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10 BEST Tours in Rotorua, New Zealand that You Don’t Want to Miss (2024 Guide!)

10 BEST Tours in Rotorua, New Zealand that You Don’t Want to Miss (2024 Guide!)

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After moving to New Zealand, I’ve spent years traveling around the country and Rotorua is one of my favorite destinations on the North Island. I’ve been here several times and I’m always amazed by just how much there is to do. From helicopter tours and mud baths to ziplining and diving deep into Maori culture, Rotorua is a true paradise for the adventurous at heart. 

The town of Rotorua was actually built to encourage people to visit some of the best geothermal pools in New Zealand and it’s still thriving today. So rest assured, they know how to cater to tourists around here!

Several of the best activities in Rotorua either require a tour or are just made much easier by joining one! I’ve enjoyed some fantastic tours in Rotorua so I’ll let you in on my top picks and how you can book the same ones. 

So if you’re ready to explore this amazing little city, make sure that at least one of the following tours is on your New Zealand itinerary

Don’t have time to read the full article? These are my absolute favorite tours in Rotorua:

  1. Delve into Māori culture on the Te Pā Tu experience. You’ll tour a village, eat a traditional feast, and see a famous haka dance!
  2. Go whitewater rafting along the Kaituna River and take on the epic drop over a 7-meter (23-foot) waterfall!
  3. Rotorua is famous for its geothermal activity and this small group tour includes two of the best stops – just wait until you see the Lady Knox geyser erupt!

Best Tours in Rotorua, New Zealand

1. Cultural Experience and Seasonal Māori Cuisine at Te Pā Tū

The Maori Experience in Rotorua, New Zealand
Learning about this amazing culture should be at the top of your bucket list!

Rotorua is one of the best places in New Zealand to learn about Māori culture since around 40% of the population identifies as Māori. For that reason, this Te Pā Tu cultural experience is a must while you’re here! I did this tour, and it was absolutely fascinating. 

You’ll be picked up from a meeting point in central Rotorua in the evening and taken to a Māori village, where you’ll be greeted with a traditional welcome ceremony or Powhiri. Throughout the evening, you’ll learn about local customs, including traditional games!

You’ll also watch the warriors demonstrate using tools in their traditional dress, and they will also perform a haka, which is very exciting to watch. You may have seen videos of a haka performed by the All Blacks rugby team, but trust me, it’s even more amazing to see right in front of you!

After that, you’ll enjoy a 3-course Hāngī feast. This is a traditional Māori meal that’s cooked in an underground oven, and I thought it was delicious!

This tour costs $260 NZD and lasts for around 4 hours and you can choose to start at 4:30 pm, 6:15 pm, or 7:30 pm. In my opinion, it was 100% worth the money because I learned so much about Māori culture.

In fact, I have yet to find a cultural experience that equals the Te Pā Tu tour anywhere else in New Zealand, so don’t miss the opportunity to visit while you’re here! And you don’t just have to take my word for it, this tour has hundreds of 5-star reviews and a Viator Badge of Excellence!

The tour is available daily but does tend to sell out, so make sure to book a spot online here!

2. Kaituna River Whitewater Rafting (the famous 7-meter drop!)

White water rafting on the Kaituna River in New Zealand
Just after the highest waterfall on the Kaituna River! What a crazy experience!

Rotorua is one of the best places in NZ for whitewater rafting because it’s home to the highest commercially rafted waterfall in the world. And with this Kaituna River rafting tour, you’ll get to experience that record-breaking 7-meter (23-foot) drop over Tutea Falls. If you want to go whitewater rafting anywhere in New Zealand, I promise that Rotorua won’t disappoint! 

On this excursion, you’ll spend 2 hours rafting down the Kaituna River, which runs through a subtropical rainforest canyon. It’s a thrilling experience for sure, but it’s still suitable for first-timers. You start off with some gentler rapids and paddling under small waterfalls before you face the big drop, so you get to ease into the experience. 

