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8 BEST Stops on the Drive from Tauranga to Rotorua

8 BEST Stops on the Drive from Tauranga to Rotorua

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Both Tauranga and Rotorua are popular destinations on any New Zealand itinerary, and there are even more cool things to see between the two. This makes a road trip from Tauranga to Rotorua an easy way to see both places and enjoy all there is to do along the way!

While it’s a quick drive between the two, I really don’t like rushing this road trip. With so many spots to visit, like the famous Mount Maunganui to Hamurana Springs, I recommend setting aside at least a day (if not two) to experience it all.

Having spent time in both cities, I can honestly say this is one of the best areas of the North Island! I love that this short road trip allows you to experience some of the most unique things to do in New Zealand that are within easy driving distance of each other.

I’ve put together a list of the must-see stops between Tauranga and Rotorua. There are actually two routes with different sights you can choose between. So read through this guide to see which route will be the best for you on this epic road trip!

Need wheels? For rental cars, I always book with Discover Cars since the website is so easy to use with great prices. For motorhomes and campervans, I really like JUCY/Star RV because of their huge selection and multiple depot locations that make pick-up and drop-off a breeze. Plus, if you use my exclusive discount code DTRAVEL24, you’ll save 5%! This discount is only valid for bookings made before June 30, 2024, with travel dates before Dec 21, 2204. You can browse JUCY and Star RV’s availability here and apply the discount code at check-out.

About the Drive from Tauranga to Rotorua

Road that leads to rotorua New Zealand
Scenic roads into Rotorua!

The drive from Tauranga to Rotorua is a great New Zealand road trip regardless of which route you take!

Your first option is to follow State Highways 2 and 33 which is a 79-kilometer (49-mile) drive, or you can take State Highway 36 which is 63 kilometers (39 miles). Both routes will take you about an hour if you drive directly, but if you’re reading this blog I bet you’re looking for something to break up your drive! 

Before you leave, set aside some time to explore Tauranga! It’s a great start pointing as the biggest city on the Bay of Plenty with cafes, historical buildings, and the Strand waterfront area, which always has something going on.

Luckily, the North Island doesn’t get too bad for driving conditions during winter in New Zealand. Because of the proximity to the coastal weather and the geothermal activity in Rotorua, this route is clear year-round! 

Taking the SH 2/SH 33 route will lead you right along the water and through one of the most popular beach towns, Mount Maunganui. You’ll pass many of the best waterfalls in New Zealand and can make stops for some epic outdoor adventures. Taking the alternate route on SH 36, you’ll be more inland but still have great stop points, such as an adrenaline forest and New Zealand’s deepest natural springs.

Tauranga to Rotorua FAQs

Bailey walks in front of the Rotorua Museum Te Whare Taonga o Te Arawa in Rotorua at the Government gardens
In Rotorua!

Best Stops Between Tauranga to Rotorua via SH 2 

1. Mount Maunganui 

Bailey on Moturiki Island (Leisure Island) looking out over Mount Maunganui, NZ
Moturiki Island
Bailey in the sopping area of Mount Maunganui, NZ
Exploring downtown!

Mount Maunganui is one of the most popular destinations on the North Island, and I can see why! This is one of my favorite places to visit in all of New Zealand. Its chill vibe and warm sun are the main draws, but people stay for the beautiful beaches and plethora of outdoor adventures. Mount Maunganui has actually been placed in the top 25 best beaches in the world! 

While in this beach town, one of the best activities is to climb this extinct volcano itself! This is one of the best hikes on the North Island as it offers panoramic views of the city and the Bay of Plenty below. The hike is known as the Mauao Summit Walk. I’d say it’s moderately challenging, but still really do-able and should take about 40 minutes to complete. If an uphill climb isn’t your style, you can walk around Mount Maunganui on one of these other trails. I love picking one of those trails to walk around and then heading to relax on the beach.

Speaking of the beach, another must-do activity on the road trip from Tauranga to Rotorua is exploring Maunganui Beach. This chill beach is great for surfing, swimming, and relaxing in the sun. It’s located just off Marine Parade and has lots of cafes and shops that are easy to access. On a beautiful sunny day, this is one of my favorite places to be. This is a great spot to catch the sunset and eat some fish and chips, a classic New Zealand activity!

Related Read: If you need wheels for your road trip, check out my tips on renting a car in New Zealand!

2. Kaiate Falls

Kaiate Falls, New Zealand
The gorgeous Kaiate Falls!

