geothermal champagne coloured pool

An Incredible Rotorua 3 Day Itinerary

Welcome to Rotorua, New Zealand’s geothermal wonderland, where natural beauty and cultural richness blend seamlessly. Whether you’re drawn by the steaming geysers, bubbling mud pools, or the captivating Māori heritage, Rotorua promises an unforgettable adventure.

In this comprehensive 3-day itinerary, I’ll guide you through the must-see sights, thrilling activities, and hidden spots that will make your trip memorable.

This post may contain affiliate links (of companies I book through). This means I may receive a small commission if you book through them. You can read the disclaimer for more information.

Day One

Wai O Tapu

Leave your accommodation early enough to arrive at Wai O Tapu for the eruption of Lady Knox Geyser at 10:15 am. If you require tickets, make sure you allow an extra half an hour. All the information and photos for this attraction are in our Wai O Tapu Guide.

Allow 2 hours for visiting here. You can take lunch with you or eat at the café.

We really enjoyed our time at Tapu Thermal Wonderland and thought it to be good value and worth adding into any New Zealand itinerary.

geothermal champagne coloured pool

Whakarewarewa Forest – The Redwoods

On the way back to Rotorua, stop at Whakarewarewa Forest. Here you will see the impressive Californian Redwoods. There are over 5600 hectares of forest with both walking and mountain bike tracks.

The Visitor Centre there can provide information as well as snacks and coffee.

There are plenty of walks to choose from including short walks and long hikes. We only did a short walk but still managed to see a lot of the redwoods and enjoy the tranquility of the forest.

The Redwoods Treewalk is here too (we didn’t do this though). It consists of 28 suspension bridges that take you between the trees and sits at 20 metres high. Story Boards provide information on forestry and local stories.

More information and prices can be found on the Treewalk website.

Whakarewarewa Forest with tall redwood trees green leaves

Skyline Rotorua

The final attraction for the day is the skyline. There are plenty of options to choose from including gondola, luge, mountain biking, ziplines, skyswing, and dining.

Skyline Gondola

The gondolas seat 8 people but we had one all to ourselves. You will see Lake Rotorua, the city and possibly some geothermal activity.

skyline rotorua gondola with views over rotorua city and lake rotorua

Rotorua Luge

The luge is a lot of fun for all ages. The half go-cart and half toboggan give you complete control over your speed and steering.

There are 3 tracks to choose from: scenic (which takes you through the Redwoods Forest), Intermediate and Advanced.

You pre-purchase tickets here.

Stratosfare Restaurant

While you are there, why not have dinner? The buffet was delicious with plenty of options to choose from. The views were amazing too and we took some beautiful photos from the outdoor area. I would recommend booking in advance for this though as it is a popular choice.

rotorua 3 day itinerary including view from stratosfare restaurant of lake rotorua

Day Two

Whakarewarewa Village

This was the highlight of our stay in Rotorua.

It is the home of the Tūhourangi Ngāti Wāhiao people who share the way they live with visitors. They own and run this living Māori Village which provides a fascinating insight into Māori culture and the heritage of the village.

The local guides show you around their village and show you how they use the natural geothermal resources to cook, bathe and heat their homes.

A steaming pool of water caused by geothermal activity at Whakarewarewa maori village

You will witness the preparation of Hāngi meals in the in-ground steam boxes and how they cook corn in the bubbling water of the geothermal hot pools (the corn is also available to buy).

A photo of an in-ground steam box with steam escaping at Whakarewarewa maori village near rotorua new zealand

The tour shows you where and how they use the hot therapeutic water to bath (you can feel how hot it is).

a square pool of hot water where the Whakarewarewa maori village bathe with rocks at the front

The ticket price also includes a Maori Cultural Performance.

If you have time and want more of a look around then there are 3 self-guided walks you can take. You can see the Pohutu Geyser which erupts up to 30m every 45-60 minutes as well as Te Tohu Geyser. This one erupts up to 7m high also every 45-60 minutes. The Blueys (pictured below) is about 3m deep and has a temperature of between 18-24 degrees Celcius. It is fed by the geysers and a favourite swimming spot for the local children.

A bright blue lake surrounded by rock and green trees with steam coming from it

The tours are about an hour-long but I would allow two hours at the absolute minimum to see the cultural show and revisit some sites.

See Prices and Availability Here.

Okere Falls Trail Walk

Next up is this easy 3km walk that will take around an hour to complete. It’s a popular spot for fishing and rafting as well as the trail.