Then it’s time for the big drop! I was a little nervous for this part, but it felt like a rollercoaster ride! The guides made us feel safe the entire time and I was glad there was a photographer on land grabbing pictures because I was holding on tight to the paddle and there’s no way I was bringing a camera along!

You also have the option to leap off of a 3-meter (10-foot) cliff into the river, although this is totally optional, so no worries if it’s not your thing. 

The tour costs $115 NZD per person and runs all year round so it’s a great choice if you’re visiting New Zealand in the winter. The price includes all of your gear including a wetsuit, a helmet, booties, life jackets, and cold weather apparel if necessary. You can either drive to the meeting point yourself, which is 20 minutes from the city center or add hotel pickup and drop off for an extra $15 NZD per person. 

If you want bragging rights to say you tackled the highest commercially rafted waterfall on the planet, then book your spot on this epic tour here!

3. The Ultimate Canopy Tour Rotorua

Bailey ziplining in Rotorua
Off I go!
Bailey takes a selfie on the Ziplining Forest Adventure in Rotorua, New Zealand
So much fun!

If you’re considering ziplining in Rotorua, well have I got the tour for you! The Ultimate Canopy Tour is perfect for anyone looking for an adrenaline rush. It consists of 6 ziplines measuring 1.2 km (0.75 miles) with the longest one being a tandem zipline so you can ride alongside a buddy (and scream together!).

If that isn’t enough, there’s a 50-meter (164-foot) high cliff walk and swing bridges you’ll cross while exploring an old-growth forest. No wonder this tour was rated as one of the best adventure tours in the world! The scenery is also gorgeous and I loved being able to take it in and catch my breath between ziplines!

Pick up is from central Rotorua where you’re transported to this forest obstacle course. You’ll get a safety lesson before heading out and all the necessary gear to navigate the ziplines. Plus, the guides were great at teaching us about the forest and conservation efforts underway. There’s even a portion of your ticket proceeds that go toward conservation projects, which was a huge plus for me.

The entire tour will have you zooming through the trees for about 3.5 hours. You’ll need to be reasonably fit for this one as there are ladders and staircases involved. It also isn’t suitable for young kids as only ages 10 and up are allowed. A free shuttle from central Rotorua is included or you can opt to drive yourself if you’ve rented a car in New Zealand.

Tickets are $249 NZD and tours are available daily throughout the morning and afternoon. You can check availability and book The Ultimate Canopy Tour online here!

Related Read: With waterfalls, hot springs, and even a kiwi hatchery, the drive from Tauranga to Rotorua to a worthy road trip choice!

4. Hobbiton Day Tour from Rotorua with lunch at Hobbiton

Bailey checks the mail at a Hobbit house at Hobbiton, NZ
I’m here for the party!
Bailey nocks on the door of Hobbit Hole at Hobbiton Movie Set in NZ
So cute!

If you like the Lord of the Rings movies then you have to visit Hobbiton on this tour when you’re in Rotorua. It’s only an hour away and the tour even includes lunch on the movie set! 

I’m not a huge fan of the LOTR films, but I still loved my trip to Hobbiton. You get to take a guided tour of the set, and it’s so interesting to learn about how the location was chosen for the movies and transformed into the Shire. The guides really know their stuff and will share lots of fun behind-the-scenes secrets with you. 

As you explore, you get to see Hobbit holes, the Party Tree, the Mill, and many other famous places from the movies. You’ll feel like a kid again as you explore this wonderful fantasy land – and of course, children absolutely love the experience! I loved it so much, I came back again and brought my mum with me!

After you explore Hobbiton, you get a buffet lunch inside Green Dragon Inn, along with a complimentary beer or cider for the adults. It’s the perfect way to round off your trip to Middle-earth. 

This is one of the best Hobbiton tours from Rotorua and luckily it runs daily! It lasts for around 6.5 hours in total. You can’t explore Hobbiton without a guided tour, so this really is the way to go. It costs $259 NZD including return transport from Rotorua, a guided tour of the set, and lunch. You can either be picked up from a central meeting point in Rotorua or contact the tour company when you book to arrange complimentary pickup and drop-off.

