Rotorua for free, cheap & not so cheap
An A-Z of Rotorua - free, cheap and not so cheap .....
Abracadabra Cafe & Bar at 1263 Amohia Street is Moroccan themed, the theme is most evident in the green, pink and blue rooms at the back of the cafe. The three rooms are decorated in each colour scheme with cushions, curtains, lanterns, mirrors and tables. There's a menu to suit any time of the day and many of the dishes are Moroccan inspired. Abracadabra is closed Monday, open from 8.30am the rest of the week and 9am on weekends. (MenuMania reviews).
BREW Craft Beer Pub at 1103 Tutanekai Street (aka Eat Streat) is owned and run by The Croucher Brewing Company. As well as Croucher beer there are guest taps that change when the keg's empty so there's a changing range of NZ craft beer to sample. Visit Facebook to find out about Hoppy Hour specials, New Beer Tuesdays and Sunday Sessions. Brew Craft Beer Pub and Coffee Roastery is open 7 days.
Cheap and tasty lunches at Fat Dog Café, 1161 Arawa Street. Fat Dog is
a laid back cafe with a big menu, bright décor and good lunch specials. (Also see Fd2Go next door, open week days only). Chocoholics might like to try Death by Chocolate ($18.40 for two) on the dessert menu. Well priced NZ landscape photography by Gene Glover is for sale in the cafe as is art work by local artists. Fat Dog Cafe is open 7 days from 7am. (MenuMania and DineOut reviews).
Nuvolari at 1122 Tutanekai Street is another venue that serves a cheap lunch for $9.90 between 12 noon and 2.30pm, 7 days. We've eaten here a few times and order Spaghetti Marco Polo and the pita pocket with lamb, vegetables, feta and hummus, both meals are good value. (MenuMania and DineOut reviews). For more cheap lunches see Eat Streat below.
Drink a cocktail or two at the slick Regent of Rotorua Cocktail Bar at 1191 Pukaki Street. Decked out in black, white and silver with two white rhinoceros heads keeping watch, the bar is a smart setting for a cocktail. Considering staying at the Regent of Rotorua? Check out Trip Advisor reviews.
Eat Streat on Tutanekai Street is a joint initiative between Rotorua District Council and eateries. The lake end of the street is open to pedestrians only so there are plenty of tables for al fresco dining. Indian Star Tandoori Restaurant at 1118 Tutanekai is rated well on both MenuMania and DineOut. On Sundays $9.90 lunches are offered by a selection of Eat Streat eateries including Nuvolari, Lewishams Cafe & Restaurant and Triple 1 five.
Fenton Street is home to the i-SITE Visitor Centre (1167 Fenton Street), motel and hotel mile and Oppie's Fish and Chips - 259 Fenton Street. Oppie's is a consistent winner of accolades for its fish 'n' chips and we've always found them to be a good choice.
Festivals & Events
Wearable Creationz (August); Deepawali (October); Festival of Gardens (November); Raggamuffin and A & P Show (January); Rhythm Rotorua, Rotorua Bike Festival and Parade of Classic & Wooden Boats (February); Walking Festival and Women's Lifestyle Expo (March); and Blues Festival (June) are a few of the festivals and events celebrated each year.
FREE Geothermal Spills
Kuirau Park, Ranolf Street/Lake Road, central city
See thermal spills for free at Kuirau geothermal park. Stay on the walking track and board walk and heed the warning signs - there's a lot of hot activity here. There are also a couple of mineral pools suitable for soaking your feet. Another free geothermal walk around the lakefront and edge of the Government Gardens is Sulphur Point Walkway (one starting point is behind the Blue Baths).
Wai-O-Tapu Mud Pools, State Highway 5 toward Taupo (20 minutes drive south of Rotorua)
Turn left at Waiotapu Hotel on State Highway 5, drive a few hundred metres and turn left again to see mud pools in action free of charge. Get out your wallet if you want to visit Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland a bit further up the road. Wai-O-Tapu has been recommended to us and Rankers reviews rate it well. Kerosene Creek is another free hot spot in the area, Rankers note the security issue and travellers give reviews.
Free Lakeside Concert is held annually in March. The 2013 concert - Come Together, had a Beatles theme and featured Michael Murphy, Tina Cross, Russell Harrison and a whole bunch of other talented singers and performers, we highly recommend it. Free concerts also take place at the Rotunda in the Government Gardens on Sundays in February and March. Rock the Lake Mardi Gras is a free, annual, non alcohol celebration held on New Years Eve at the Soundshell and Village Green on Memorial Drive.