This next stop is a little off the main road, but well worth a stop! Kaiate Falls is a picturesque waterfall that could easily become an hour-long stop. This pair of waterfalls consists of a three-tier waterfall that pours into the lower fall. The lower fall stands 15 meters (50 feet) high, and is even more impressive to see in person!

There are also some great hiking trails around Kaiate Falls. The main trail from the parking area that takes you to the waterfalls takes about an hour to walk and is full of lush forest scenery. It is rated as a moderate hike, but I would consider it more of an easy trail. 

Be sure to wear good footwear for the hiking trails, and if it has been raining be aware that the trails can be a bit slippery. It is not advisable to swim in the water at Kaiate Falls, but it’s sure pretty to look at!

Here’s a pro tip for your road trip route: after your visit to Kaiate Falls, drive through the town of Te Puke to get back on SH 2. You will miss the next stop, but it is much quicker! 

3. Kaituna Wetland

Here is another excellent hiking trail in New Zealand to enjoy the great outdoors of the North Island. Kaituna Wetland is a 6-kilometer (3.7-mile) track that is rather flat and suitable for all levels of fitness. Be prepared to get your feet wet! As a wetland, it can frequently be flooded in areas, just making your adventure a little muddy! 

This wetland is unique because it is a mix of freshwater and saltwater coming from the Caversham Hills and Otago Harbour. It is home to a lot of New Zealand wildlife including birds, fish, and plants, making it very interesting to explore! 

This wetland area was once an area for hunting and gathering by the Maori people, then was eventually drained for farming and urbanization. However, it has been restored to its natural wetland state to reduce flooding and mitigate the effects of climate change in the area. So it is really cool to see how important this area is to the entirety of New Zealand!

4. Rotorua ziplines

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

At this point in the journey, you’ll have turned onto State Highway 33 for the rest of the drive to Rotorua from Tauranga. and this is where the fun really begins!

I’ve tried out zipline courses around the world, but ziplining in New Zealand is hard to beat! If you’re an adrenaline junkie (like me!) Rotorua Ziplines definitely needs to be a stop on your road trip.

This ziplining tour near Okere Falls is conveniently located just off SH 33 and makes for an easy addition to your plans. You’ll spend 2.5 hours flying over the trees on a zipline course, giving you an up-close look at the forest. After trying out a few tours in the area, this one ranks as one of my favorite ziplining tours around Rotorua!

This zipline soars over the highest commercially rafted waterfall in the world, Tutea Falls, which is 7 meters (22 feet) tall. If you’ve ever been on a zipline tour before, you’ll know the adrenaline rush that comes with it! 

This tour actually has a relationship with the local Maori tribe, making it a special experience. You’ll get to try traditionally made Maori tea and end your tour by planting a tree to join the reforestation mission! What a unique experience. This ziplining adventure is $159 NZD per person and really popular so you’ll want to book online to guarantee a spot

5. Rotorua Rafting

Whitewater rafting on the Caituna river in Rotorua, New Zealand
What a drop!

If you’re looking for another adrenaline-pumping activity, this Rotorua Rafting tour is just the thing! This tour takes off from the same location as the tour above, so it’s along your route to Rotorua. 

You’ll spend three hours paddling down the Kaituna River, which has beautiful native New Zealand plants all around. This tour gets exciting pretty quickly as you hit white water, sending you down the highest commercially raftable waterfall in the world! Tutea Falls is 7 meters (22 feet) tall and going over it is quite the rush!

If your nerves aren’t shot, you also have the opportunity to jump off 3-meter (10-foot) high cliffs and float under waterfalls. I love how much action this tour packs into only three hours!

Even if you’ve never gone whitewater rafting in New Zealand before, this will be a great time. The rafting guides are great at instructing and keeping you safe, and I always have a blast on rafting tours!

All safety equipment, instruction, and transportation to the river are provided. Children 13 and older can participate in the full river trip. This epic adventure can be booked online for $115 NZD.

Related Read: If you haven’t had your fill of excitement yet, Rotorua is also one of the best places to go bungy jumping in New Zealand!

Why I Book Tours with Viator

Viator is a trusted online booking system for tours around the world! I almost always book 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!

6. Okere Falls Scenic Reserve

Bailey at the viewpoint for Tutea Falls in Okere Falls Scenic Reserve
Bailey at the viewpoint for Tutea Falls in Okere Falls Scenic Reserve
Bailey inside the Tutea Cave at Okere Falls Scenic Reserve
The Tutea Caves at Okere Falls Scenic Reserve

Even if you don’t want to zipline or go rafting, you’ll want to stop in the area at the nearby Okere Falls Scenic Reserve. This is a beautiful reserve that’s just past the halfway point in your drive from Tauranga to Rotorua.

