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Free Things To Do In Rotorua: Adventures Don’t Need A Price Tag
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“We just wanna make the world danceForget about the price tag”
– Jessie J
Looking for free things to do in Rotorua? Well, let me tell you, this New Zealand gem is a treasure trove of awesome free activities that won’t cost you a dime! You know those days when you’re itching to get out and explore, but your wallet’s giving you the side-eye? Rotorua’s got your back with a bunch of cool stuff to do that’s absolutely free.
We’re talking bubbling lakes and mud pools that look like they’re straight out of a sci-fi movie, mysterious forests where you feel like you could bump into a hobbit, and blue and green lakes so vibrant you’ll think someone’s turned up the colour saturation. And let’s not forget the hot pools, because who doesn’t love a good soak in natural hot springs?
Rotorua isn’t just a place; it’s an adventure waiting to happen, and it’s all there, right in the heart of New Zealand. So, grab your comfy shoes and maybe a friend or two, and get ready to discover all the fun and free things to do in Rotorua.
Short on time? Here are two inexpensive tours to jump on time get the most out of your time in Rotorua, see as much as possible and remove the hassle of logisitics!
Explore the Beautiful Lakes in Rotorua
Talking about free things to do in Rotorua, you can’t miss exploring the beautiful lakes around here. Each lake has its own character, story, and a bunch of cool stuff to see and do. So, let’s dive in and check out some of these amazing lakes, shall we?
First up on our lake-hopping adventure is Lake Rotorua. Fun fact: Lake Rotorua is the second-largest lake on the North Island of New Zealand! This lake isn’t just about pretty views (though it’s got plenty of those).
Lake Rotorua is bustling with bird life—but hey, remember not to feed those black swans, okay? The lakefront is part of the epic Lake Rotorua Walkway, stretching a whopping 28 km! It’s like a scenic marathon of sights around Rotorua city.
Getting onto this walkway is a breeze—just grab a map from a local info center or start at spots like Sulphur Bay or Government Gardens, where you’ll find handy map boards.
And here’s a little tip: While exploring, treat yourself to an ice cream from Lady Janes Ice Cream Parlour. Sure, it’s not one of the “free things to do in Rotorua”, but it’s a classic Rotorua experience!
After you’ve got your ice cream fix, just meander through the park, and bam—you’re at the vibrant Lake Rotorua front, a hub for locals and visitors alike. Swimming, fishing, or just chilling by the lake—it’s all there for you.
Now, for all you fishing enthusiasts, Lake Tarawera is your go-to spot. This lake’s history is as deep as its waters, with Māori villages once dotting its shores before the Tarawera eruption reshaped the landscape. Though it might seem smaller than Lake Rotorua, Lake Tarawera holds the title for the largest lake by volume in Rotorua, thanks to its impressive depth.
Hike along the Tarawera Trail, and you’ll find a hidden gem—the hot water beach at Te Rata Bay. Imagine unwinding in naturally heated waters with a backdrop of hilly landscapes—now that’s a slice of heaven.
The Green Lake/Lake Rotokakahi
Ever seen a lake that looks like a giant emerald? That’s Lake Rotokakahi for you, also known as the Green Lake. Its shallow, sandy base gives it that mesmerising green colour. If you’re craving some peace and quiet, this is your spot.
This lake is sacred, so no fishing or swimming here, but the serene vibe is totally worth it. For a bit of adventure, wander over to Wairoa Falls, where you can witness the stunning sight of water flowing from Green Lake into Lake Tarawera.
The Blue Lake/Lake Tikitapu
Next up is Lake Tikitapu, aka the Blue Lake. This one’s a showstopper with its brilliant blue water—thanks to the rhyolite and pumice hanging around in there. Unlike its green neighbour, the Blue Lake is so much fun.
You can swim, get into some water sports, or even catch a triathlon event. Fancy a walk or a run? The lakeside trail is roughly 5km long and offers stunning views, especially if you climb up high enough to see the contrasting colours of the Blue and Green Lakes side by side. Trust me, it’s a view you won’t forget.