For a chance to step right into a movie set, book this tour of Hobbiton right here!

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5. Small Group Morning Tour Waimangu and Wai O Tapu

Sulfur lake at Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland in Rotorua, New Zealand
Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland

Rotorua is home to lots of geothermal attractions and you can explore two of them on this half-day tour. This is ideal if you’re short on time in Rotorua or don’t have a rental car

You’ll be picked up in Rotorua around 8 am and start the day with a visit to Wai-O-Tapu, which is a popular geothermal park. You’ll have around 45 minutes to walk around the park and check out its bubbling mud pools, hot springs, and sulfur lakes. Make sure to check out the Devil’s Bath, which is neon green and looks like it belongs in a cartoon. But don’t worry, the color comes from sulfur, not radioactivity! 

Then, you’ll head to the park’s main attraction, the Lady Knox Geyser, in time for its daily induced eruption at 10:15, when water shoots up to 20 meters (65 feet) into the air. The eruption is accompanied by a presentation where you can learn more about the park and all of its geothermal activity. 

Then, you’ll be driven to Waimangu Volcanic Valley to check out even more crazy volcanic landscapes. Here, you’ll be able to see the steaming Frying Pan Lake, which is actually the largest hot spring in the world. Another notable spring is Inferno Crater Lake, which is a stunning shade of blue.

You’ll have about 90 minutes to soak in the sights of this dramatic geothermal valley and visit a cafe with scenic views, although food and drinks are not included in the tour. Your guide will teach you a lot about both the geology of the landscape and its significance in Māori culture.

The tour is available every day for $180 NZD and you can expect it to last for around 5 hours. The price includes hotel pickup and drop off, your guide, and entry fees. I also like the fact that this is a small group tour and is capped at 12 people, so it feels more personal!

To get a front-row seat to the incredible geothermal activity in Rotorua, book a spot on this small-group tour here.

6. Rotorua Glow Worm Kayaking Tour

Paddle Board Rotorua Glow worm kayaking tour-3
Photo credit: Paddle Board Rotorua

You really can’t miss the chance to explore New Zealand’s famous glow worm caves while you’re in the country. It’s a super rare phenomenon that only exists here and in a few parts of Australia, and it’s truly breathtaking. It can be difficult to find them by yourself, but this glow worm tour will take you kayaking inside Rotorua’s glow worm caves at night. 

It’s also much safer to go with a tour like this one, especially if you’re not an experienced kayaker! The guides know the caves really well and can help you navigate, ensuring that you don’t get lost.

Your guide will lead you across the lake at sunset, towards the mouth of the cave network. When you enter, I pretty much guarantee you’ll gasp as you see the twinkling blue lights on the ceiling of the caves. After seeing this myself, I’d describe it as like you’re seeing an entire galaxy right before you. And if you’re lucky, you’ll see real stars (and the Milky Way!) on your way kayaking back to shore.

This is such a special experience and one that I highly recommend, especially if you haven’t visited glow worm caves before! I was in absolute awe the first time that I visited. 

The tour costs $165 NZD per person and is available daily, all year round. It lasts for around 3 hours in total. The price also includes hotel pickup and dropoff, or you can be picked up at the Rotorua isite Visitor Centre.

This is a popular tour in Rotorua, so make sure to reserve with Viator in advance to guarantee your spot!

Why I Book Tours on Viator

Viator is a trusted online booking system for tours around the world! I almost always book all of my tours using Viator for a couple of reasons:

  • Free cancellation on most tours – Most of the tours on Viator allow you to cancel and get a full refund up to 24 hours in advance. This is handy in case plans change, or if booking an outdoor activity, the weather forecast is looking grim.
  • Reserve now and pay later – You can secure your spot on some of the most popular tours well in advance and not pay until closer to the day of the tour.
  • Pay in your chosen currency – Avoid costly international transaction fees by choosing to pay in your home currency.
  • Peace of mind – When booking with tour operators you find in person on the street or in small booking offices, you are often promised one thing and given another. This online platform holds tour operators accountable with a written description of inclusions as well as the opportunity for customers to leave reviews.