I did the Okere Falls Track when I last visited the reserve, and it was absolutely beautiful. It’s a 2.4-kilometer (1.5-mile) return hike that can be done in under an hour, but you’ll still get to visit multiple waterfalls despite the short distance, including the famous Tutea Falls. You can watch the rafters enjoying themselves here from the viewpoint above Himemoa’s steps, which are named after the beautiful daughter of a Maori chief who swam across a great lake to marry a man who was considered to be beneath her. 

You’ll also get to visit Tutea Caves, which is named after a local chief. It’s believed that women and children used to hide here during conflicts with invading tribes, using a rope to make their way in and out of the cave.

This is a great hike and you can see a lot over a short space of time. Plus, it’s easy enough for children to complete, so this is something the whole family can do together. 

7. Hell’s Gate Geothermal Reserve and Mud Spa

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

For your last stop before reaching Rotorua, this is one you don’t want to miss! While the name “Hell’s Gate” might be a little off-putting there’s nothing scary about visiting this thermal park. The name was coined by Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw who visited the baths in 1934 and declared that it must be the gateway to hell. Whether he was freaked out by the bubbling mud or just really hated the sulfur smell is anyone’s guess, but the Maori landowners liked the nickname and it stuck. 

This is one of the most unique geothermal reserves that was once used by Māori warriors to help heal their wounds. Nowadays, visitors can take a dip in the mineral-rich waters to feel relaxed and rejuvenated – perfect if you need a break along the drive!

Hell’s Gate is located between Lake Rotorua and Lake Rotoiti in one of the most active geothermal areas just outside Rotorua. As you walk through here, you’ll be surrounded by clouds of geothermic steam, mud volcanoes, and the largest hot waterfall in the Southern Hemisphere. It’s easy to see how this place has been the inspiration for myths and legends.

You can drop in and visit on your own, but I recommend booking a tour so you’ll get the full experience. This Hell’s Gate tour includes a geothermal walk, a chance to try out Māori carving, and the highlight – a dip in the geothermal mud and sulfur waters! The experience costs $105 NZD.

8. Rotorua

Close up of Bailey in the Secret Spot Hot Tubs in Rotorua
Just relaxing in a secret hot tub in the forest!
Bailey with a red wood at Whakarewarewa Forest in Rotorua
Whakarewarewa Forest in Rotorua

Finally, you reach your destination: Rotorua! This town is peppered with activities and great tours, whether you want to continue your outdoor adventures or simply relax at a hot spring, Rotorua will be a place to stay for at least a few days.

Rotorua is widely known for its impressive geothermal activity. See it up close at Kuirau Park which is the only free geothermal public park in the country! Just follow the pathways through the park to see the crater lake, mud pool, hot springs, and my favorite – the thermal foot bath. Another option is Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland located on the north side of a collapsed volcano crater. It has the largest mud pool in New Zealand and the Lady Knox Geyser which shoots water 10-20 meters (33-65 feet) in the air.

I’ll let you in on a secret … Secret Spot Hot Tubs is my absolute favorite out of all the different hot pools in New Zealand (a huge statement, I know – but it’s true!). This place offers private hot tubs hidden away in the forest overlooking Waipa Stream. It’s only $39 NZD for a 45-minute soak when you book online. Another option is the Polynesian Spa which has 28 different pools with water that is said to have healing properties.

I also love wandering through the Whakarewarewa Forest, or “The Redwoods” as locals call it. There are tons of winding paths to walk or bike around while passing under forest canopies of HUGE Redwood trees. If you want to get a bird’s eye view, the Treewalk is a course above the treetops made of walkways and suspension bridges. It’s really beautiful to walk up here and admire the majestic Redwoods from above.

One of the best hikes in New Zealand is just 15 minutes outside of Rotorua. Mount Tarawera was actually a volcano that erupted in 1886. You can take the Tarawera Trail, which is a 4-6 hour trail ending at a natural hot spring. To summit the mountain, you’ll need to hire a guide as this is a sacred location for the Maori. 

After all of these outdoor activities, be sure to visit the iconic Eat Streat to check out local restaurants, cafes, and pubs. I love stopping for a treat at Lady Janes Ice Cream Parlour. Locals recommend the “Danish cone” which is a large waffle cone filled with creamy ice cream and topped with fresh whipped cream and sprinkles. It’s so good!

