothermal extravaganza where you can walk amongst deep steaming craters, a luminous green lake and the famous Champagne pool which I’m sure you’ll have seen photographed before. We had just planned to visit Wai-O-Tapu during our visit to Rotorua because the tourist sights can quickly add up and become expensive if you see them all! Luckily, we spent one the day’s exploring more geothermal activity for free!
Day One in Rotorua
Arrive in Rotorua no later than midmorning. You’ll smell the district before you see it because of all the geothermal activity it stinks of rotten eggs! Don’t worry though because you’ll get used to it after a little while. When you arrive in Rotorua spend the first day exploring the town. I say this, particularly if you’re wanting to freedom camp in Rotorua because the car park designated to freedom camping gets full quickly. We visited in winter and it still filled up by mid-afternoon. I’ve given all the details about freedom camping in Rotorua a little further down.
Explore Kuirau Park
Kuirau Park is located just before you turn into the town-centre and full of geothermal excitement. This park is completely free and is filled with hot springs and mud baths left right and centre. Every which way you turn you’ll be amazed by what’s going on in this park. You’ll find two hot springs where you can dip your feet in too and they are wonderful! Make sure you wear baggy bottoms so you can pull them up and give yourself a little pedicure. It was welcomed hugely after a few nights of freedom camping in the cold! If you’re on a budget then this park is also a great budget alternative to the Wai-O-Tapu park. Spend at least an hour if not more exploring this park reading all the information on the way around because it’s fascinating. You’ll see steam rising from the ground in areas that are still open too, who knows if those areas will be blocked off in a few years?!
Interesting Fact: A family in Rotorua have had to evict their house this year (2019) because of a bubbling sink-hole in their garden. The hole is growing bigger and bigger by the day with mud bubbling away on the surface their house just metres away!
Explore Government Gardens and Rotorua Museum
Nearby to the freedom camping area, you’ll find the Rotorua Museum and the Government Gardens which are lovely to walk around. The museum building is simply wonderful. Expect to feel transported to Europe in its presence because the architecture just reminds me of something you’d find in the likes of Germany or Prague. The sunrise over the building is also spectacular if you’re up early enough. Unfortunately, due to the foundations of this wonderful building the museum is currently closed to visit. The building as it stands today falls way below earthquake standards in New Zealand. The good news though is that the council have said that it is fixable and doesn’t need tearing down which would be such a shame!
Talk a Walk Around Lake Rotorua
Rotorua is built around Lake Rotorua which is simply beautiful. You can wander down to the jetty and take in the wonderful scenes around you. Rotorua is also famous for the trout found in its waters and an extremely popular fishing town. Apparently, if you fish in Rotorua the bets are you’ll catch a trout no problem!
Visit the Famous Polynesian Spa in Rotorua
This is the one place I’m including in this guide that we didn’t explore ourselves but I have heard nothing but great reviews. We only came across this spa because it’s directly opposite the designated freedom camping spot in Rotorua. If you’ve got the time and aren’t on a major budget then go for a swim in one of the hot springs or bath in one of the mud baths that are supposed to be delightful for your skin! The pricing for this spa isn’t too bad with prices starting at $30 for a short time in the hot springs.
Sulphur Point Walk for Sunset
Sulphur Point was one of my favourite discoveries in Rotorua. Sulphur point looks out over Lake Rotorua and is the best place for sunset in the town. I was not expecting the magical views we got when as the sun went down. As I looked out onto the lake I conjured up an image of a fairytale castle sat on the other side, what do you think? Does anyone else let their imagination take them away whilst travelling? I must admit I do it often especially when places really speak to me which this sunset did. You can drive to Sulphur Point but I recommend to take the walk which you can find directions and more about here. During our 2 days in Rotorua, we spent in Rotorua this was one of my favourite moments!
Freedom Camping in Rotorua
As the night dawns in Rotorua get cosy in your accommodation or van ready for another awesome day tomorrow. Renting or buying a camper van is truly the best way to explore New Zealand. Whether it’s long term or short term you’ll see travellers everywhere living the van life! Needless to say it’s not for everyone but if it is up to your alley then you’ll be pleased to find a designated free camping spot in Rotorua.
The biggest freedom camping area in Rotorua or the only one I’m aware of that’s this central is the Government Gardens car park. You’ll find toilets a short walk away next to the impressive Rachel Spring, which bubbles to 212 Degrees Celsius, and they are very clean indeed. A word of caution they do close them on a night at approx 9 pm and open at 8 am the next morning. There’s also toilets located in the visitor centre just a short 10-minute walk away where you can also pay $5 for a hot shower there too.
The only downside to this freedom camping area in Rotorua is that it’s busy. Even in July when we visited the car park was full by the end of the night. So my recommendation would be to arrive in Rotorua in the morning, park your van and then explore the places I mentioned above in the city because they are all within walking distance.
Be Aware: The car park does smell like the rest of the city and what you expect it’s across from the spa and surrounded by hot springs excreting sulphur! So please don’t be one of those people who put a negative comment on Wikki Camps because of the smell!
How to Spend 2 Days in Rotorua – Day Two
For day two in Rotorua, you need to get out of the centre and enjoy some of the geothermal wonders a little farther afield! There are an array of experiences to have when it comes to experiencing mother nature in Rotorua but they can get expensive so we decided on the Wai-O-Tapu Geothermal Wonderland Park.