Check out the Viator website here

7. Hell’s Gate Mud Bath and Spas

Hell's Gate Geothermal Reserve and Mud Spa  in New Zealand
Photo credit: Hell’s Gate

If you’re ready for some rest and relaxation (and to see some more cool geothermal activity) then why not go for a soak at Hell’s Gate Mud Bath and Spas

Don’t be scared off by the name, it comes from poet George Bernard Shaw, who said, “This could be the very gates of hell” when he saw the place. It’s a unique landscape and the mud here was once used by Māori warriors to help heal their wounds.

What’s cool about this place is that it’s the only geothermal park in New Zealand where you can get into an outdoor mud bath for a relaxing soak. I must warn you that it does smell pretty bad, and your skin will retain that sulfur smell for a while afterward, but it will also be glowing and soft from the mineral-rich mud.

There are actually three different types of mud in the pools here at Hell’s Gate that you’ll get to try with your admission, which each have different properties. Black mud is said to aid arthritis, gray mud helps to exfoliate the skin, and white mud can relieve burns, so make a beeline for that if you’re sunburnt! 

In addition, there are mud volcanoes, clouds of geothermic steam, and even the largest hot waterfall in the Southern Hemisphere!

Hell’s Gate is located just outside of Rotorua and it’s pretty easy to drive here in about 20 minutes. It’s best to bring your own swimsuit and towel, but you can rent them for $5 NZD apiece while you’re here.

Admission costs $85 NZD and the park is open from 10 am until 6 pm daily, or 8 pm on public holidays. You can choose a timeslot when you book your tickets and then your soak lasts for an hour. Of course, you don’t want to go home covered in mud, so there are waterfall pools where you can rinse off and proper showers to make sure the mud is really gone. 

For a unique experience in Rotorua, I highly recommend visiting Hell’s Gate and booking in advance as time slots do fill up!

8. Rotorua Duck Boat Guided City and Lakes Tour

Duck boat tour in Rotorua, New Zealand
Photo credit: Rotorua Duck Tours

One thing I love about traveling is those experiences that completely take you by surprise. For me, that was the case with the Duck Boats in Rotorua

Duck Boats are amphibious vehicles, which means they can travel on land and water. They were originally used in World War II, but now they take tourists around Rotorua. I challenge you not to smile when you see them driving out of the lake and taking tourists around town! 

Not only is this Duck Boat tour super unique, but it’s also a great way to do some sightseeing in Rotorua. You’ll start in the city and drive past the Government Gardens, Whakarewarewa Forest, and plenty of local landmarks before cruising right into and across Lake Tikitapu and Lake Okareka. There’s live commentary on the way, so it’s a great way to get an overview of the city. I think that this would be a good activity for your first day here! 

The tour guides on the Duck Boats also have a fantastic sense of humor and make the experience fun for travelers of all ages. I saw some kids on our tour having a blast!

You can do this tour any day of the week in Rotorua. It costs $85 NZD for adults and $50 NZD for kids aged 3-16. It lasts for roughly 1.5 hours so it’s quick, easy, and so much fun! To book, just reserve a spot on the Duck Boat online!

Related Read: For more fun experiences in NZ, take the 3-hour drive to Auckland and check out all the best tours Auckland has to offer!

9. Agrodome Farm Experience

Bailey with the huge sheep at the Farm Tour at the Agrodome in Rotorua
Just hanging out with the sheep!
Bailey watches the Farm Tour at the Agrodome in Rotorua
They are so cute!

Visiting the Agrodome is a must when you’re in Rotorua! New Zealand is famous for being home to millions of sheep, and you can meet, pet, and feed them at this farm theme park.