Gondola and luge rides make for a fun day out at Skyline Rotorua on Mount Ngongotaha, see the combo packages. Rotorua residents and frequent visitors can purchase an Annual Gondola Card. New at Skyline Rotorua is Art Of The Grill and Volcanic Hills Winery & Tasting Room.
Government Gardens are in the central city and as well as being a good spot for a picnic they also mark the start of the Cultural Heritage Trail (pick up a brochure from the i-SITE, 1167 Fenton Street). The Government Gardens were gifted by Ngati Whakaue in 1880 "for the benefit of the people of the world". Ngati Whakaue also presented the red totara carvings (originals in storage) you see at the garden entrance, they were given to commemorate the gift of the land.
The carvings were created by master carver Tene Waitere in 1907 and represent koromatua (tribal ancestors) that act as kaitiaki (guardians) of the area. The Prince's Gate arches (above left) were built in 1901 to represent a crown in honour of the visit by the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York (later King George V and Queen Mary). The arches at the gardens are only part of the original structure which once spanned Fenton and Hinemoa Streets.
||Hamurana Spring (also known as Hangarua Spring) - Walk through Redwoods and alongside the Hamurana stream to the point where the spring appears after travelling through underground aquifers. The spring water travels from the Mamaku plateau on a journey that is said to take 70 years, the photo shows how clear the water is. The spring was once filled with over 5000 pennies ... visit the spring to find out what happened to them.
The spring is the largest in the North Island and the stream it feeds is home to rainbow and brown trout, and plenty of bird life. We returned the same way as we entered however the track is a loop and takes around 30 minutes return. To get there drive around Lake Rotorua to Hamurana village, the walk to the spring is next to the golf club.
Happy Hour - Mezz Bar at Rydges Hotel, 272 Fenton Street opens at 5pm daily and happy hour is Friday from 5.30pm – 6.30pm. Beer, selected spirits, house wine and house bubbly are $3 and complimentary bar snacks are served. The happy hour is very popular, arrive early to get a seat. Brew Craft Beer Pub at 1103 Tutanekai Street (Eat Streat) has Hoppy Hour on Fridays from 5pm-7pm. Another happy hour option is Our Backyard Pub at 1287 Eruera Street.
High Tea - Two options are Distinction Rotorua at 390 Fenton Street, high tea is $10.50 per person; and The Princes Gate Hotel at 1057 Arawa Street, high tea is $22 per person. More details about both high teas.
Hobbiton Movie Set & Farm Tours, Matamata (transfers from Rotorua, $110 including tour)
We've done a Hobbiton tour and were required to sign a confidentiality form to say that we would not share any information about our visit as we would be entering a working film production location. We certainly don't want to jeopardise future tours by providing details here (nor could we afford the lawyers who would come knocking), however Lord of the Rings fans will no doubt appreciate the experience. (Rankers reviews). What we can show you is a sheep shearing demonstration which is part of the Hobbiton tour.
If you're travelling independently and a tour isn't in the budget you can still visit Shires Rest Cafe and purchase LOTR memorabilia including bottles of Sobering Thought, brewed specifically for the trilogy and not widely available for purchase in NZ. The cafe isn't so much a unique attraction in itself (see photos on the website) but it serves second breakfasts. Tip: There are links on the website to other LOTR tours and attractions around the country.
Hot deals on attractions and activities - bookme has come to Rotorua, Taupo and Waitomo. Half price deals are common for Rotorua attractions including Rainbow Springs Kiwi Wildlife Park, Rotorua Duck Tours and Waimangu Volcanic Valley. Also see GrabOne Rotorua - Taupo.
Hotel deals - Check out wotif Rotorua, particularly the Wot Hotel? Mystery Deal. Travelbug is another option and GrabOne Escapes are also worth a look. For unusual accommodation options in the area see our Unusual Accommodation Guide.
Ice Cream - Lady Jane's Ice Cream Parlour, 1092 Tutanekai Street (aka Eat Streat) near the lake. As well as scooping ice cream and making sundaes Lady Jane's have a few mountain bikes for hire.
