Top 10 Free Things to do in Rotorua this Summer

With summer around the corner, there's so much to see and do in Rotorua. For the traveller on a budget, here's some of our local favourites!

There's always something for everyone in Rotorua, whether you're seeking thrills, great food or some calm tranquility. While we might be known for some of the North Island's biggest and coolest attractions, there's still plenty hidden off the beaten trail for a traveller on a budget.   

Without further ado, check out 10 of Rock Solid's favourite things to do that won't cost you a cent!


1) Rainbow Mountain

Located 20/25 minutes south along State Highway 5 is the glorious Rainbow Mountain, or Tihi-O-Rua (The Owl's Perch) in Maori. Named for the coloured clay visible across its faces, the mountain provides stunning panoramic views of the landscape, including the lakes, Mt Tarawera, Lake Taupo and the peaks of Tonagario National Park far in the distance. 

The hike follows a clear path, taking around an hour/ 90 mins to reach the summit. Once you get there, especially at sunrise or sunset, the views make the trip incredibly worthwhile. Like any hike, make sure to prepare for the climb and bring plenty of water in summer!

Rainbow Mountain at sunset. Photo Credit: @wanderingdale


2) Kerosene Creek

Tucked away in the bush surrounding a 2m waterfall are the geothermal hotpools of Kerosene Creek. Don't worry, it's not actually filled with kerosene, its the name given for the volcanic minerals that give it a brown colour and a strong smell. Located south of Rotorua near the Wai-O-Tapu Park, its a wild place to soak your worries away on your way back from Rainbow Mountain.


3) Hot and Cold Creek

If Kerosene Creek's too busy, a short way down the road is Hot and Cold Creek. It gets its name from where hot geothermal water meets the cold water of the creek. For a bather, its a delight. If you're too hot in one spot, you simply jump across to the cold, and vice versa. These pools are great all year round and all weathers, making it a must-see for a traveller on a budget.

Hot and Cold Creek. Photo Credit @wanderingdale

4) Okere Falls Walks

Follow the Kaituna River as it flows from Lake Rotorua, through the mighty waterfalls to the trout pools. This bush walk is located 20 minutes drive from Rotorua, near the small township of Okere Falls, and is the perfect easy going trail for the thrillseeker. Time your trip right, and you'll watch rafters plunge over Tutea Falls: the highest commercially rafted waterfall in the world!  

On your way back to town, make you you stop and check out the Okere Falls Shop and café for a top quality feed!


5) Sulphur Point Walkway/ Rotorua Lakefront

Bringing it back to town, this one is a personal favourite. Barely a stone's throw from the hostel doors is the Sulphur Point walkway, snaking from Polynesian Spa and the Government Gardens around the edge of Lake Rotorua until it joins with the newly-refurbed Lakefront. The entire walk takes between 25-30 minutes and leads you past steaming geothermal vents and bubbling hotpools, with many opportunities to see birdlife along the way. It's the explorer's way to see Sulphur City.   

Lake Rotorua from the Sulphur Point Walkway. Photo Credit: @wanderingdale

6) Mt Ngongotaha Nature Loop

You don't always need a vehicle to get some of the best views in town. No matter where you are in Rotorua, you'll always find Mt Ngongotaha towering over you. Its easiest to reach by car by heading along Clayton Road from Fairy Springs Road, but with preparation it can be done on foot. Joining at the mountain's foot, the trail winds up the side toward the summit, before looping back down to where you started. Its one of the best places to get a full view of Rotorua. 


7) Kuirau Park

New Zealand's only free geothermal park is located right in the centre of the city, a few minutes away from the Hostel. As you wander the pathways, enjoy the hot springs, bubbling mudpools and the steaming lake Kuirau, even get your feet at the free foot pools. We recommend heading there in the evening as the sunsets behind Mt Ngongotaha, or on a Saturday morning for the Morning Market!

Kuirau Park in Autumn. Photo Credit: @wanderingdale

8) The Lakes - Blue Lake, Green Lake, Lake Tarawera

Rotorua's lakes are some of the prettiest in the country, framed against the forests, hills and volcanos of the Bay of Plenty. There are several to visit across the region, from the picturesque Blue Lake (Lake Tikitapu) which is great for hikers and swimmers, to the huge Lake Tarawera and the volcano standing in the background. Most are accessible along Tarawera Road, 20/25 minutes outside of town. 

Blue Lake. Photo Credit: @wanderingdale

9) The Redwoods

The Whakarewarewa Redwoods are an iconic Rotorua destination, home to the towering trees that give the place its name. Whether you prefer to walk to bike, there are plenty of trails catering to different abilities, from short 20 minute hikes to full day trails that cross the forest. Whatever you're looking for, the Redwoods has what you're looking for.  

The Rotorua Redwoods. Photo Credit @wanderingdale

10) Puarenga Stream

Right on the edge of the Whakarewarewa forest, along the edge of SH5, is one of Rotorua's best hidden gems. The Purarenga Stream runs through the forest, past Te Puia and into Lake Rotorua. Follow the stream's rapids and waterfalls through the ponga trees until you reach the Waipa Mountain Bike Park, from where you can reenter the Redwoods, or stop off at Secret Spot Hot Tubs for a drink and a soak.

Downstream on the Puarenga Stream. Photo Credit: @wanderingdale

11) Honourable Mention - Kaharoa Kokako Trail

Even locals may not know about this one, and we have to give it an honourable mention for how amazing it is. The small town of Kaharoa is 40 minutes north from Rotorua, but is home to a very scenic forest walk. Its named for the kokako, a native songbird that is being carefully conserved in this part of the forest. Listen for their calls as you wander the stream towards the canyon. 

 Stay tuned to our social media for a exclusive video of the trail! 


And there you have it, ten (eleven) free things to do in Rotorua that any traveller will love! For more tips and updates from Rock Solid backpackers stay tuned to our social media and our website blog. 

Instagram: @rocksolidrotorua 

Facebook: @Rocksolidnz

Youtube: Rock Solid Backpackers

Posted by Dale Thomas on November 21, 2021

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