It was the home of the Ngati Pikiao people who are still guardians of the river through a trust. Okere River means place of drifting and was a great food source, mainly for eels.

There are two car parks; one at either end of the track. We parked at the Okere Falls end, walked to Trout Pool then returned the same way. Both car parks have toilet facilities.

At the first turn off you come to, you will see an old turbine. This was used at the Okere Falls Power Station which produced power for Rotorua from 1901 to 1936. Rotorua was the 4th town in New Zealand to have power.

Head to the end of this track and you will see the Okere Falls Lookout. You will get a great view of the waterfall and cascades. The remains of the Okere Falls Power Station can also be seen from here. I loved the emerald water and the green rainforest trees overhanging the falls.

Okere falls with green trees overhanging the white water cascading over the falls

Now you will return back the way you came onto the main track. Follow this through the native bush until you get to another trail on your right. You will see wooden steps that go to another lookout. This time it overlooks Tutea Falls.

Tutea Falls was named after a Maori Chief and is popular for white water rafting. It is actually the highest commercially rafted waterfall in the world at 7 meters tall. If you wait a while here, you will hear the screams and see the rafters emerge over the falls. Is this something you would do?

Tutea falls with white water cascading down into an emerald pool with green leafy trees overhanging the river

From here carry on the track to Hinemoa Steps (named after a chief’s daughter). The steps were cut into the cliff in 1907 to allow tourists into Tutea cave and for them to have their photos taken on them. At the bottom of the steps, you can see into the cave. It was a beautiful and interesting part of the walk.

An Incredible Rotorua 3 Day Itinerary

Back on the main track, continue until you reach the other car park. From here, take the right trail to a wooden scenic lookout over some rapids.

Head down to Kaituna River and feel how cold the water is. On the left, you will see where the rafts are taken out of the river. Trout Pool Falls is a class 5 and too dangerous for rafting. Carry along the track for a view of Trout Pool Falls.

kaituna river flowing past trees and rocks with the sun shining on the green water

There’s a wooden bridge crossing the river above trout pool. See if you have more luck than us spotting trout.

trout pool falls flowing into the river kaituna
Trout Pool Falls

Then it’s time to make your way back up the main track to the car park where you started.

We all really enjoyed this walk as it wasn’t too long and there was plenty to see along the way. The trees also provided shade as we went during summer.

Rotorua Town Centre and Government Gardens

The remainder of the afternoon can be used exploring the main centre of Rotorua. It’s pretty quaint with historic buildings and there are some nice shops to buy souvenirs.

Blue Baths

This beautiful Art Deco building can be found in Government Gardens. It was opened in 1933 and has been restored to its original condition.

You are able to pay to use the Blue Bath pools which are geothermally heated. The original Juvenile pool sits at around 30 Celcius and the soak pools are between 37 and 42 C. I would advise calling ahead though as they are often booked out for weddings and private functions.

blue baths rotorua is a orange spanish styled art deco heritage building with steps leading up to the door

Rotorua Museum

Unfortunately, due to the earthquake in November 2016, the museum is closed. It caused significant damage and the building has been found to fall well below the earthquake safety standards.

However, you can still view the outside of the building and the beautiful gardens.

rotorua museum is an elizabethan style building

Rotorua Lakefront

We just took a drive down to the lake to have a look. There are plenty of activities on the lake if you wanted to spend longer here or you had another day in Rotorua.

Day Three

Huka Falls

Head out of Rotorua towards Lake Taupo to Huka Falls.

The Falls are on New Zealand’s longest river, Waikato River. Just before Huka Falls, the river narrows from 100m wide to a shallow ravine of volcanic rock. This causes the water to roar through before crashing over the falls. About 200,000 litres of water flow every second over the nine-meter drop.

turquoise waters fast flowing down the river towards huka falls

The car park is on Huka Falls Road which also has toilets. From here, it’s a 5-minute walk to the lookouts. When you cross the bridge over the river, turn left for more viewpoints of the falls. The colour of the water is stunning with bright blue turquoise and emerald green mixed together. It’s a great contrast to the white foam.

footbridge over the turquoise waters of huka falls with people on the bridge looking at the water

To get up close to the falls, you have a choice of the cruise or jet boat ride. We chose the cruise which you can read about in our Huka Falls Cruise Review. This post also tells you how to see the Aratiatia Dam gate opening.

