When I first heard about Rotorua from the NZ locals, they humorously advised me to ‘save my money’ before I headed over to this unique volcanic town. ‘Rotorua is the Las Vegas of New Zealand’ I was told by my amused colleagues during my time living in Auckland. In fact, Rotorua even has its own ‘Las Vegas’ style sign – you can visit it yourself by taking the Skyline Rotorua gondola up Mt Ngongotaha. This is a great way to get your bearings and see a wonderful view over Rotorua too!
Please note that this blog post most likely contains affiliate links to products or services I use and love! If you click on the links, it means I get a little extra pocket money at no additional cost to you.
This is what keeps my website ticking over – thank you!
Please note that this blog post most likely contains affiliate links to products or services I use and love! If you click on the links, it means I get a little extra pocket money, at no extra cost to you.
This is what keeps my website ticking over – thank you!
If you’re like me, and slightly uncertain about touristy destinations, this may make you wary about your visit to Rotorua. And it’s true you’ll see a LOT of tourist-specific infrastructures. In terms of sheer activities and tourism offices, it reminded me a little of a North Island Queenstown. Although its rich Maori history and cultural learning experiences do give Rotorua an edge.
So, maybe it sounds strange that I came to Rotorua for relaxation?
Don’t be put off by the crowds – there’s enough nature here for everyone. From redwood forests to volcanic craters and scenic lakes, it’s a beautiful region. But it’s what’s under the landscape that makes the North Island so unique. The geothermal undercurrents create the perfect set-up for natural hot springs! You can also find mud pools and geysers here, and steam engulfing the town from streams and pools and grates.
So yes, soaking in geothermally heated springs sounded like the perfect way to relax during my New Zealand road trip. While I’m not sure about the facts, it’s also said these waters have healing properties to rejuvenate the skin and body.
I have included both paid and FREE hot springs on this list! This unique activity is open to budget travellers and holidayers alike. So grab your togs and a towel and prepare for some ultimate kiwi relaxation!
Tip: For the paid hot springs, it often costs extra to rent out a towel and/or locker. So take your own towel and keep your belongings in a space place if you want to save a few dollars on your volcanic hot pool experience.
Secret Spot Rotorua
Despite being tucked away between a car park and bike track, you’d never know your proximity to other humans once you’ve sunk into your relaxing tub. Each hot pool, newly constructed out of cedar wood, is hidden between large ferns and overlooks the native bush and woodland. So although there are 12 hot tubs here, each feels secluded and private.
Something I loved about Secret Spot is their service. Once we arrived, we could order drinks (mulled wine – perfect for Winter!) when booking in and they were left outside the pool by the time we arrived. Each tub comes with fresh water to drink and a ‘buzzer’ so you can alert the staff if there’s anything else you want or need. I liked that this meant you could fully relax once you reached the pool.
There is a wooden veranda where you can enjoy food or drink after your soak, which you also cross through via a pretty boardwalk to reach the hot tubs.
Price: from $35 – $41 pp (or $14 for kids) for a 45-minute soak. The price includes lockers and drinking water.
Waikite Valley Hot Springs
contributed by Roxanne from Faraway Worlds
About 15 minutes’ drive from central Rotorua, you’ll find Te Manaroa, a natural boiling spring and one of the most remarkable places to visit in New Zealand. The boiling water flows through the valley and some is used in the Waikite Valley Thermal Pools. There are six pools in the complex, with temperatures ranging from 35-40°C, all filled with natural geothermal water from the spring.
We first visited the Waikite Valley Thermal Pools in winter 2020, just after New Zealand had come out of its first lockdown. From the car park, we could see the steaming valley and we spent ages just watching the boiling water spill down the hillside, steam rising into the sky. My toddler was very excited and the eco walk to the spring, Te Manaroa, gave us a chance to see the bubbling spring up close.
The pools were empty when we got to the complex, with only one other group there. We slowly introduced our little boy to the different pools, giving him time to get accustomed to the hot water. We relaxed in the thermal water, steam all around us, and looked out at the native bush in the valley below us.
Price: Entry into the pools is $22 for adults and $12 for children over 5. There are also private spas and a campground on site.
If you’re into wellness, and perhaps a little low-key luxury, Polynesian Spa is the place for you. Though don’t put that if you’re a backpacker looking to treat yourself, as it’s welcoming to all visitors.
The view here is one of the best in the area, as it looks directly onto Lake Rotorua. You can also choose between the public pools or a private tub for you and your travel partner. As the name suggests, this is a fully active spa offering all kinds of therapies and massages – definitely the place to come if you’re looking for a spa retreat.
Price: from $33.95 for shared pools, $38.95 for private or bathing packages from $70 – I’d recommend the third option as it combines time in a private pool and then extra time in the public Pavilion Pools.