It’s not just about sheep, either. On this tour, you’ll also get to hear about New Zealand’s farming cultures from a real Kiwi farmer, who will drive you around the farm to meet all of the animals here. As well as 26 different types of sheep, you’ll also meet llamas, goats, ostriches, and cows. 

Then, you’ll watch the Farm Show which includes a live sheep shearing demonstration and a mock livestock auction. The whole experience is fun, wholesome, and very family-friendly, although adults love it just as much as kids do! I had so much fun when I went. 

The Agrodome is 10 kilometers (6 miles) from Rotorua. This is a self-drive tour but it only takes 10-15 minutes to drive or Uber here. Tickets cost $50 NZD for adults and $26 NZD for children aged 5-15, while kids aged 4 and under get free admission. The experience is available daily and lasts for 2.5 hours and tickets can be easily booked here.

10. Mt Tarawera Helicopter Tour with Volcano Landing

Helicopter tour at the Crater edge of Mt. Tarawera in Rotorua, New Zealand
Photo credit: Volcanic Air

Mt Tarawera is not actually a mountain but a volcano that erupted in 1886 (don’t worry, it’s dormant now). There’s now a huge fissure in the middle as a result of that eruption, and when you soar above the terrain on this helicopter tour, you’ll get amazing views of this unique and otherworldly landscape. 

If you’re considering adding a scenic flight to your trip, this is one of the best places to take a helicopter tour in NZ! Your pilot will teach you all about the geology and history of the volcano, and the destruction that the eruption caused.

The views as you fly over it are amazing, but you also get to land on top of the volcano! I mean how many people get to say they did that?!? Once you land, you’ll get a guided walk to check out its craters and domes. Exploring the dramatic, barren landscape of Mt Tarawera feels a little like walking on the moon! 

Plus, this helicopter tour saves you a lot of time compared to hiking. The Tarawera Trail normally takes 4-6 hours and while I love hiking in New Zealand, I know not everyone enjoys trekking for that long! This experience takes around 40 minutes in total, and you also get beautiful aerial views of Rotorua’s lakes as you fly to and from Mt Tarawera.

This tour costs $571 NZD per person when you book in advance. It involves 40 minutes of flight time in total, and a 20-minute walk on the volcano. It’s available daily so it’s easy to fit in, and although it’s a bit pricey, it’s an epic experience.

Related Read: If you’re catching a ferry to the South Island, taking a helicopter ride to Milford Sound is an incredible way to see this unofficial 8th wonder of the world!

Where to Stay in Rotorua

Room with a great view at Rydges Rotorua, New Zealand
Photo credit: Rydges Rotorua

While you can’t sleep in a cozy Hobbit Hole, Rotorua has some very nice places to stay! What’s great about this area is all the choices for accommodations – whether you are backpacking on a budget or looking for a luxurious place to call home for a few nights. These are my top picks for every budget!

Rock Solid Backpackers Rotorua – $

Rock Solid Backpackers Rotorua is one of the budget-friendly hotels centrally located in the city within walking distance of many Rotorua attractions like Government Gardens and the Polynesian Spa. It is a perfect fit for travelers with a tight budget where rooms in a shared dorm of 4-8 people start at only $47 NZD per night. If you don’t want to share, there are private rooms available around the $100 NZD mark.

You can save money on meals by using the communal kitchen and there’s a spacious guest lounge where you can hang out. If you’re in the mood for a more challenging activity, head to the 20-meter (65-foot) rock-climbing wall next door which offers guests staying here a discounted rate.

You can easily book a room on HostelWorld.com or Booking.com.

Thermal Oak Motel – $$

If more room and spacious accommodations are what you’re looking for, you’ll find them at Thermal Oak Motel. The motel offers modern suites with free parking and Wi-Fi. The choices range from deluxe studios to a three-bedroom flat house, with rates from $180 NZD up to $600 NZD per night.

