Greetings Internet Stranger and welcome to a one day in Rotorua itinerary! As you can tell from my most recent series of blog posts, I spent a fair amount of time in New Zealand. I visited a wide variety of locations as well, from the South Island to the North Island.
So I can hear some of you wanting to ask a question. Which place in New Zealand was my favorite? It’s hard to answer when the entire country was so gorgeous. But if I had to pick one day to revisit, it would be my one day in Rotorua itinerary.
With a one day in Rotorua itinerary, you can enjoy everything from a soak in the hot springs to a surprising cultural performance. Many non-Kiwis have never heard of Rotorua, but I hope that’s about to change. Let’s go!
One Day in Rotorua Itinerary
What to Pack?
You’ll need comfy shoes for all the walking we’re going to do today. If it’s summertime, I love my special pink Birkenstocks. These aren’t your grandpappy’s Birkenstocks anymore. They come in every shade, and I always get compliments on my electric magenta shoes.
New Zealand is hot in the summer, so don’t forget the sunscreen. My favorite is the Neutrogena spray bottle because it’s so easy to apply. And as a solo traveler, I can actually use it myself on my own back. I just put it in my purse and re-apply throughout the day.
Finally, if you’re not from Australia, New Zealand, or the UK, you need a universal adapter if you’re going to plug in electronics. NZ electrical outlets don’t work with American or non-UK European plugs. I suggest the NEWVANGA travel adapter. It’s usable with any electrical outlet in the world, so you won’t need to keep buying new adapters. I always carry two with me, just in case something happens to one.
Need a hotel, now that you’re packed? There are so many hotels in Rotorua to choose from. And if you’re looking for great deals on almost 300 hotels for your One Day in Rotorua Itinerary, click here! I’m sure you’ll find something in your budget!
One Day in Rotorua Itinerary
Morning: Explore Rotorua
One of the charms of staying in a smaller city like Rotorua is that you can take your time exploring. Few things are more fun than stumbling on a few hidden gems. That means you get Traveler’s Bragging Rights forever! I had a bit of help from two lovely ladies who were fellow travelers on my Intrepid Travel tour of New Zealand. But we really did get all this done in just one morning of our One Day in Rotorua Itinerary, so I’m sure you can too! Find some off the best that Rotorua has to offer with…
approximately top 5: One Day in Rotorua Itinerary
1) Breakfast at the Fat Dog cafe
I’ve been told by quite a few Australians and Kiwis alike that Americans don’t know good coffee. Therefore, perhaps you will think my judgement suspect when I say that the Fat Dog Cafe has everything I look for in a breakfast place. There’s both delicious coffee and an adorable logo. (I forgot to take a picture of the logo, but I’m pretty sure it’s of a malnourished cat.)
Enjoy a light breakfast here because we have a soak in a mineral bath followed by a roll down a hill ahead of us on our One Day in Rotorua Itinerary. So I wouldn’t stuff your bod with eggs and sausages or you might get sick!
2) geothermal spa at qe health
One of the main reasons that Rotorua is so popular with tourists is its geothermal activity. For those non-geologists out there, that means that the town is full of mud volcanoes, hot springs, and geysers. (We’ll learn more about these later in the day.) The downside to all this activity is that the city smells vaguely like a stinky egg, depending on how close to the sulfur you are. But the upside is that it’s very affordable to have a spa experience in Rotorua.
I recommend going to the thermal bath at QE Health. It’s affordable at only 15 dollars per person. Also, it’s historically interesting because it because this spa started as a place for WWII soldiers to convalesce. Of course you don’t deserve a good soak as much as they do, but don’t let that stand in your way.
24 hour tip
They’ll tell you this at the spa, but be sure to alternate between the cool pool and the warm pool. Human bodies weren’t meant to be at the higher temperature for long periods of time. No one wants to turn you into Soylent Green. Also, take the opportunity to chat up some locals. We met a couple of Maori gentlemen who explained to us that Rotorua has one of the biggest Maori populations in the country. (More on this later.)
So we’ve been very serious with our spa day with the ghosts of World War II veterans. Now it’s time to get silly and roll down a hill in a giant plastic ball. OGO is the best place in Rotorua to go Zorbing. I know OGO and Zorb sound like space words, but I promise you aliens haven’t taken over this blog. Zorbing is merely the fine art of rolling down a hill whilst encased in a giant plastic ball l that has been filled with a small amount of water. Zorbing is now popular all over the world, but OGO Rotorua is actually run by one of the inventors of Zorbing. So here you’re getting the truly authentic Zorb-xperience.
