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