Take a Dip in One of the Natural Hot Springs in Rotorua
Rotorua is a hotspot for some seriously cool geothermal action. It’s chock-full of natural hot springs where you can chill out—and guess what? It’s all on the house. We’re talking free things to do in Rotorua that are perfect for unwinding, especially on those nippy New Zealand days.
Let’s check out where you can find these free hot springs in Rotorua! And for some more options, paid and free, read our blog on the best hot pools in New Zealand, featuring many Rotorua geothermal hot pool delights.
First stop: Kuirau Park, just a 10-minute stroll from the heart of Rotorua. This place is epic because it’s New Zealand’s only free geothermal public park! Picture this: various mud pools bubbling away, hot springs steaming up the place, and a little steaming lake wrapped in a misty cloud. It’s kinda eerie, especially in winter, but in a cool way that keeps you toasty and warm.
Legend has it that the lake used to be cooler until a taniwha (a serpent-like creature) got a bit rowdy with a local maiden named Kuiarau. The Māori gods weren’t having it, so they turned up the heat to defeat the beast, and the lake’s been boiling ever since!
But wait, there’s more to Kuirau Park! Dip your toes into the thermal foot spa, chill at the picnic tables, or if you’ve got kiddos in tow, let them run wild at the children’s playground. Oh, and if you’re around on a Saturday, swing by the local Saturday market at the corner of Kuirau Park and Pukuatua Streets for some Saturday morning fun.
Next up on our list of free things to do in Rotorua list is Kerosene Creek, a hidden slice of paradise about 30 minutes south of Rotorua. Kerosene Creek is like a scene from a fairy tale—warm waters flowing through a forested stream with little cascades and waterfalls. It’s a geothermal wonder born from all that volcanic jazz underground.
Now, this Kerosene Creek is about 1.5 meters deep, perfect for a full-body soak—just don’t dunk your head under. The heat comes from natural springs bubbling up into the cooler stream, creating this blissfully warm water. The further downstream you go, the warmer it gets, especially near the waterfall—it’s about 30 degrees Celsius there.
So, if you’re after free things to do in Rotorua, Kerosene Creek is your go-to for a natural hot spring soak amidst stunning forest vibes.
Image – Thermally heated, Kerosene creek, Rotorua
Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland
Wai-O-Tapu, meaning Sacred Waters, is like the artist of the geothermal world. This geothermal park is all about boiling mud pools, cold pools, craters, steaming vents—you name it. And the eclectic mix of colours! Thanks to all the different minerals, you’ve got pools in green, orange, purple, white, and yellow—it’s like a rainbow exploded in geothermal style. Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland does have a fee to enter, but its a cannot-miss on the list of must-see things to do in Rotorua!
The star of the show is the Champagne Pool, nestled in a 700-year-old crater with a toasty surface temp of 74 degrees Celsius. Next door, the Artist’s Palette is a literal natural painting, with its waters and minerals creating an ever-changing canvas of colors.
If you’re all about those Insta-worthy shots and soaking in nature’s artistry, Wai-O-Tapu is a must-visit.
Waikite Valley Thermal Pools
Last but not least, we have the Waikite Valley Thermal Pools—one of the best (paid) hot pools in Rotorua. This place is like a thermal resort with a variety of pools to choose from—whether you’re after a family-friendly splash or a secluded soak. Set amidst a lush landscape, it’s the perfect spot to unwind and enjoy nature’s own hot pool.
The hot pools here are fed by the Te Manaroa Spring, the largest source of boiling geothermal water in New Zealand. From the historic Settlers Pool to the tranquil Sit and Soak Pool, each offers a unique experience.
Fancy a pool with a view? Check out the Tranquil Garden Pool or the Pergola Pool overlooking the Otamakokore Stream. It’s relaxation and scenic beauty rolled into one—and totally free!