OGO has four different tracks, and you can go down one or all four, depending on how much time you have and how much you’re willing to pay. I selected the MEGA track because I figured go big or go down. But in a hilarious mishap, they actually brought me to the top of the Straight Track. So I got to go down that track for free, then took my turn on the MEGA. You mean you’re going to push me down a hill and not even charge me money for it? Thanks, New Zealand!
I know I make a lot of jokes on this blog, but believe me when I say Zorbing is easily one of the seven most fun things I have ever done. It combines all the classics: trying to film myself with a GoPro while inside a plastic ball, getting water up my nose, turning upside down, and giggling a lot. If you’re a Princess Bride fan, definitely yell, “As you wish!” while Zorbing. It adds to the authenticity.
I’ve thrown you down a hill, now let me take you up the hill in a magical gondola! This doesn’t have anything to do with Venice, Internet Stranger! We’re going to the stars in a magical cable car that takes you up Mount Gondola. (Probably not its actual name.) This is one of the more popular attractions in Rotorua. I strongly advise that you buy your ticket online here. The line to wait to buy your ticket is fiendishly evil.
To be honest, there are enough attractions at the top to entertain us for much more than 24 hours in Rotorua. There’s Ziplining, mountain biking, luge, a Jelly Belly store, and stargazing. (I didn’t even make any of those up. The Jelly Bellys are very real.) But we don’t have time to spend all day up a hill that wouldn’t even tell me its name. So we’re just going to make one stop at the top for New Zealand’s most important export…
5) Volcanic Hills Winery
That’s right, it’s wine o’clock! Also after all that Zorbing, you might be ready for lunch. So we’re going to kill two birds with one stone at Volcanic Hills Winery. My lady companions and I were given the option to taste three of the wines for less money, or to kick in 5 more Kiwi Bucks and taste all five wines. If you think I didn’t pick the 5 wine option, you haven’t been reading this blog very long! So we got to try the Volcanic Hills Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, Rose, and Pinot Noir while being forced to look at this hideous view.
Blurgh! My eyes!
We were having so much fun with the wine, we made a lunch of it and added this cheese plate featuring local cheeses. As we munched and sipped, we were entertained by our sommelier, Johnny Rainbow. (Again, not a joke. That’s his actual name.) I don’t want to veer into hyperbole, but Johnny Rainbow is the greatest individual I have ever met.
Whether he was showing us where the Volcanic Hills vineyards were on a map or teaching us exactly what rose is, he had us in stitches. He complained that someone had written him a bad TripAdvisor review because he used curse words occasionally, which made me sad. Never fear, Johnny Rainbow! You’ll receive nothing but admiration from yours truly. I even wrote a song about you called “The Ballad of Johnny Rainbow”.
This is the Ballad of Johnny Rainbow
He’ll make your knowledge of wine grow
New Zealand’s finest cheese he’ll show
Just don’t write him a mean review on TripAdvisor…Oh!
One Day in Rotorua Itinerary
Afternoon: Te Puia
So, a One Day in Rotorua Itinerary really isn’t enough time to see all this majestic city has to offer. I wish we could stay here for a week. But if your time is limited, like mine was, head on over to Te Puia to learn more about the Maori heritage of Rotorua. I strongly recommend getting the guided tour–they leave every hour on the hour–so you can fully experience all that Te Puia has to offer., especially the Maori arts and crafts. I’m tempted to say no more so you’ll be forced to visit Te Puia on your own. But that doesn’t seem very bloggerly. So instead, I’ll share…
three fun facts: te puia
1) Why is te puia so special?
There are many possible answers to this question. But one reason is that Te Puia is home to a group of geysers that put Old Faithful at Yellowstone National Park back home to shame. Te Puia is located in the Te Whakarewarewa Valley, which is home to seven geysers. Lucky you because you can see them all on this trip! The most famous is Pohutu Geyser. It is the largest geyser in the Southern Hemisphere. (I assume this means we have larger ones in the Northern Hemisphere. USA, USA, USA!)
Pohutu also has the distinction of being one of the most reliable geysers in the world. Your guide will definitely arrange the time so you can see it erupt on the tour. But just because Pohutu is the biggest, don’t neglect the other geysers. One is called The Prince of Wales Geyser, but it has nothing to do with poor Prince Charles. It was named after the eldest son of Victoria back when he came to visit New Zealand in 1901. How long did it even take to get from England to New Zealand back then? I assume he spent his mother’s entire reign on that boat.
2) So is te puia like a spa?
It’s definitely not like a spa. Te Puia is an important center for Maori arts and cultural experiences. Traditionally, Maori have believed that geysers were gifts from the gods. So please be respectful and careful around the geysers. Both for cultural reasons and because they are full of hot water and can burn you.
