Being a budget traveler in an expensive(-ish) country like New Zealand can be difficult. You want to be able to go out and do cool stuff, but you also need to be able to eat. Luckily there are places offering some fun things to do that fit into the budget of us cheapies. Rotorua, luckily for me, falls into this category. So here are five free, fun things to do should you ever find yourself in Rotovegas.
There are a lot of geothermal parks in Rotorua, all offering slightly different experiences. There are also, however, plenty of free geothermal happenings that can be seen around the city. They aren’t as big or colorful as some of the parks, but they are still interesting in their own ways (and free!!!) The easiest way to see them all is to start in Kiarua park and do the Rotorua Walkway. This easy, two hour long walk will take you from Kiarau park down to the lake, around the government gardens, and then through a geothermal landscape. I really like this walk because there is hardly ever anyone else out there, so it feels like I’m walking through the apocalypse, with steam coming from the ground and bubbling, creaking noises everywhere. (Is it weird that I think a post-apocalypse landscape is cool? Anything to get away from the drunk, loud teenagers at the hostel I guess.)
For more information on the walk, see the Rotorua Lakes Council PDF here.
Redwood Forest Hikes
One thing that is available for free (or cheap) all across New Zealand is great hiking. Rotorua holds its own on this front with the hikes available through the Redwood Forest. Acres of redwood trees were planted in the 1800s and are now grown and beautiful, and make for a majestic hike. Even an hour walking though this forest watching the sun glisten through the incredibly high canopy and listening to the never-ending bird calls is a wonderfully tranquil break from the hostel life. But this forest doesn’t only offer redwoods; there are many native flora and fauna to be seen on the longer hikes. Also, if you’re willing to brave the forest at night you can see gloworms on some of the trails (I saw some on the beginning part of the green/purple/black tracks after they split off from the smaller tracks.)
There are a number of different hikes, ranging from 30 minutes to 8 hours. My favorites are the yellow and green walks, though the black track (which takes 8 hours and goes all the way out to the Blue Lake) also sounds amazing (but it is only open on weekends until March, and I have to work every weekend L). There are plenty of options to fit any time frame and fitness level. Just make sure to stop by the i-Site by the start of the trails to get a map for the longer walks.
There are several very nice spas in Rotorua in which you could soak for hours. They pull water directly from hot pools and underwater pockets in the area and are a great way relax the day away. If you want to soak on the cheap, though, you can head out into nature and hop in the natural hot pools themselves. There are several free hot pools around Rotorua, the main two being Kerosene Creek and the Hot and Cold Spring. Kerosene Creek is a beautiful stream flowing through the forest, full of lovely hot water to soak. The Hot and Cold Spring has two different creeks, one with hot water and one with cold, which meet in the middle to create a warm, lovely pool to relax in. This also has an extra bonus of being able to go into either stream should you get too hot or cold. Freezing? Move to the hot steam. Getting a little too warm? Move to the cold creek. The perfect set up for relaxation.
IMPORTANT NOTE: You will need some kind of transportation to get to both of these hot pools. If you go in a car, please take EVERYTHING out of the car before you go as these places are prime spots for break-ins (lots of tourists leaving their stuff in their cars, and then leaving the cars for an extended period of time = break-ins, unfortunately.)
Lake swims and walks
Lake Rotorua is the largest lake in the area, but the many other lakes nearby also have plenty to offer. The Blue Lake has both a great hour-long nature walk and a lovely little swimming area (as well as free stoves for cooking up some lunch on your day out.) Lake Okareka has a beautiful boardwalk, which you can follow through a bird reserve and past pastures of livestock to see some amazing scenery (this walk is particularly amazing at sunrise.) You can get a great view of the volcano while taking a swim in Lake Tarawera. There are many other lakes in the area for you to explore, so if you have a car or are planning to rent for one for a day or two, definitely make sure to check out as many as you can.
Climb a mountain
It’s a small mountain, but a mountain all the same. Mt. Ngongotaha offers to distinctly different experiences: on one side: two nature walks (one in a loop and one straight up to the to), on the other side: a paved path with some of the best views of Rotorua. You can start on either side, and the entire hike takes about two to two and a half hours. For more on the hike, see my previous post on Mt. Ngongotaha.
There are, thankfully, plenty of other free things to do in the area as well. If you’ve been to Rotorua, what were some of your favorite free (or cheap) activities?