And if you’re up for another road trip – why not head to Middle-earth? Yup, Lord of the Rings fans will love stepping into the movie scenes with a visit to Hobbiton. Only an hour from Rotorua and you’ll be in the land of hobbit holes, the famous Green Dragon Inn (where you can enjoy a drink!), and the Party Tree. You’ll need a tour to enter, so take a break from driving with this guided tour to Hobbiton from Rotorua!

Best Stops Between Tauranga to Rotorua via SH 36

If you’re taking the alternative route from Tauranga to Rotorua, you’ll follow State Highway 36 nearly the entire way. Honestly, you can’t go wrong with either route as this one also has a great mix of relaxing and high-adrenaline activities.

If you’re staying in Tauranga, I recommend driving one way on the way to Rotorua and the other on the way back!

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1. Fernland Spa

hot pool at Fernland Spa in New Zealand
Photo credit: Fernland Spa

Just outside Tauranga city limits, you can start your road trip off right with a spa day at the Fernland Spa!

My favorite part is the relaxing hot pools with their clear, non-chlorinated mineral water. It feels amazing – especially if you’ve spent time walking or hiking around Tauranga before your drive.

There are three types of pools to choose from: the main large pool surrounded by towering ferns and birds; private indoor pools; or private bubbly pools. The private pools are nice if you want to hang out with a group of friends or are planning a romantic getaway in NZ.

Admission to the main pool is $18 NZD per adult. Private pools are $22 NZD per 30 minutes or $25 NZD per 30 minutes in a bubbly pool.

After enjoying the pools, you can get a massage, take a water exercise class or even go camping with cabins, tenting sites, or spots to park your camper. Fernland Spa is open daily from 8:30 am to 10 pm.

Related Read: Fernland Spa is also one of the best stops on the drive from Auckland to Tauranga.

2. Adrenalin Forest Bay of Plenty

On the Adrenalin Forest Obstacle Course in christchurch
It’s really high but I felt safe with a harness on! Photo credit: Adrenalin Forest Obstacle Course

Along your route from Tauranga to Rotorua, there are plenty of adventurous stops and the first is at Adrenalin Forest in the Bay of Plenty. It’s a pretty intense way to stretch your legs after some driving, but if you have a thrill-seeker in the car or are one yourself, you won’t want to miss it!

This challenging course has over 100 activities, ranging from child-friendly to extreme. Each obstacle is different, you’ll see ziplines, suspension bridges, trapeze bars, and more. Heights start just 1.5 meters (5 feet) off the ground and work all the way up to 20 meters (65 feet) high! While I tackled some of the higher sections, I felt completely safe the whole time with my harness and the Clic-it belay system was really easy to navigate.

This stop is great if you’re road-tripping across New Zealand as a family, as there are parts of the course suitable for kids. They will need to meet the minimum height requirement of 1.4 meters (4.6 feet) though.

This experience lasts for three hours, and if you can complete the entire course you’ll walk away with some serious bragging rights! It costs $48 NZD and $33 NZD for kids ages 11-17. You’ll want to book your spot ahead of time so you don’t miss out if there happen to be group bookings for the same day.

3. Mangorewa Kaharoa Gorge

The Mangorewa Kaharoa Gorge is a gorgeous hiking area just off this route to Rotorua. This track leads you right to the Ohaupara Stream, climbs ridges, and gives you a beautiful break in the forest. 

This 8.7-kilometer (5.4-mile) hike is rated as difficult and will take about 5 hours to complete. Park in the Mangorewa Track car park and then look for the trail entrance to the north on the left side. You’ll begin by hiking through the lowland forest, taking in the trees, wildlife, and unique foliage. You’ll then leave the forest and hit the gorge, where you’ll follow the stream and might get your feet wet as you cross to follow the trail! But hey, that’s part of the fun. 

This hike is even more unique because it is one of the few areas left unlogged on the Mamaku Plateau. Keep in mind that this hike will take multiple hours, so if you’re trying to add it to your road trip itinerary it might make for a full day. 

4. Hamurana Springs

Hamurana Springs, New Zealand
Hamurana Springs, New Zealand

Hamurana Springs is one of the most impressive natural springs on the North Island. This is the deepest natural spring on the island! Visiting these springs is an absolute must on your trip from Tauranga to Rotorua.

What I found truly impressive about these springs is how much water they produce. The springs spout 4 million liters of water each hour! That’s enough to fill two Olympic-sized pools each day. That’s crazy! 

