10 Things to Do in Rotorua

New Zealand's North Island town of Rotorua is packed with adventure for the whole family. From scree running down Mount Tarawera to watching the largest active geyser in the Southern Hemisphere, check out these once-in-a-lifetime must-dos.

Photo By: Deanne Revel

Photo By: Deanne Revel

Photo By: Deanne Revel

Photo By: Deanne Revel

Photo By: Deanne Revel

Photo By: Deanne Revel

Photo By: Deanne Revel

Photo By: Deanne Revel

Photo By: Deanne Revel

Photo By: Deanne Revel

Take a Float Plane

It may not be the first place on your New Zealand bucket list, but Rotorua has just as much adventure as popular Queenstown. I was recently invited by Tourism New Zealand to check out all the adventure and culture the city has to offer and was blown away. There's everything a thrill-seeker could want, from white-water rafting to Zorbing. But one of the best adventures—and a great way to get your bearings in the city—is a scenic tour with Volcanic Air. These float planes take off on the water and soar high above Rotorua's Lake District. If you love photography, you'll love the aerial views of Mount Tarawera and the city's boiling, geothermal waters.

Zip-Line an Ancient Forest

Get a bird's-eye view of one of the only intact, native ecosystems in New Zealand with eco-tour group Rotorua Canopy Tours. Part adventure, part educational tour, the low-impact, eco zip-lines allow guests to soar above 1,000-year-old trees in Dansey Road Scenic Reserve without causing damage. The three-hour tour includes hiking, navigating suspension bridges and zipping down long, thrilling lines, but the adventure also includes context about the forest and guides will point out rare, native species of flora and fauna along the way. Don't miss the whimsical silver ferns New Zealand is known for or the adorable and not-so-shy North Island Robins.

See Pohotutu Geyser

"Pohutu" means constant splashing in the native Maori language and, true to name, Pohutu Geyser is the largest, most active geyser in the Southern Hemisphere. You can watch the mesmerizing natural wonder while sitting on geothermal-heated rocks at Te Puia cultural center. The most beautiful views are at dusk when the geyser steam mixes with the cool blues and purples of the fading sky.

Hike a Crater

Mount Tarawera is famous for its 1886 eruption that created the youngest geothermal valley on the planet. Today, the crater is hikable but, as it's on Maori land, the only way to step foot on the mountain is with Kaitiaki Adventures. These guided walks include history and stories about why it's a spiritual place for Maori people. The crater walk takes you up to the summit for breathtaking, 360-degree panoramic views of Rotorua's Lake District, Mount Ruapehu and, on a very clear day, the Pacific Ocean and the marine volcano White Island.

And Scree Run Down

What goes up, must come down. On the Mount Tarawera crater walk, you have the chance to run straight into the heart of the crater. And there's even a sport for this. It's called scree running, and it involves using the soft, powdery volcanic ash to cushion your steps as you bound yourself down a mountainside. It's scary at first but a lot of fun.

Soak in Geothermals

After a day of hiking, unwind and relax at the Polynesian Spa. The spa's 28 mineral-rich pools are fed by two local hot springs with acidic water to soothe tired muscles and alkaline water to nourish skin. And the views from the outdoor, natural rock pools are serene and picture-perfect. Got the kids? Make it a family affair at the large family spa. Adults can soak in nearby alkaline minerals, while the kiddos take on the water slide.

Learn About Maori Culture

A visit to New Zealand is not complete without learning about native Maori culture. You can see this culture in action by visiting the New Zealand Māori Arts and Crafts Institute at Te Puia. The college's carving and weaving schools preserve historic trades and keep Maori culture alive. The most fascinating craft is watching students work on larger-than-life waka canoes. Before you leave, head to the cultural center's gift shop for handmade souvenirs made by students.

Try a Traditional Maori Dinner

One of the best ways to learn about a different culture is to savor the food. You can experience a traditional Maori dinner at Te Puia. The entree—typically chicken and fish—is cooked in a Hangi or an underground oven pit. This is served with buttery kumara sweet potatoes and traditional rewana bread. Wash it all down with a local manuka honey drink.

Walk a Redwood Canopy

Explore a forest with soaring, 100-year-old redwoods at Redwoods Treewalk. The eco-friendly suspension bridges and observation decks give guests incredible views of the forest and tree canopy. Got little ones? The tour has special strollers for navigating the course. Even infants are welcome.

Walk Through History

If you're interested in learning about how Maori people live today, book a tour with Kia Ora Guided Walks. These private walking tours with a local Maori guide include Rotorua's gardens, the historic St. Faith's Church, and colorful buildings, statues and steam vents in the Ohinemutu Maori Village. Sure, you could walk the city yourself, but with a walking tour, you get the context and the history while exploring these important, spiritual places. Plus, you get to meet locals along the way who are happy to answer questions about their culture and their home.

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