All accommodations have air conditioning, a flat-screen TV, a fully-equipped kitchenette, and a large bathroom with a walk-in shower. There’s also a dining area available in most of the rooms, including the executive two-bedroom unit (which also has a private outdoor spa pool).

Besides the rooms, you can go for a dip in one of the two public mineral spa pools. Another advantage is the convenient access to the city center, which is only a 10-minute walk away. This means you can enjoy the activities and sights of Rotorua downtown anytime you please.

Reserve a room on Booking.com!

Rydges Rotorua – $$$

For a more luxurious stay, Rydges Rotorua offers scenic views and a relaxing atmosphere on the edge of Redwoods Forest and overlooking the Whakarewarewa Geothermal Reserve and Historical Village. Choose between a superior or deluxe room with AC, comfy beds, and cable TV with free movies.

Start your morning with a visit to the on-site gym or a swim in the heated outdoor swimming pool. You can also drop by the hotel’s award-winning restaurant and bar that offers modern New Zealand cuisine. Anything for the little ones? Yes! Rydges Rotorua houses a Play Zone with various games for children of all ages, including table tennis, foosball, Nintendo Switch, air hockey, and more.

Accommodation rates start from $242 NZD per night and you can reserve a room on Booking.com.

Renting a Car, Campervan, or Motorhome in New Zealand

Bailey stands in front of a right green JUCY campervan
JUCY is one of my favorite campervan rental companies (read below for a discount code!)
Bailey stands behind her Mad Campers campervan cooking in the kitchen at Piha Beach
I also really like Mad Campers!

Let’s face it, you’re going to need wheels to get around New Zealand. Although a small country, buses between destinations are infrequent and expensive. Plus, some of the best experiences you can have in NZ are on road trips!

You have three options when it comes to getting wheels in New Zealand; a car, a campervan, or a motorhome. Here’s what you need to know about each and where to get them:

  • Car – A normal car is the cheapest rental vehicle you can get in New Zealand. It’ll get you around to all of the best destinations with ease. The only downside to a car is that you will need to stay in hotels or Airbnbs during your travels (no camping.) The easiest place to rent a car in New Zealand is on Discover Cars where you can compare cars, companies, prices, features, and more very easily.
  • Campervan – A Campervan is a large van that has a bed and a small kitchen in the back. It’s what most budget travelers use for traveling around New Zealand since it allows you to camp comfortably and for free (most) nights. Campervans are best for couples or solo travelers who are happy to live in a small space. You should also love the outdoors and camping…and be prepared for an adventure of a lifetime! My favorite campervan rental company is JUCY because they have a huge selection of campervans to choose from, plus multiple pick-up/drop-off locations. You can browse JUCY’s campervan selection online here. Alternatively, you can easily compare all campervans available in NZ on Motorhome Republic here.

EXCLUSIVE DISCOUNT CODE: I’ve managed to snag a discount code for 5% off for my readers if you book your campervan or motorhome through JUCY or Star RV! Simply click here to select your JUCY campervan, or click here to select your Star RV motorhome, and then use the code DTRAVEL24 at checkout to get 5% off – it’s that easy!

Thanks for reading!

Bailey sits back over an edge on a ziplining tour in Rotorua, New Zealand
Thanks for reading!

If you’re about to take a trip to Rotorua, it’s worth adding a tour or two to your trip. There are so many experiences here that are unique to this area that it would be a shame to come all this way and not try a few! Whether you’re delving into the rich Māori culture, soaking in a mud bath, or traveling via Duck Boat, I hope this list has helped you pick a couple of fun tours to take!

For more in-depth posts on the top things to do and see in New Zealand, have a peek around my blog. I’ve spent years living and traveling around both the North and South Islands and would love to help you plan your trip. To get you started, here are a few related articles that might be helpful:

9 BEST Stops on the Drive from Hamilton to Rotorua

27 BEST Hikes on the North Island of New Zealand (for all levels and abilities!)

21 BEST Waterfalls in New Zealand (North and South Islands)