When visiting Hamurana Springs Nature Reserve, there are paths and bridges to follow making it easy to walk around and enjoy the scenery. You can go on a self-guided tour to explore at your own pace. There is also a guided tour for a deeper look at nature, Maori culture, and the history of the springs. I always love taking guided tours at places brimming with history and culture because it gives you a totally different perspective of the area. 

Self-guided tours are $18 NZD and guided tours are $28 NZD. You do not need to book in advance if you’re planning to wander around on your own, but guided tours need to be booked 48 hours in advance by contacting Hamurana Springs. The springs are open from 9 am to 5 pm daily in the summer and close at 4 pm in the winter.

5. ZORB Rotorua

Zorb rolling on a downhill track at Rotorua, New Zealand
Photo credit: Zorb

If you’ve ever seen those giant inflatable balls called Zorbs, well your road trip has taken you to where this bizarre and fun activity was invented! That’s right, two Kiwi friends invented the downhill ball rolling craze in Rotorua back in 1994. Now one of the original inventors and his brother run ZORB Rotorua, where you can join in the fun!

Here you’ll find different downhill tracks to offer lots of laughs as you go down in a giant Zorb. You’ll be inside the inflatable ball as you roll down the hill – it’s definitely unique!

Pick from straight or twisty tracks to go downhill or opt for the H2OGO experience where the ball is filled with water (warm in the winter, cold in the summer) to create your own waterslide! Pack your swimsuit and expect to get soaking wet. In between rides, you can have a relaxing dip in hot tubs, or you can make use of the complimentary Wi-FI.

ZORB Rotorua is open from 10 am to 4 pm on weekdays, and 10 am to 5 pm during weekends. This wild ride is $90 NZD per person and tickets can be purchased online in advance here.

6. 3D Trick Art Gallery

Bailey at the largest attraction at the 3D Trick Art Gallery
So cool!
Bailey inside a painting at the 3D Trick Art Gallery in Rotorua
This one was so good!

For some of the most creative and interactive photos you’ll take on your drive from Tauranga to Rotorua, step inside the 3D Trick Art Gallery. It’s only 7 minutes from Rotorua and this was one of my favorite stops the last time I did this drive!

Unlike typical museums, here you have the freedom to touch and interact with 3D artworks in the gallery. You can pose inside various exhibits for lifelike photos that make it look like you’re running from a dinosaur, crossing a waterfall, inside a hot air balloon, or riding a dolphin! This is a blast for families and groups of friends – prepare to make some silly faces and laugh lots.

You can book your 3D Trick Art Gallery visit here, and explore more than 50 different artworks. This is the only gallery of its kind in all of New Zealand! Admission is also very reasonable at $22 NZD per visitor.

The 3D Trick Art Gallery is open from Monday to Friday between 10 am to 5 pm and on Saturdays and Sundays between 9 am to 5 pm. It’s important to note that the last entry is at 4 pm, so make sure you arrive before then. 

7. The National Kiwi Hatchery

A kiwi bird at the West Coast Wildlife Center
Kiwis are so cute!

Just across the street from your last stop, don’t wrap up this fun road trip without seeing a kiwi bird! The kiwi is the national icon of New Zealand and a unique little bird that can’t fly and has loose feathers that look more like hair. The kiwi population is dwindling, so researchers are working hard to help these little creatures.

The National Kiwi Hatchery just outside Rotorua is the top place in the world for hatching and raising kiwi chicks and I love that you get to see these birds up close as it’s really hard to see one in the wild. What’s great is that 100% of your ticket cost here goes to the kiwi hatching program!

You’ll be able to tour the facility where they have successfully hatched more than 2,000 chicks. If you’re really lucky, you might even get to see a newly hatched kiwi chick! The basic tour is 45 minutes long and costs $50 NZD. It also includes a visit to the interactive “human-sized” kiwi burrow where you can sit in a giant kiwi egg!

If you want more of a behind-the-scenes experience, you’ll get to join the hatchery team in the staff-only area. There you can learn all about their incubation and chick-raising techniques while seeing the birds up close. This tour is $230 NZD.

You must book a tour at least 48 hours in advance and the hatchery is open from 8:30 am to 2 pm.

Related Read: If you’re visiting the South Island, you can see Kiwis in Queenstown! Just drop into the Kiwi Birdlife Park where they are in a nocturnal enclosure, so you can see them anytime!