Though Te Puia is not a spa, you can still learn about the health benefits of the mud found in the bubbling natural pools around the area. But please don’t stick your hand in the mud pools and smack some mud on your face because the pools can get up to 200 degrees Fahrenheit. Also they kind of smell like the Bog of Eternal Stench because of the sulfur. Better to go to the Te Puia store if you’re thirsty for mud. You can buy skin care products using some of the world famous Rotorua thermal mud. I bought a mask and I use it every day. Before, this is what I looked like.
I don’t have a current photo of myself, but I assure you my skin is way better now. Thanks, Mud!
3) What does maori art look like?
There’s no one answer to this question. Some Maori artists practice traditional arts, some are avant-garde, just like you’d find in any other ethnic group. My favorite piece is this one at the entrance called Heketanga-ā-Rangi. Our guide explained that it represents the Maori idea of heaven. At the top of each pole is a mask with the face of one of their gods on it. In the center is a large greenstone, also known as pounamu. Pounamu is considered very lucky, but not if you buy it for yourself. I assume whoever made that rule wasn’t a single lady.
Our guide said that the only Maori god that most westerners are familiar with is the demigod, Maui because of the movie Moana. But there’s so much more to Maori mythology than that. My favorite god was Rongomatane because he is the god of cultivated foods and peace. My two very favorite things in the world: eating and not dying. This is a god I can get behind.
One Day in Rotorua Itinerary
Evening: Dinner and Performance at Mitai
Now I could just do my usual thing and recommend some amazing local restaurant to you. But where’s the excitement there? Much more fun to head to Mitai for a cultural experience. You can chow down on a hangi, watch a war canoe in action, and go on a night hunt for some glow worms. But even better than that, you’ll learn…
three fun facts: mitai maori village
1) Why should i do this?
Some people are really uncomfortable with attending traditional cultural performances, and there was one white English woman in our tour group who refused to attend this event for that reason. But the Mitai family that owns this village is a Maori family, so they are sharing their own cultural traditions. The family is heavily involved in traditional Maori arts, and their website is explicit about how they wanted to share their culture and also provide employment for locals. For me, it was a chance to have an experience I could never have back home–and it was tons of fun.
We were introduced to many Maori arts during the course of the evening. First we waited in the trees and watched a group of men sail past us in a war canoe, also known as a waka. Maori have been making waka since the 1400s. (I assume this waka did not date back that far because it was carved by the Mitai family.)
Then we were treated to a cultural performance in the theater. The highlight of the performance was the famous haka dance. Some people think that the haka is a war dance, but that’s not really true. Apparently there can be many reasons for performing a haka, like welcoming the Prince of Wales to your home.
The dance has become famous internationally because the legendary New Zealand rugby team, the All-Blacks, perform it before competitions to psych out their opponents. If you want to see an example of the All-Blacks appearing to frighten the French into surrendering, check out this YouTube video which has over 38 million views.
2) What is a hangi?
A hangi is a Maori kind of oven. You start by placing hot rocks or some other heat source underground. Then you wrap your food in whatever sort of wrap you have handy. (Traditionally leaves would have been used, but it looked to me like they use aluminium foil at Mitai Village.) You can cook many things this way, especially meat or potatoes like the New Zealand sweet potato known as kumara. Just wait a few hours and then…
Ta da! Your moist pork, chicken, lamb, or root vegetables await. I’m not a vegetarian even at all, but it did look to me that there were plenty of vegetarian options, between the potatoes and the choices at the salad bar.
See! Look how tasty that all looks. Some days a girl doesn’t want molecular gastronomy. She just wants a big hunk of meat and potatoes that someone cooked in a fire pit.
3) But what about the wine?????
Glad you asked! Mitai Maori Village serves wine from Tohu Wines, which is the first Maori-owned winery. (Their wines aren’t blue. The red was used to make a cocktail with, I believe, curacao. I ordered it because it reminded me of Johnny Rainbow.) Their wines have won awards, so you can taste something delicious as well as support a Maori-owned business when you drink them. The Maori unemployment rate is much higher than the average unemployment rate in New Zealand, though it is improving. So I strongly suggest supporting Maori-owned businesses when you are in New Zealand.
That’s a Perfect One Day in Rotorua Itinerary
What would you do with a One Day in Rotorua Itinerary? Does zorbing look like a blast or a torture devised by a species of cruel aliens? And will The Ballad of Johnny Rainbow ever become a top 20 hit? Please leave your thoughts below!
Note: If you want to know how I put my travel itineraries together, just click here. Keep in mind that while each article is about how to spend 24 hours in a place, that doesn’t mean you should ONLY have a One Day in Rotorua Itinerary. If you have extra time to your One Day in Rotorua Itinerary and want to add 24 hours with Tongariro National Park, click here. If you want to add 24 hours of a Taupo to Waitomo trip, click here.