Rotorua: Smelly, But Awesome

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When you ask people the one word that comes to mind when they think of Rotorua, New Zealand, chances are that word will be “smelly” or “stinky.”

Because, yes, Rotorua is an assault on the senses — most notably the sense of smell.

Rotorua, New Zealand

These kids got a whiff of Rotorua.

This olfactory assault is due to the high level of geothermal activity present in this North Island city — activity that has been drawing thousands of tourists each year since the 1800s.

And 200+ years worth of tourists can’t possibly be wrong!

But what is it exactly that makes Rotorua such a great destination today, despite the strong smell of sulphur that blankets the town?

Well, these reasons are a start:

Geothermal Activity

Centuries ago, tourists came to Rotorua to witness the awesome power of nature in the form of the region’s geothermal activity. New Zealand itself is located in the Pacific Ring of Fire, and therefore is very “active” geothermally. Back in the 1800s, tourists came to Rotorua to see geysers, boiling mud, and an area known as the Pink and White Terraces. It was suggested that these were so impressive that they could have given the 7 Wonders of the World a run for their money. Sadly, they were destroyed in a volcanic eruption in 1886.

But don’t worry — there are plenty of geothermal wonders left to see in Rotorua, from boiling mud in the middle of downtown, to the Lady Knox Geyser, to geothermal wonderlands like Wai-O-Tapu.

Boiling Mud, Rotorua, New Zealand

Boiling mud!

Lady Knox Geyser, Rotorua, New Zealand

Lady Knox Geyser, Rotorua’s most famous

Wai-O-Tapu, Rotorua, New Zealand

The Champagne Pool at Wai-O-Tapu

Champagne Pool, Rotorua, New Zealand

Champagne Pool

Wai-O-Tapu, Rotorua, New Zealand

Wai-O-Tapu

Wai-O-Tapu, Rotorua, New Zealand

Sulphur “waterfall”

Wai-O-Tapu, Rotorua, New Zealand

Artists Palette

Wai-O-Tapu

Artists Palette

Wai-O-Tapu

The colored pools sometimes move around

Wai-O-Tapu, Rotorua, New Zealand

Devil’s Pool

Native Maori Culture

While you can get a taste of New Zealand’s native Maori culture all over the country, Rotorua has perhaps the most offerings. Not only are native hakas performed multiple times per day outside the Rotorua iSite (information center), but there are also a number of Maori replica-villages you can visit here. Places like Te Puia, Tamaki Village, and Mitai Village offer nightly dinner-concert packages, which include a traditional hangi dinner (food cooked in an earthen oven) along with a concert/show that includes traditional Maori songs and dances. Yes, these are touristy experiences, but they are absolutely worth it.

Rotorua, New Zealand

Haka outside the iSite

Maori Village, Rotorua, New Zealand

Women singing and performing a poi dance at Tamaki Village

Scenery

Since Rotorua is in New Zealand, it means there’s no shortage of pretty scenery here. The city itself contains many beautiful buildings (like the Rotorua Museum), a large lake, as well as some sweeping views.

Rotorua, New Zealand

Rotorua iSite

Lake Rotorua, New Zealand

Lake Rotorua

Rotorua, New Zealand

Heading up the Rotorua Skyline Gondola

Rotorua, New Zealand

Looking out over Lake Rotorua from the top of the Gondola

Rotorua, New Zealand

Rotorua Museum and Government Gardens

Rotorua, New Zealand

Rotorua Museum and Government Gardens

Adventure Activities

Seeing as how New Zealanders are obsessed with adrenaline sports, it should come as no surprise that Rotorua has some of its own to offer. The must-do activity here is zorbing, where you dive into what looks like a giant hamster ball and are rolled down a hill. Go with either ZORB Rotorua or OGO, and have a blast. You can also head over to Agroventures for everything from bungy jumping to the giant Swoop swing, or luge down the hill from the Skyline Gondola.

Zorbing, Rotorua, New Zealand

Zorbing!

Zorbing, Rotorua, New Zealand

More Zorbing

Swoop, Rotorua, New Zealand

The Swoop Swing

Swoop, Rotorua, New Zealand

Terrifying, but fun

Agriculture

If you’re not into adventure sports, have no fear. Maybe a sheep-shearing or wrangling show at the Agrodome is more your style.

Rotorua, New Zealand

Near the Agrodome, where they do sheep-shearing shows

 

When it comes down to it, there’s really no mystery why Rotorua has become such a popular destination in New Zealand. With everything from geothermal wonders to Maori culture to adventure sports, it really does offer enough of a variety of activities that you can almost overlook the smell.

… Well, almost.

——

Is Rotorua the type of town you’d add to your New Zealand itinerary?

 

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