Join a one hour coffee cruise on Lakeland Queen at 8am, $24 adult (children 0-12 years free). Breakfast, lunch and dinner cruises are also offered. The vessel was refurbished in 2006 and caters for up to 250 guests. Tip: Visit bookme for discounts, we booked a coffee cruise for $10.50pp.
Kiwi conservation at Rainbow Springs Kiwi Wild Life Park. Join a behind the scenes tour to see the incubation, hatching and nursery rooms for Kiwi birds. There is an extra $5 fee payable for the Kiwi Encounter that directly supports Kiwi conservation. In the rest of the park you'll see tuatara, birds, trout and farm animals. Your ticket is valid for 24 hours so you can return at night to see Kiwis outside until around 10pm. (We found the males to be shy but the female didn't seem at all bothered by visitors). Tips: Stop and say hi to Mandela the talking African parrot and fill your water bottle free at the fresh water spring. (Visit bookme to check for up to 50% discount on entry fee).
After visiting Rainbow Springs (thanks GrabOne) we recommend paying the extra $5 for the Kiwi Encounter. As New Zealanders who've seen their fair share of native flora and fauna we think the park's expensive at $38 an adult, but for us the Kiwi Encounter and the return visit at night made it a well worthwhile visit. Big Splash now open. (Rankers reviews)
Lakes - there are 16 lakes in the Rotorua area. Some of the more popular lakes include Lake Tikitapu (known as the Blue Lake) on Tarawera Road. The lake is popular with boaties and fishermen and Blue Lake Top 10 Holiday Park is opposite. On the lake shore is a playground, BBQs and toilets. You can walk the Blue Lake Track (5.5 km, 1.5 hours return). Continue driving down Tarawera Road and you will see Lake Rotokakahi (Green Lake), this lake is owned by local iwi and is closed to visitors.
Further on is Lake Tarawera, The Landing Cafe is on the shore. During summer you can hire pedal boats; cruises, fishing charters and kayak tours are also run. See Department of Conservation for further information on lakes in the Rotorua area.
Lake Rotorua water based activities offered by Mana Adventures on the lakefront include pedal boat hire, stand up paddle boarding and kayak hire.
Latin America Cuisine at Sabroso, 1184 Haupapa Street comes highly recommended by both MenuMania and DineOut reviewers. We decided to dine there based on reviews and turned a few starters - Sabroso rolls, confetti cornbread, Mexican taquitos and nachos, into tapas for an early dinner. Add a glass of sangria and a beer and that's around $50 for two.
Tips: Sabroso sell their own sauce, it may be explosive, Sarah did warn us, tip bottle with caution. Book a table to avoid disappointment as the restaurant is small. Sabroso is open from 5pm, closed Tuesday and Wednesday.
Maori Culture - Rotoruanz.com has an extensive list of Maori cultural experiences. Visit the historic Maori village Ohinemutu to see Tamatekapua Meeting House and St Faith's Church (entry by gold coin donation). Please note that Ohinemutu is a living village, visitors are welcome but please respect residents' privacy and stay on the paths - there is geothermal activity in the area.
It is requested that no photographs are taken inside St Faith's Church, if you would like a photograph of the Maori Jesus who appears to be walking on water there are letter folders with photographs you can purchase at the church.
Night market - Every Thursday night from 5pm (weather permitting) a section of Tutanekai Street between Haupapa and Pukuatua is closed to traffic for the Rotorua Night Market. It's the place to go for an inexpensive dinner on Thursday night.
On Tuesday Reading Cinema at 1281 Eruera Street have $11 movie tickets for all screenings.
Paradise Valley Springs - Lions are fed daily at 2.30pm, you can hand feed farm animals, see trout (in an under water viewing cave), eels and friendly kea. If your timing is right you may be able to interact with lion cubs. We visited too early for the cubs but were surprised and amused by Cheeko the friendly possum. Cheeko can be hand fed under the supervision of a staff member - possums are nocturnal but Cheeko is woken around 3pm to receive visitors. Entry fee - $30 adult and $15 child - Rotorua residents half price. (Trip Advisor reviews).
Quack at people on the street from a WWII Military Landing Craft driven by a Conducktor. Curious? Check out Rotorua Duck Tours. (Trip Advisor reviews).
RAVE (Rotorua Arts Village) -
RAVE is located at 1240 Hinemaru Street and is the venue for The Hot Lakes Craft Market held on the second Sunday of the month, 10am - 2pm, everything is handmade in Aotearoa. There will often be an exhibition to view at RAVE and work by local artists can be purchased in the craft shop. Creative Rotorua supports the arts and has information about artists in the area as well as an Arts Trail.