Image Credit – Rotorua Tourism
Hike Rainbow Mountain and Crater Lake
Rotorua isn’t just about hot pools and lakes; it’s also home to some seriously epic landscapes. And guess what? Exploring them is one of the best free things to do in Rotorua. And Maunga Kākaramea, also known as Rainbow Mountain, is one such place that you shouldn’t miss.
This place isn’t just a mountain; it’s like a natural canvas painted with the most surreal colors and views. Standing at 743 meters, Rainbow Mountain is a sight to see between Rotorua and Taupō.
Now, the thing about Rainbow Mountain is that it’s not your typical green and brown hill. Nope. It’s got this volcanic blue lake chilling in front of these steaming red cliffs, and let me tell you, it’s like staring at a live painting. And if you’re up for a bit of a hike, the hiking trails take you to some killer views—we’re talking panoramic scenes of the countryside, distant volcanoes, the works.
But hey, if long walks aren’t your jam, no worries. The coolest viewpoint is super easy to reach, so even a short walk is worth it. For a quick peek at the crater lake, the path is a breeze—good gravel, a slight incline, nothing too crazy. Now, if you’re feeling adventurous and wanna hit the summit, it does get a bit steeper, but it’s nothing to sweat about.
At the top, you’ve got this sacred site, revered by the Ngati Tahu-Ngati Whaoa people. It’s a 360-degree view party, though the bush might play a bit of peek-a-boo with some views. There’s this chill picnic bench up there—perfect for a lazy lunch or just kicking back in the shade.
And while you won’t spot any geothermal activity from up top, the views of lakes, hills, and distant mountains more than make up for it. It’s one of those ‘must-do’ free things to do in Rotorua, especially if you’re into stunning landscapes and a bit of fresh air.
Keen to see more volcanic wonder? Jump of this tour up Mount Tarawera to see a volcanic crater.
Image – Crater Lake, Rotorua
Stroll Through the Redwood Forest/Whakarewarewa Forest
Looking for more free things to do in Rotorua? How about a magical nature walk through the Redwood Forest, aka Whakarewarewa Forest? Just a hop, skip, and a 5-minute drive from Rotorua’s town center, and you’re in a whole new world—a 5600-hectare redwood forest that feels like it’s straight out of a fairy tale.
Walking into this stunning forest is like stepping into a scene from ‘Lord of the Rings’ (minus the orcs, of course). The star attractions here are the massive Californian Redwoods. These giants can tower up to a whopping 76 meters and are as thick as 9 meters around. Planted way back in 1901, these century-old trees create this majestic canopy above the forest floor, making you feel like you’ve entered a natural cathedral.
But hey, it’s not just about the trees. This scenic reserve is buzzing with walking trails, mountain biking trails, and horse trekking opportunities. And for thrill-seekers, the Redwoods Tree Walk is a must-try.
Swing by the Rotorua Redwood Forest visitor’s center at the main entrance off Long Mile Road. They’ve got everything from maps to cool souvenirs to help you remember your Whakarewarewa Forest adventure.
Image – Redwoods Tree Walk
Step Back in Time at Government Gardens
Next up on our list of free things to do in Rotorua is a stroll around the historical Government Gardens. Nestled right in the Rotorua city centre, these gardens are like stepping back in time. They’ve been the heart of New Zealand tourism since the Pink and White Terraces met their end in the Mount Tarawera eruption way back in 1886. And guess what? They’re still rocking the charm!
At the heart of the Government Gardens stands the Bath House, built in 1908 with a touch of Tudor style. It’s not just a building; it’s an icon of Rotorua and New Zealand. Though the Rotorua Museum inside is under renovation, the building itself is a sight to behold.
Then there’s the Klamath Falls Rose Gardens—total eye candy, especially in summer. You’ve got roses blooming left, right, and centre, turning the place into a colourful paradise. And let’s not forget Te Rūnanga (The Meeting House), built in 1903 as a tea pavilion. It’s got that old-world charm that makes you feel like you’re in a different era.