8. Skyline Rotorua

Zoom Ziplines From Skyline Rotorua, New Zealand
Photo credit: Skyline Rotorua

The drive from Tauranga to Rotorua on SH 36 really is the gift that keeps on giving for thrill-seekers! Skyline Rotorua is a one-stop shop when it comes to activities for everyone.

I love going for a ride on the Skyline Gondola to take in the spectacular views of Lake Rotorua and the city – it’s a perfect introduction to the city to complete your road trip. The gondolas fit 8 people and even if you don’t like heights, I found the ride really smooth along the 900-meter (2,950-foot) Doppelmayr cableway system.

Once you’re at the top, the adventure doesn’t have to stop! You can luge, mountain bike, zipline, try the Skyswing, hike the nature trails, check out the Jelly Belly store, or have a meal and wine with a view at one of the restaurants.

If you’re up for it, the Rotorua Luge is part go-cart, part toboggan, and is gravity-fueled as you make your way down the course. Challenge your family or friends to discover who among you is the best driver!

The dual Zoom Ziplines are another one of my favorite activities here to recommend to families or friends because you can soar alongside someone else. It’s a lot of fun to share the experience and you can even race if you’re one of those competitive types (guilty over here!).

For just a gondola ride, it’s $40 NZD, but you can add on a luge ride for an additional $17 NZD. The luge is a one-time ride, so if you think you’ll want to go down more than once, there are tickets available with multiple rides. I recommend the half-day adventure pass for $175 NZD which includes a gondola ride up Mount Ngongotaha, five luge rides, the Zoom Ziplines, and Skyswing. You can check out all the adventure packages available on their website.

The Skyline Gondola is open 7 days a week from 10 am to 6 pm and there’s a night luge (complete with colorful LED lights!) available on certain nights until 8 pm.

Where to Stay in Rotorua

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

Now that you’ve made it to Rotorua, you’ll want to stay a while! This a fantastic area of New Zealand to explore, so all you need is a great place to stay.

Luckily there are tons of 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 

This 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 four to eight people start at only $27 NZD per night. If you don’t want to share, there are private rooms available as well around the $100 NZD mark.

You can save money on meals by using the communal kitchen complete with cooking facilities 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 here. The motel offers modern suites and high-quality units 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 are complete with air conditioning, a flat-screen TV, a fully equipped kitchenette, and a large modern 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. Book your stay online here.

$$$ – Rydges Rotorua

For a more luxurious stay in Rotorua, this hotel offers a scenic view and a relaxing atmosphere located on the edge of Redwoods Forest and overlooking the Whakarewarewa Geothermal Reserve and Historical Village.

Choose between a superior or deluxe room, which each features air conditioning, comfy beds, and cable TV with free movies. If you’re looking for something a little extra, you can book a private suite instead. Accommodation rates start from $242 NZD per night.

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. Then, spend the day exploring the mountains by bike. If you brought your own mountain bike, they have secure storage for it inside the hotel and a bike washing station.

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. Easily book a room at Rydges Rotorua here!

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 JUCY or Star RV campervan or motorhome before the end of June 2024! 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! One thing to note is that this code is only valid for travel before Dec 21, 2024.

Travel Insurance Has Your Back!

Life can be unpredictable and when you’re traveling abroad, the last thing you want to worry about is getting sick or injured and having to pay out of pocket for treatment.

If this concerns you, SafetyWing can help! SafetyWing specializes in very affordable and comprehensive medical and travel insurance that is aimed at digital nomads, remote workers, and long-term travelers. It costs just $45 USD per 4 weeks!

To start coverage, you must purchase it after leaving your home country, so we usually buy it as soon as we land at the airport.

Since using SafetyWing we’ve been reimbursed thousands of dollars when we’ve gotten sick. During the pandemic, they’ve even gone as far as to pay for our last-minute flights back to Canada before the border closed!

Thanks for reading!

Bailey takes a selfie while ziplining in Rotorua, New Zealand
Thanks for reading!

A road trip from Tauranga to Rotorua is one of those epic drives with SO much to see! No matter which route you decide to take, it’s sure to be a memorable trip.

I hope this guide has helped you plan for the trip from Tauranga to Rotorua. I have tons of other great NZ road trips if you’re planning to drive across the country. Make sure you also browse around my other guides on the North Island before you leave!

17 Best Stops on the Drive from Taupo to Rotorua

12 BEST Places to See Glow Worms in New Zealand

24 FUN Things to do in Hamilton, New Zealand

13 BEST Stops on the Drive from Auckland to Rotorua