Rotorua is an incredible place to spend a few days exploring during your New Zealand road trip. Located at the heart of New Zealand’s North Island, in the Bay of Plenty region, heading to Rotorua is a pleasant three-hour drive down the Thermal Explorer Highway from the Mighty Auckland branch.
Home to majestic geysers, action-packed activities to get your adrenaline pumping, and rich Māori culture, Rotorua is a must-see destination on any road trip through New Zealand. Experiencing an epic holiday in New Zealand is easy enough to do on a budget, and doesn’t have to break the bank. With an abundance of cheap and free activities on offer, Rotorua is a budget-friendly destination to visit for all kinds of travellers.
Whether you’re seeking thrills, in need of some downtime, or keen to discover part of New Zealand’s Māori history, there is something for everyone in Rotorua, and there’s no better way to explore than by camper. If you’re looking for some holiday inspiration for your next New Zealand road trip, we’ve got you covered with our best cheap and free things to do in Rotorua.
A New Zealand campervan holiday is a bucket list item for many visitors (and locals!). From our lively cities to picture-perfect landscapes, there’s no shortage of epic things to explore when visiting New Zealand.
As well as campervan travelling being an affordable way to explore, there is also a wide range of free activities to explore to cater to your travel budget. If you’re looking for the best free things to do in Rotorua, look no further.
Image Source: Rotorua Media Hub
Providing a scenic backdrop to Rotorua, the Redwoods and Whakarewarewa Forest surround Rotorua and provide an amazing recreational resource for the community. Not only is this destination an ultimate drawcard for the community and tourists alike, but the Redwoods Forest has also played an important role in the New Zealand forest industry. The main entrance to the Redwoods is located just 5 km south of Rotorua city centre which is a 5-minute drive or about an hour walk.
With plenty of signposted walks, each starting at the Redwood Grove, take some time out of your day to hike through a diverse range of native plants and exotic trees alongside sweeping views of Rotorua City, lakes, and the nearby countryside. If you prefer to get off the beaten path and explore your own route rather than keeping to the signposted tracks, make sure you allow yourself plenty of time as the forest can be a maze of roads, various mountain biking tracks, and shortcuts.
About half an hour's drive out of Rotorua, Kerosene Creek is a geothermally heated stream where you can unwind and relax. Hot water from an underground natural spring bubbles up into the cool waters of the creek, warming them. Set against a lush native bush backdrop, Kerosene Creek is a popular destination amongst visitors and locals, offering a natural bathing experience. With no admission fees, be sure to carve out some time to spend an hour or two relaxing in the spectacular native New Zealand environment. Make sure you are courteous to other people bathing and take any rubbish away with you.
Visit Ohinemutu Village to connect with the culture, people, history, and landscape that have made Rotorua the special place that it is today. This village was settled by the Ngati Whakaue (iwi), chosen for its location along the shores of Lake Rotorua and the plentiful geothermal energy which was used for heating, bathing, and cooking.
Visitors are welcome to visit this village free of charge and explore the steaming vents, geothermal hot pools, and natural beauty of this tranquil and spiritual place. Discover the traditional Māori meeting house with incredible carvings and paua shells. This immersive cultural experience is only a 5-minute drive from the town centre and will give you a unique insight into the Māori culture and history of Rotorua.
About a 20-minute drive out of Rotorua lies Okere Falls Scenic Reserve. Okere River, translates to the ‘place of drifting’. Home to a collection of family friendly walking tracks, take your pick and follow one to discover the four picturesque waterfalls that plummet through steep canyons before plateauing in the calm waters of the Trout Pool.
The walking tracks are well-formed and sign-posted with explanations of both natural and artificial features in the reserve. The waterfalls mark the site of the first hydroelectric power station in Rotorua. Hinemoa’s Steps were carved into a rock face in 1907 and lead to thundering waterfalls and the Tutea Caves that were historically used by Māori women and children to hide during times of war. From a viewing platform nearby the steps, witness rafters as they descend an 11 metre, white watered plunge into a deep, placid pool below. The Trout Pool is a popular spot for fishing and trout can often be spotted swimming against the current through the tranquil, crystal clear waters.
There is a wide grassy area beside the main car park which is perfect for a picnic after a morning or afternoon of exploring.
If you’re looking for some fun things to do in Rotorua that won’t break the bank, here’s our list of the best cheap things to do. Need more advice on how to travel New Zealand on a budget? Check out our other guides.
Image Source: Rotorua Media Hub
Just a 15-minute drive out of Rotorua is Hamurana Springs, the deepest natural spring in the North Island. Home to dazzling turquoise waters, exploring this location will take you through an incredible surrounding reserve where you can spot many bird species and huge rainbow trout.
Hamurana Springs Nature Reserve is a cultural treasure. Explore your surroundings at your own pace, taking in the incredible natural beauty and cultural elements which build the foundations of this magical experience. With different self-guided walks available to suit your schedule, with the shortest trail requiring only a 30-minute round trip, choose the best walk for your group. If you’re not pressed for time, we recommend asking for a map at the kiosk and taking the two main trails to discover sites of cultural significance to the local tribe. A self-guided walk is approximately $18 NZD per adult, with family deals available.
Image Source: Rotorua Media Hub
Waimangu Volcanic Valley is a must-see in Rotorua. Experience the world’s youngest geothermal system as you explore volcanic craters, enormous hot water springs, striking geothermal features, rare plant wife, brilliantly coloured microbiology and a wide variety of birds.
A self-guided walk is around $44 NZD and will connect you with stories of the Mt Tarawera volcanic eruption, its people and the dramatic changes that created the landscape of Waimangu Volcanic Valley. Enjoy views of Inferno Crater. Witness sinter terraces and admire Frying Pan lake, one of the largest hot water springs in the world. With a selection of self-guided walks on offer with various distances and highlights, choose one that suits your fitness level and time requirements. Waimangu Volcanic Valley is located about 20 minutes out of Rotorua.
Spend some time during your campervan holiday unwinding by soaking and relaxing in an outdoor mud bath. Home to Rotorua’s most active geothermal reserve and New Zealand’s only mud spa complex, Hell’s Gate is a must-do for any road trip in Rotorua. Get down and dirty in a mud bath or unwind in a sulphur spa taking in sweeping views of a stunning geothermal landscape before cooling off in a spring-fed waterfall and plunge pool. Hell’s Gate offers the ultimate indulgence all year round but is particularly perfect for a winter escape when temperatures begin to drop. The sulphur spa is around $25 NZD per adult.
Hell’s Gate is also home to the largest mud volcano in the country as well as the largest hot waterfall in the Southern Hemisphere. Before your spa experience, take a guided or unguided tour and admire coloured pools, hot water lakes, bubbling mud, steaming cliffs, sulphur crystals and land coral. If you’re wanting to explore, even more, enjoy a native bush walk around the thermal park.
So, there you have it, our top tips for the best cheap/free things to do in Rotorua. Now you’re ready to hit the road and explore Rotorua on a budget. If you want to lock in your next Rotorua adventure, book your Mighty Camper today. You can pick up your camper from one of our branches located nationwide. Or are you still in the planning stages? If you’re looking for more travel inspiration, head to our blog for all our tips and travel tricks.