Rotorua: 4 Unmissable Activities Off the Beaten Track

Rotorua, known for its pungent rotten egg smell, is probably New Zealand’s most touristy city. So, for those who like to get off the beaten track, it can be difficult to know what’s worth doing.This list isn’t exhaustive: there are plenty of other cool things to do in Rotorua (hot tip: if you visit the Buried Village, make you you do the side-route to the waterfall – it’s worth it). But, this is a list of my favourite four things in Rotorua that you’re unlikely to hear much about elsewhere.

And the best part is, you can do all of them in 4-5 hours.

#1.  Wai-O-Tapu
Visiting a Geothermal area in Rotorua is absolutely essential, whatever kind of traveller you are. Having done several, I think the best one for people who like getting off the beaten track is definitely Wai-O-Tapu. It’s about 25 minutes out of town, so it gets less visitors, and it offers the most colourful range of different kinds of volcanic sights I’ve ever come across. The only slightly less-cool thing is that their geyser is stimulated with a chemical to make it go off at a regular time each day.

The Wai-O-Tapu geyser
The vibrant palette at Wai-O-Tapu
Wai-O-Tapu’s most famous sight: the Champagne Pools
Oh, ya know, just an acidic, highlighter green-coloured pool
#2.  Kerosene Creek
This place is the best kept secret in Rotorua. A naturally occurring spa pool, complete with a hot waterfall. Let me just say that again: a hot waterfall! It’s located a 5 minute drive from Wai-O-Tapu and completely free. Do not miss it.

#3. Māori Jesus

St Faith’s Church, a beautiful Tudor-style building right next to a traditional Māori marae (meeting house), has a special secret. Instead of a traditional stained-glass window, they have an ordinary window looking through to the lake, with a white Jesus figure painted on it, appearing to walk across the lake towards you. And what makes it even more special is the fact that Jesus is wearing a Māori cloak and has Māori features. I love this sign of harmony between religion and indigenous culture.

#4.  The best pies in New Zealand
We Kiwis are damned serious about pies. Not the family-sized fruit pies you see overseas, but a single-serving meat pie with flaky pastry. When I was in London there wasn’t a kiwi treat I missed more than an old fathful mince and cheese pie.

So, telling you I know where to find the best pies in New Zealand is quite a big deal. But I’m going to: Better Pies 2000 has an awful name, but the most amazing pies you will ever taste. Usually I’m a total carnivore, but even the vegetarian one is incredible: with pumpkin, broccoli, carrot, mushroom all in a delicious cheesy sauce. Honestly, try anything, they’re all good.

Once you’ve got your pie, drive back to the lake and eat it on the edge of the pier. It’s bliss.