Lake Taupo

Lake Taupo is the largest lake by surface area in New Zealand at 616 sq km. Its perimeter is close to 200km and was formed nearly 2,000 years ago by the eruption of a volcano.

There is plenty to keep you occupied with fishing, water skiing, and sailing being popular choices. It is also a favourite swimming and picnic spot for the locals in summer.

green water of lake taupo with trees lining it. blue sky and white fluffy clouds

Blue Lake & Green Lake

On the way back to Rotorua, stop and have a look at these two lakes. The Māori names are Lake Tikitapu and Lake Rotokakahi.

Lake Tikitapu is named as the place where the daughter of a high born chief lost her sacred greenstone necklace (Tikitapu). It was formed about 13,500 years ago and is blue due to the reflection from white rhyolite and pumice bottom.

Lake Rotokakahi is named lake of the shellfish (kakahi) and was formed roughly 13,300 years ago. The green colour is due to the sandy shallow bottom. This lake is privately owned and sacred.

There’s a viewpoint off Tarawera Road where you can see both lakes and compare the colours of the two.

There is also a walking trail around Blue Lake.

Other popular things to do in or near Rotorua

We didn’t have time to include any other activities but there are lots more to choose from if you have extra time.

Te Pā Tū

Watch a cultural performance and take part in a traditional Maori ‘hangi’ feast at the ‘marae’ (Maori village). The immersive evening begins with a welcome ceremony then you’ll learn about local customs and watch a powerful display of song and dance before a hangi dinner. See Prices Here.

Te Puia

Similar to Whakarewarewa Village, this tour provides a fascinating introduction into the traditional Maori way of life. You get to see the Pohutu Geyser, Te Whakarewarewa Geothermal Valley, Kiwi House, National Schools of Carving and Weaving, Pikirangi Village, Te Heketanga a Rangi (entrance), and Powhiri performance. See Prices Here.

Polynesian Spa

The most famous spa in New Zealand has geothermal hot water from two natural springs. There are plenty of pools and packages to choose from, like these spa packages.

Ziplining Forest Adventure – The Original Canopy Tour Rotorua

If you’re after some fun and adventure while in Rotorua, this zipling experience is very popular. Six zipline cables are suspended 22 meters above the ground, so you’ll get a bird’s-eye view of the spectacular forest. Read more here.

Kaituna River White Water Rafting

With a 5-star rating in nearly 1,000 reviews, this Rotorua white water rafting adventure should be on your itinerary if you enjoy the thrill of white-water rapids flowing past the subtropical rainforest lining a deep canyon. See photos here.

Hells Gate

At Hells Gate you can take a walk through the geothermal landscape and then have a mud bath. The mud bath is claimed to have healing properties as well as therapeutic. Buy tickets with Get Your Guide for instant confirmation and free cancellation up to 24 hours prior.

Waikite Valley Thermal Pools

This isn’t far from Wai O Tapu so you could add this into your day there. It’s the largest single source of 100% pure geothermal water in New Zealand. Again, there is plenty to do here with the thermal pools being the main attraction. All details and experiences can be found on their website.

Kuirau Park

You can find this park in the centre of Rotorua. Follow the walkways for views of mud pools, bubbling lakes and other geothermal activity.

There are also mineral foot pools that you can dip your feet in for free.

Along with a playground and paddling pool, it makes a perfect choice for families with young children.

It is here that you will find the Saturday Markets every Saturday morning from 7 am to 1 pm.

Rainbow Springs Nature Park

This is pretty much an all-day attraction or can be. There are different passes to buy depending on how much or how little you want to do. Some of the fun things to do include a kiwi hatchery tour, a Taonga Experience, the Big Splash Ride and a guided park tour.

Read more here.

Rotorua Night Market

If you’re looking for something to do at night or somewhere to eat, check out the Rotorua night markets. They are open Thursday evenings from 5 pm to 9 pm (weather permitting) in Tutanekai Street (between Haupapa and Hinemoa Streets).

Where to stay in Rotorua

We stayed at The Best Western, just outside the CBD and opposite Skyline. It was perfect for our family as the accommodation was self-contained, had 2 bedrooms and a kitchen. It even had an outdoor spa for your own private use.

best western in rotorua lounge area with dining table and chairs plus desk and television
best western rotorua kitchen with oven sink and window

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a green lake with a bright orange edge with steam coming off it. Blue sky and white fluffy clouds.