Right next to it is the Band Rotunda from 1900, adding to the vintage vibe. Now, the Blue Baths—these were a big deal back in the day. Opened in 1933, they were super progressive, being the first place where men and women could swim together! Sadly, they’re closed for now, but the building itself is still worth a look for its Mediterranean vibes.
But wait, there’s more! Behind the Government Gardens is a boardwalk around Sulphur Bay. This area, right on the southern edge of Lake Rotorua, is all about geothermal wonders. Exploring the walking tracks around Sulphur Bay is like the cherry on top of your visit to the gardens.
Image – Bath House, Government Gardens, Rotorua
Drop By the Ohinemutu Living Maori Village
For a real cultural treat and another one of the great free things to do in Rotorua, take a trip to the Ohinemutu living Maori village. This place isn’t just a tourist spot; it’s a vibrant community where the residents, belonging to the Ngāti Whakaue tribe, still use natural geothermal waters for their daily needs.
Imagine cooking, bathing, and doing laundry with nature’s own hot water supply—pretty cool, right?
The Ngāti Whakaue folks have been in New Zealand since around 1350 AD, and back in the 1870s, Ohinemutu was like the go-to spa destination for visitors, including some pretty fancy royalty. They’d stop here to soak in the healing waters before heading off to see the now-gone Pink and White Terraces.
The heart of the village is the Tama-Te-Kapua Marae, a meeting house that’s a central part of the community’s life. While it’s not open to the public, just being around it, you can feel the cultural vibes in the air.
But here’s something you can visit—the St Faith’s Anglican Church, built in 1915. The St Faith’s Anglican Church has this cool Tudor-style exterior, but step inside, and bam! You’re greeted with a stunning Māori-influenced interior. We’re talking intricately woven tukutuku panels and gorgeous wood carvings.
And you have to check out the Galilee Chapel, added in 1960, right on the waterfront. It’s got this window etching of Jesus wearing a Māori cloak—an eclectic mix of cultures.
For more information and soulful, cultural experiences, read our blog on Māori culture, complete with fantastic, life-giving experiences.
Image – St Faiths Anglican Church, Rotorua
Wander Through the Bustling Rotorua Night Market
Wrapping up our journey of free things to do in Rotorua, let’s talk about the Rotorua Night Market. This isn’t just any market; it’s a Thursday night fiesta in the heart of Rotorua on Tutanekai Street. Picture this: a bustling scene from 5pm to 9pm, with something for everyone in the family. And the best part? It’s completely free to wander through!
The Rotorua Night Market is where the local flavour really comes alive. You’ve got vendors selling everything from arts and crafts to fresh produce. And the food—oh boy, the food! It’s like a mini food festival every week.
We’re talking Croatian dishes, Indian spices, French pastries, hand-made Italian pasta, and local Kai. It’s a foodie’s paradise where you can eat your way around the world without leaving Rotorua.
But wait, there’s more. The Rotorua Night Market isn’t just about shopping and eating; it’s a whole vibe. There’s live music from local singers and performers, adding that perfect soundtrack to your market stroll.
Well, there you have it—a treasure trove of free things to do in Rotorua, proving that the best adventures don’t always have a price tag. From soaking in natural hot springs, and wandering beneath towering redwoods, to exploring free attractions like living Maori village, Rotorua is packed with incredible free activities that don’t cost a dime.
Rotorua proves that the best things in life—like fresh air, stunning natural attractions, and rich Māori culture—are indeed free. Whether you’re marvelling at the colourful landscapes of Rainbow Mountain and Crater Lake, taking a leisurely stroll through historic sites like Government Gardens, or soaking up the vibrant atmosphere at the Rotorua Night Market, each experience brings its own unique flavour to your trip.
The legendary Taupō, is just down the road, and absolutely worthy of your attention too – check our our list of things to do in Taupō to make sure you don’t miss out on any good bits!
Heading back to Auckland? Need a lift? Check out this tour from Rotorua to Auckland, via Hobbiton.
So, pack your bags (and maybe a good pair of walking shoes), and get ready to explore the wonders of Rotorua without breaking the bank!
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