Visit Wai-O-Tapu Geothermal Wonderland Park
When you enter the Geothermal Wonderland Park you instantly feel like your on another planet. I don’t know about you but where I’m from big craters in the floor and luminous green lakes just aren’t a regular occurrence! I was amazed by the insane geothermal activity going on beneath our surface so close to nearby towns! The best way I can describe the Wai-O-Tapu park is by showing you, not telling you! You only need to take a look at the photographs below to see how astonishing this place is. It isn’t cheap with the tickets coming in at $32.50 each for the park and to see Lady Knox Geyser erupt.
How to Get to Wai-O-Tapu from Rotorua
The drive from Rotorua is pretty straight forward, it took us just under half an hour to get there. Or you can take one of the many tours that set off from Rotorua if you don’t have access to your own transport.
Best Time to Visit Wai-O-Tapu
After experiencing the park in Winter I would definitely go again in summer. We still enjoyed the park but because of the time of year, we were greeted with a very foggy morning which didn’t really lift until we were leaving. If you have a choice in the time of year you’re visiting Wai-O-Taupo then I would say to try to go in summer. As of the time of day that completely depends on whether or not you want to see the Lady Knox Geyser erupt. Lady Knox is one of many active geysers in Rotorua. If you want to see an eruption then you need to be at the park and to the geyser by 10:15 am.
Lady Knox Geyser
Lady Knox Geysers is an active geyser in Rotorua and there was no way we weren’t going to watch her erupt. Although, I was a little confused as to how they get a ‘natural’ geyser to erupt at the same every day. Turns out they put on a little show, women talking into a microphone explaining why she’s about to make an eruption happen. She then put surfactant (soap) down the mouth of the geyser which then causes her to erupt. Don’t get me wrong the eruption was cool but I was a little disappointed, I think that the whole ‘show’ took away from the impressiveness of the geyser itself and I was a little disheartened to see a forced eruption. Would I recommend going to see Lady Knox erupt again, probably not.
Geothermal Wonderland Walk
After seeing Lady Know Geyser we went into the main park and walked around the bubbling pools, massive craters and unique lakes. The whole walk around the park took us under two hours so don’t need a whole day here. I would recommend scheduling in about three hours and if you see the geysers to around four hours. The walk is pretty impressive and like walking on another planet, here are some more photographs of what you’ll find inside the park.
Facilities in the Park
You’ll find all the usual facilities at Wai-O-Tapu Geothermal Wonderland including toilets, baby change, water filling up stations, a shop and cafe. Parking is free at the park.
After spending the morning at this incredible natural site I recommend spending some time nearby to explore more natural wonders that Rotorua has to offer.
How to Spend 2 Days in Rotorua: Day 2 Afternoon
Crater Lake/Rainbow Mountain
Not far from Wai-O-Tapu you’ll find Crater Lake and the Rainbow Mountains lookout. We only visited the Crater Lake because the round trip up to Rainbow Mountain was a 10 km return one we just didn’t have time for. But if you plan to spend more than 2 days in Rotorua then I would definitely try add it into your itinerary. Finding the Crater Lake though was easy, simply follow the path from the car park (it can be quite muddy after rain) and walk 2 km to the Crater Lake lookout where you’ll be amazed by the bright blue bubbling lake surrounded by a vast mountain range. If you’re into mountain biking then you can also bike the track.
If you’re a waterfall chaser then you’ll love Kerosene Creek. A small river that flows through the landscape that sits at a gorgeous temperature! This rive come hot spring is a hit with the locals and used as a swimming spot all year round because of the heated water. We walked along the riverside and went to have a look at the falls which are only small but lots of travellers were paddling away enjoying the warm water. I personally didn’t go in because it was already quite busy and it was literally FREEZING and I just wasn’t brave enough to strip down on this particular day.
If you love hot springs then Hot Water Beach must make it onto your New Zealand North Island Itinerary which you can read more about here!
Accommodation in Rotorua
If freedom camping like I mentioned above isn’t for you then Rotorua has plenty of other options for travellers. The town centre has two hostels and plenty of hotels to choose from. I always book my trips on booking.com as I always find the cheapest deals on their site no matter where else I book. Make sure you book accommodation in Rotorua ahead of time, especially in the summer months!
Other Things to Do Near Rotorua
If you follow the itinerary I’ve suggested above then your 2 days in Rotorua are going to be jam-packed! But just in case you didn’t like the sound of some of the options then here are some other things you can do and see near Rotorua
- Fishing at Lake Tarawera
- Hells Gate Mud Baths and Geothermal Walk
- Visit Blue Lake
- Hiking Trails at Mount Tarawera
- Walk Around Redwoods Forest
- Okere Falls
- See Pohutu Geyser Erupt
- Jetboat at Huka Falls
- Explore the Craters of the Moon
There is so much to do and see in this region of New Zealand and I hope that this guide has given you some insight about how you could spend 2 days in Rotorua. If you do visit then I would love to know your thoughts on this incredible place, I honestly don’t think there is anything like it in the world! If you need to know anything else about my trip to Rotorua then you can email me at [email protected] or message me on Instagram.
Wishing You Happy and Healthy Travels,