Rotorua is a geothermal wonderland build in a giant volcano, but don’t worry its last major eruption was 240,000 years ago. The city is a must-visit if you’re travelling New Zealand’s North Island as it wonderfully combines geothermal activity with centuries of Māori culture.
Rotorua is located in the heart of New Zealand’s North Island in the Bay of Plenty Region. The convenient location, bubbling mud pools and fascinating Māori culture are the reasons Rotorua has become quite the touristic hot spot on the North Island. Even the strong eggy smell from the geothermal activity can’t keep visitors away from “Sulphur City”.
Whether you’re backpacking through New Zealand on a work and holiday visa or you’re travelling to New Zealand on holiday, be sure to add Rotorua to your travel itinerary.
Te Puia – Māori Cultural Experience & Geothermal Park
Rotorua is well-known for its Māori culture. One of the best places to experience traditional & modern Mãori culture firsthand is Te Puia – Rotorua, a centre for Mãori cultural experiences in the historic Te Whakarewarewa Geothermal Valley, just outside of Rotorua.
Te Whakarewarewatanga O Te Ope Taua A Wahio
What looks very much like a tongue twister is actually the full name of the valley. It was named after a famous Haka (Maori war dance). More than 400 years ago the great Chief Wahio of the local tribe gathered 200 warriors to perform a Haka. Many locals found the dance so inspiring that they decided to name the valley after it. So literally translated this geothermal valley is called “The war dance of the war parties of the great Chief Wahio”. Can you imagine a better place to start learning about Maori culture?
Walking Tour of Te Puia
The walking tour of Te Puia was led by local guide (of Maori descent) Karla. The tour focused on the three main areas of the park: the kiwi house & display, the Maori village & Cultural Center and of course the geothermal part of the park, the hot springs & mud pools. The guided tour was great to learn more about Māori culture first hand. Our lovely guide Karla passionately shared her local knowledge and thanks to her we had an absolute blast.
The Hot Springs & Mud Pools
The Pōhutu Geyser in Rotorua is the largest active geyser in the Southern Hemisphere. The eruptions are frequent (once or twice an hour), but unlike with some other geysers, you cannot set your watch to it. This is why locals have nicknamed Pōhutu “Unfaithful”. The real meaning of the Māori word Pōhutu is “big splash”.
The park also features many other hot springs and mud pools, all of which have been essential to the Maori way of life. The pools were traditionally used for cooking and bathing. Thanks to the healing properties of mineral bathing it is still popular amongst locals and visitors today. If that’s something you want to try head to the Polynesian Spa in town. According to our guide a visit there will leave you feeling like you’re wrapped in a cloud.
Nowadays New Zealand is using the geothermal power as an alternative source of energy. In fact the energy provided by the geothermal power now supplies 20% of the North Island’s grid. So you can see why they’re essential to local culture, even today.
The Kiwi House & Display
Te Puia’s kiwi house is home to one adult, female kiwi bird. She is two years old and can be observed under nocturnal conditions. It is common for kiwi houses that are open to the public to swap day and night time to give visitors a chance to see the kiwi. Since this is a sensitive bird that is easily scared there are two rules when entering the kiwi house, keep quiet & do not take pictures. Unfortunately there were a few people who weren’t able to follow those simple rules when I visited.
The Maori Village & Cultural Center
Te Puia features a traditional Maori village for guests to visit. While all of the buildings in the village are smaller than the original size, it gives you a great idea of the way Maori people used to live. Modern Maori no longer live in such a traditional set up. So if you’re interested in seeing the traditional villages firsthand, visiting a cultural center such as Te Puia really is your only chance.
Te Puia is also home to a weaving, as well as a carving school teaching local students these traditional Māori skills. You can stop by the Weaving School and watch the women transform New Zealand flux and other natural materials into baskets and fabrics. The workshop displays varieties of traditional and modern examples of the Maori art of weaving.
The standard ticket to Te Puia also allows you to visit the workshop of the Carving School. The school uses native timbers to create figures of famous gods, traditional weapons and musical instruments. You have the chance to learn more about carving, watch the students work on their current projects or admire some of the finished products.
Tickets & Prices
The day tours operate daily from 8am – 5pm and last between 60 – 90 minutes. The price for the day tour (including admission to the park) is 52 NZD.
Day Tour + Haka Experience
You can choose a variety of add-ons to your day tour ticket, the Haka experience for example. The Haka & Cultural performances lasts 45 minutes. The price for the combi ticket is 66 NZD.
For more infos on pricing, tickets and events visit the Te Puia website.
Geothermal Activity at Kuirau Park Rotorua
Kuirau Park is New Zealand’s only public geothermal park. Not only is it located within walking distance from just about anywhere in Rotorua, but it’s also completely free. The perfect place to experience geothermal activity for anyone with limited time and budget.
Kuirau Park features hot springs, mud pools, an incredible crater lake and free thermal foot baths. All geothermal features of the park are fenced off for visitor safety and are accessible via footpath.
New Zealand is famous for its colourful variety of birds and the Kuirau Park is a great place to spot some of the well-known Pūkeko birds. They are very common in New Zealand and chances are you will have seen a fair few by the time you get to Rotorua. If you haven’t, visit the lake near the toilet facilities and you’ll be able to see the Pūkeko birds up close and personal.
Where to stay in Rotorua?
If you’re visiting Rotorua on a budget, I recommend staying at Rotorua Central Backpackers. It’s a great hostel with a friendly atmosphere, free hot tub (yay) and an outdoor BBQ area. The lovely owners are more than happy to give you recommendations for activities and places to eat. They offer female dorms for 24 NZD per night and you even get to sleep in an actual bed (rather than a bunk bed).
Te Puia provided me with complimentary admission to the Cultural Center for the purpose of this post. As always, all opinions are my own.
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