Chances are if you are planning a trip to New Zealand, Rotorua will be high on your list of places to visit.
A geothermal wonderland located on New Zealands North Island. Rotorua is known for its bubbling hot pools, exploding geysers, cultural experiences, stunning diverse countryside, adventure sports and much more. It really is jammed packed with things to see and do. As you can imagine though it can also be a rather pricey experience.
Earlier this year we spent three amazing days in Rotorua. Now whilst we would have loved to experience absolutely everything, we had to compromise on a few things. We loved exploring some of the great free things the area has to offer and honestly felt like we didn’t miss out.
Whether you’re staying a week or day here are our top 6 free things to do in Rotorua.
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Top 6 free things to do in Rotorua
The giant Californian Redwoods that inhabit the Redwood Forest were planted in 1901 and in just a hundred short years they have grown to over 70 metres. This towering forest covers an area of 5600ha and it is mecca for outdoor enthusiasists! Famous for its walking, biking and horse riding trails. You’ll find beautiful spots for a picnic lunch, theres also a cafe and visitors centre onsite. Parking is free.
You could easily lose yourself under the canopy of the trees, taking in the very best the nature has to offer. There is a stunning tree top walk that you can do during the day and night, its not free but is probably is one of the cheaper activities in Rotorua. We experienced the “Night Lights” walk and its was truly magical. Walk amongst the giants, wonder at the lanterns and get a bird eyes view of life below.
Fun Fact – Disneys Petes Dragon was filmed in the Redwood Forest
Redwood Forest – Tree Top Walk
Redwood Forest – Tree Top Walk
Kuirau Park is located in the centre Rotorua and is a great alternative to the pricey geothermal parks. The park is home to steaming, hissing and bubbling geothermal pools, crater lakes and beautiful gardens. You can even dip your feet in the free thermal foot baths! You are completely free to explore to park via the paths provided. We visited and spent a good couple of hours wandering and taking in the sights, sounds and smells (Rotorua is after all known for its wiffy pong). There is also a great childrens playground for little legs to run off some steam.
On the banks of Lake Rotorua you will find Ohinemutu Village, a living and working Maori Village. Home to the Ngati Whakaue Tribe, visitors are welcome to wander around the village to view the geothermal pools, bathing sheds and cooking facilities. Entry to the Te Papaiouru Marae and Tama Te Kapua Meeting House is via a small donation. This really is a cultural gem!
Just a short walk from the centre of town is the impressive Government Gardens. A formal style garden that comes alive during the different seasons. Perfect for a leisurely stroll, picnic or for running a muck in the playground. Sitting at the heart of the garden is the Blue Baths, an art deco style bath house that is one of the cities most iconic landmarks.
Within the grounds of the gardens you’ll aslo find the Rotorua Museum that is housed in a stunning historic tudor style building, a 9 hole golf range and the internationally acclaimed Polynesian Spa. Government Garden is a photographers paradise!
Rotorua is home to the most stunning and diverse countryside, including many awe inspiring lakes. Rotorua sits on the shores of the mighty and vast Lake Rotorua, the lake is alive with activity both free and not free of course. Lake Rotorua is probably the most recognisable lake in New Zealand, thanks to the impressive Mokoia Island that sits at its heart. The lake is also famous for its trout fishing. There a many trails and walks that are perfect for seeing the very best Lake Rotorua has to offer.
Dont forget the famous Blue (Lake Tikitapo) and Green (Lake Rotokakahi) Lakes, so named for their distinctive colouring. Both perfect for swimming, fishing, picnicing and walking. Dont forget to head to the lookout point where you can climb just high enough to see these colourful yet amazingly different neighbours side by side. Blue Lake has a fantastic childrens playground.
Blue Lake (Lake Tikitapo)
Whilst admittedly not free, the many markets that spring up during the week in Rotorua are a great way to immerse yourself in local life. We can highly recommend the night markets that are held every Thursday evening between 5pm-9.30pm on Tutanekai Street, great locally made products, food and drink. The local shops stay open for the duration of the markets which really adds to the atmsophere. Parking is free on the street after 5pm. There are also weekly farmers markets, flea markets and numerous arts and crafts markets. There really is something for everyone.
Rotorua Night Markets (image: @rotoruanz)
Where we Stayed
We chose to stay at the beautiful Blue Lake Top 10 Holiday Park for three nights. Sitting on the banks for the breathtaking Blue Lake, this holiday park is fantastic for families. There is a range of accommodation options, from campsites (powered and unpowered) to self contained cabins. We camped for one night and then the lovely manager of the site upgraded us to a cabin as it was really quiet.
The facilities onsite are excellent for campers and travellers alike, there are kitchens, bbq areas, a laundry room, hot tub, equipment hire (biking, fishing) and the list goes on.
Blue Lake Top 10 Holiday Park
Kids are well catered for at the park, with a fantastic playground, tv room and jumping pillow. The setting couldn’t have been more perfect, we enjoyed daily strolls by the lake and we even trekked into the surrounding forest at night to see glowworms (I dont recommed if you are remotely afraid of the dark). We absolutely recommend Blue Lake Top 10 Holiday Park.
Tip – If you purchase Top 10 Holiday Park Membership you’ll receive 10% discount at all of the Top 10 parks as well as great discounts on various days out, ferry crossings and activities. Well worth the $49 fee (two year membership).
I really hope you have enjoyed this post. Rotorua is an truly fascinating and beautiful place to visit even if you are on a budget!
Thanks for reading
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