Rotorua: Smelly, But Awesome

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, Rotorua, New Zealand

Sulphur “waterfall”

Wai-O-Tapu, Rotorua, New Zealand

Artists Palette


Artists Palette


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


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, Rotorua, New Zealand

More Zorbing

Swoop, Rotorua, New Zealand

The Swoop Swing

Swoop, Rotorua, New Zealand

Terrifying, but fun


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?



  • Rachel says:

    Rotorua is an excellent place to visit! Though my clothes all smelled funky after I left – ahh well, it washes out. Another cool adventure activity that I did there was raft the world’s highest commercially rafted waterfall on the Kaituna River nearby. Definitely recommended!

    • DangerousBiz says:

      Ooo, rafting would be fun! It’s amazing the variety of things to do in such a small city. A testament to the awesome-ness of New Zealand, for sure!

  • John says:

    It reminds me of Yellowstone but with Maori culture! Is the smell pretty persistant across the entire city or just near the geothermal sites?

    • DangerousBiz says:

      That’s a very good description! I think the cultural aspect makes me like it even more, though

      And yes, the smell is pretty persistent, no matter where you are in town. Definitely takes some getting used to.

  • NLM says:

    Loved Rotorua! Really you get used to the smell pretty fast. And I think it’s like Yellowstone must have been long, long ago. Definitely take the trip up to the Waimangu Volcanic Valley, which was formed just about 100 years ago!

    • DangerousBiz says:

      I agree that you get used to the smell once you’re there for a little while. The stink certainly wouldn’t keep me from going back! There’s so much to see there in a relatively small area.

  • Juno says:

    I liked Rotorua. And yes I remember the smell!

  • Sophie says:

    We lived in New Zealand 9 years ago, so this brought back memories. Rotorua is heaps of fun!

  • Rachael Sena says:

    The Swoop Swing and Zorbing look like so much fun! I bet it took a lot of courage to strap into that swing. The landscape is absolutely breathtaking and is worth the visit to Rotorua alone. I think I could get past the smell…I hope.

    • DangerousBiz says:

      They WERE both really fun! Zorbing was so random, and yet so fun — I don’t think I’ve ever laughed so hard! And the Swoop was actually terrifying!

      And I’m sure you could get past the smell. Most people do!

  • Laurence says:

    I lived in Rotorua for a couple of months, and must say, it’s a brilliant place. Awesome scenery, great (and cheap for NZ) adventure activities, and so much on the cultural side. Great photos here!

    • DangerousBiz says:

      Agreed that the adventure sports here are cheap! And all the cultural offerings are well worth the time and money. How long did it take you to get used to living with that smell 24/7 for months?

  • Rebecca says:

    I love RotoVegas! If you go with it being super touristy in mind, you’ll have a great time. I saw the sheep show at the Agrodome and liked it so much, when my family came to visit, I made my mom and sister go to it as I knew they would love it to. And my (teacher) mother LOVED it! Kitch and touristy, but always so much fun.

    It’s the city I ended up in the most (outside of AKL) for so many various reasons. A must visit!

    • DangerousBiz says:

      Though, it’s worth pointing out that “super touristy” in New Zealand is NOTHING like “super touristy” in other places around the world! Plus, all the kitsch and touristy stuff in Rotorua is well worth experiencing, in my mind! It’s such a unique part of the country.

  • Alouise says:

    Love the photos. Looks like there’s a lot to do in Rotorua.

    • DangerousBiz says:

      Thanks, Alouise! And yes, there’s really a lot to do in Rotorua, considering that it’s not very big at all!

  • Erik says:

    Is this the best place to see a Maori cultural show? Most of the reading I’ve done so far says yes. I know I need to see it while I’m there, I was just hoping to find the least-touristy, most authentic experience I can find.

    • DangerousBiz says:

      Definitely the best place to see a Maori cultural show! You can see them elsewhere, but the ones in Rotorua are great. I’m pretty sure I went to Tamaki Village for the show I saw.

      The thing worth mentioning here, though, is that most of these ARE going to be pretty kitschy. You’ll nominate a “chief” for your tribe, and they’ll make a few of the men in the group attempt a haka, among other “touristy” things. But I promise that the experience will still be worth it! And the food? Very authentic and delicious!

  • Looks pretty cool! I think I could deal with the smell for all of that :-)

  • Ryan Brown says:

    Quite smelly, but I definitely want to go back. The bubbling mud pools were wild, and reminded me of the Bog of eternal stench from Labyrinth! I had a packed itinerary that day and couldn’t give Rotorua the attention it deserves so I’ll have to go back soon! Good to show everyone that there is much more to do in Rotorua then stopping to smell the…sulfer.

    • DangerousBiz says:

      Yes, you really should go back! I myself really want to spend more time there one of these visits, too. Despite Rotorua being quite small, 2 days isn’t even enough!

  • Suzy says:

    I wonder how long it takes to get used to the smell. Although it sounds like there is quite a bit to distract you from the smell of sulfur!

    • DangerousBiz says:

      I’m not sure how long it would take you to *totally* get used to the smell… but I think after the first few hours you start to forget about it a little bit.

  • Aaron says:

    Love the photos, especially the adventures ones. Remember passing ZORB Rotorua, but it was closed. Got to zorb sometime! Didn’t even notice the smell after a little bit.

  • Ayngelina says:

    This brings back memories from New Zealand. I spent a couple weeks in the North Island with friends and did Rotorua and zorbing in one day – so much fun.

    • DangerousBiz says:

      The North Island often gets overshadowed by the raw, amazing beauty of the South Island. But the North Island is pretty damn cool, too!

      I know the same people who run ZORB Rotorua have opened a zorbing operation in Tennessee, too. I really want to get down there to try it out on home soil!

  • TheTuscan says:

    Most towns have a river or creek flowing downtown, Rotorua has boiling mud! Definitely it is impressive.
    I’ve never been there, and the first time I heard of it was while watching an episode of Australian TV-series “Underbelly”. One of the characters was from Rotorua, NZ.
    I always thought that when I had a chance to visit the North Island–at the moment I’m familiar with the Christchurch area only–I would rent a car from Auckland and drive to Rotorua. Quite childish that you want to visit a place only for having heard of it in a tv series located somewhere else, but that was enough to start my curiosity.
    What beautiful photos. The same blue sky I remember from Lake Pukaki.

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