The pavilion pools include four separate geothermal springs plus a reflexology walk, all overlooking the lake. For the private pools, you can choose between a lake or a sky view. Alongside the huge array of highly-rated spa therapies, there is also a cafe and shop onsite.
This geothermally heated stream is perhaps the best-known free hot spring in New Zealand. Sit upon the smooth rocks alongside the 2m waterfall and feel the hot water from below mix with the cool water from the creek – a truly relaxing combo.
This tranquil spot is just a short walk from the carpark and can get busy on a nice day. Tucked amidst the native flora and fauna, this is a perfect spot to relax or swim.
Hell’s Gate Geothermal Reserve and Mud Spa
Yep, complete with mud baths, Hell’s Gate is the place to come for a truly memorable geothermal soaking experience! Walk through the clouds of volcanic steam, soak in stunning sulphur hot pools, and get stuck in the mud – all in one convenient location.
This is Rotorua’s most active geothermal reserve and the thermal mud has been used for generations by Maori in an effort to relieve aches and pains. The land here has historic and cultural significance related to Ruaumoko, the God of earthquakes, volcanoes and seasons.
Price: From $25 just for the hot springs to $79pp (or $39.5 for kids) for the mud bath, sulphur spa, and plunge pool.
For a full geothermal experience, choose the ‘Hell’s Gate Experience’ at $99 – this includes all of the above plus a 60-90 minute geothermal walk and Maori carving.
Please check the latest prices or book your experience below:
SOME GEOTHERMAL HOT SPRINGS ARE TO BE SEEN BUT NOT TOUCHED…
Some hot pools are made for walking only. As you can imagine, the waters in the geothermal valleys can reach intense temperatures. Others contain acidic or unsafe properties that we’d rather not get under our skin. That said, these steaming volcanic walkways are absolutely worth visiting and offer a unique perspective on New Zealand’s location in the middle of the Pacific Rim of Fire.
contributed by Margarita from The Wildlife Diaries
Located at the northern end of Rotorua, Kuirau Park is New Zealand’s only free public geothermal park. The park is an unexpected mix of manicured lawns and steaming boiling pots of geothermal activity. There is an atmospheric lake in the park fed by a gurgling creek with a boiling waterfall. The Māori legend has it that when a beautiful young woman named Kuiarau came to bathe in the lake, a sinister creature dragged her to his layer at the bottom of the lake. The gods were furious and destroyed the creature by making the lake boil. Since then, the lake and the steaming land around it have been known by the name of the woman, but the spelling has changed a little over time.
Apart from the lake and the boiling stream, Kuirau Park is home to vividly coloured alkaline chloride springs, boiling mud pools and murky acidic pools hiding underneath the canopies of mighty old trees. It is amazing just how thin the earth’s crust is underneath the park’s suburban lawns. The geothermal hotspots are surrounded by safety fences, but new, unexpected eruptions do occur from time to time. In 2001, a steam vent sent massive rocks hurling into the air snapping tree branches as if they were twigs.
The public foot baths in the park gurgle at about 40 degrees, kicking up plumes of steam and looking like little onsens secreted away among the moody, misty scenery. After walking around the park’s steamy paths, a foot soak feels entirely deserved.
Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland
Wai-O-Tapu will reopen on 22 October 2022 and has been closed for renovations for some time. I’ll update this page with hours, prices, and what to expect shortly!
With geysers, bubbling mud pools, and huge multicoloured springs which rival any others in the world, this will be an enchanting place to visit!
Waimangu Volcanic Valley
With various experience options available, I chose the self-guided walkway to take my time enjoying this unique location. This is 4km (or 1.5km for the short version) and takes around an hour.
A handy map helped me learn more about the wonders around me. From the Inferno Crater to Frying Pan Lake (one of the world’s largest hot springs) to multi-coloured streams and gurgling geysers. In this uniquely heated atmosphere, the plants, rocks, and minerals all create an otherworldly presence.
Price: $44 for the self-guided walkway
For a longer half-day experience, you can also add on a cruise around Lake Rotomanaha, which takes you to more sites of geothermal activity which can’t be accessed on foot. Onboard commentary will allow you to dive deeper into the history of volcanic eruptions and answer your curiosity about what could form such a unique landscape.
Price: $89 for the full experience (walkway and cruise). If you’re feeling adventurous, for $130 you can experience Lake Rotomanaha by kayak and get even closer to the steaming bays.
Finally, to combine a cultural experience with dramatic sites, visit Te Puia. Following a walk around the mud pools, steaming streams, and geysers, you can enjoy a walk around the Maori village and a traditional meal at the restaurant. The geyser here – Pohutu geyser – is actually the largest in the Southern Hemisphere. Book your full Te Puia experience below.