If Queenstown is the adventure capital and Auckland the coastal cosmopolitan hot-spot, then Rotorua is the cultural heart of New Zealand. Rotorua has longstanding Māori ancestries and ancient cultural traditions that are alive and well. Learn about the fascinating tribal life, traditions and beliefs at Mitai Māori, a small village in Rotorua. Sample traditional ‘hangi’ cooking – food such as fish, chicken, and root vegetables cooked underground. Head to Te Puia to watch live Māori performances and check out the national schools of weaving and wood carving. Te Puia is situated in the Whakarewarewa Geothermal Valley. Here, be sure to see the Pohutu Geyser, the largest active geyser in the southern hemisphere with eruptions that reach 100 feet high! The entire Whakarewarewa Valley is chock-full of ancient bubbling pools and unique traditions dating back centuries – like using the Ngāraratuatara geothermal pool to boil fresh food inside special flax-woven baskets. A visit to the thermal spas and mud baths is a must.
Rotorua also offers outstanding excursions through forests of towering redwoods. Explore on foot, or for a faster paced experience, a canopy walk, bike ride, Zorb, or zipline might be more your speed. For even more excitement, raft the impressive Kaituna River and its waterfalls.
Just over an hour’s drive south of Rotorua lies the town of Taupo and the lake (the size of Singapore!) that shares its name. While there’s lots of overlap with the kinds of activities available in Taupo and Rotorua, there are fewer tourist establishments in Taupo. However, Taupo is notably home to a cliff-top bungy jump where you can actually be dunked into the Waikato River!
In addition to the Māori experiences and geothermal hot pools, Taupo is home to some of the most iconic natural attractions in New Zealand. Huka Falls is one of the most photographed sites in the country and the full-day Tongariro Alpine Crossing trek is a must-do for those hoping to really stretch their legs. Fly-fishing, whitewater rafting, and spending the day boating on Lake Taupo to see ancient Māori carvings are some of our favorite activities in Taupo.
For Lord of the Rings fans
A stop at the Hobbiton Movie Set on the drive between Auckland and Rotorua/Taupo is a must-do. It’s extremely touristy, but after a pint at the Green Dragon Inn, you can’t help but get in the spirit!