Red Spot Gallery displays New Zealand contemporary art. The gallery is located at 1239 Haupapa Street. Open Tuesday - Saturday from 10am, Sunday and Monday by appointment.
||Redwoods Whakarewarewa Forest - Photographs can't do the forest justice nor capture the tranquility of the area or the majesty of the towering California Coastal Redwoods. The forest is ideal for peaceful walks or jogs, and there are separate mountain bike tracks for those who want to explore on two wheels. Hire mountain bikes onsite from Mountain Bike Rotorua on Waipa State Mill Road. Two tracks suitable for beginners are Tahi and The Dipper - see Ride Rotorua for more mountain bike track information.
The Visitor Centre on Long Mile Road has information about all tracks including the 2km (30 minute) Redwood Memorial Grove and the 3.4 km (1 hour) Waitawa track. Both tracks are suitable for pushchairs and most wheel chairs, as are other tracks in the forest. The forest is 5 minutes drive from the city.
Saturday morning flea market at Kuirau Park has plenty of produce for sale. Other items include books, second hand goods, vegetable soap and craft work. You may also be able to get a Thai massage.
Shweeb - Geoffrey Barnett was living in Japan when he came up with the idea to cycle over the top of traffic. Fast forward a few years, add an investment by Google and you have a world first - Shweeb - fast facts. Agroventures is also home to Agrojet, Rotorua Bungy, Swoop and Freefall Xtreme (transport options).
Soak in hot pools - Polynesian Spa on Hinemoa Street has pools that cater for families and adults, and spa therapies are on the menu. The onsite Hot Springs Cafe offers free Wifi with purchase. Admission from $14.50 for adults.
Another soaking option is the Blue Baths in the Government Gardens (read about the history of the baths in the former men's changing rooms). Admission $11 per adult for entry to 3 pools (there are no private pools). The large pool pictured above is around 30°C, one of the small pools was out of action when we visited but the other was hot stuff (around 42°C), and too hot for some. Open from 10am in summer, midday in winter.
Two wheel hire - Pick up the Rotorua mountain biking brochure from the i-SITE at 1167 Fenton Street, it has a list of cycle hire options, also visit www.riderotorua.com. If you would like to combine mountain biking with accommodation check out Jail House Farm Stay in the Whirinaki Forest Park.
For motorised two wheel transport hire motor scooters on Queens Drive at the golf course from $40 for two hours, or up to three day hire from $160.
Unique airport transfer - the Kawarau jet boat will drop you off at lakeside accommodation or at the main pier on the lake edge. Transfer includes fast ride around Mokoia Island, minimum six passengers.
||Unique cruising - ride onboard a self drive RailCruiser for 19km down the railway track from Mamaku Railway Station. Cruise for over an hour at a speed of 20 km/hr - nominate your RailCruiser Pilot and travel in convoy on the Mamaku Express, from $76 per person. (Trip Advisor reviews).
Variety of crafts and collectibles can be found at the Soundshell Market on the lake front from 9am - 3pm on the second and last Sunday of the month.
Vintage tractors, diggers and bulldozers are on display at The New Zealand Caterpillar Experience. Tip: Visit bookme to check for discounted admission.
Volcanic playground for children is located in the Rotorua Village Green on the lake front. The Waterfront Cafe nearby is open daily for drinks, ice creams and takeaway meals.
Wearable Creationz is held in August, tickets are priced from $35 adults - our YouTube video of the 2011 event.
Wifi is free at Rotorua Public Library, 1127 Haupapa Street if you're a member (visitors pay $4 per day). Cafes that provide free Wifi with purchase include The Library Store Cafe (next to the library - free Wifi offered during library opening hours only), and Hot Springs Cafe located at Polynesian Spa, lake side Hinemoa Street. Fat Dog Cafe & Bar provide free Wifi with any purchase over $10 or pay $2 for 20MB. McDonalds in Rotorua also offer free Wifi with purchase.
Wooden & Classic Boat Parade is held each February on Lake Rotoiti. Over 70 boats were on the water in 2013 and boats came from as far away as Wanaka. It's a free event for spectators, take some morning tea or head to Okere Falls Store nearby for a takeaway coffee and then watch the waka lead the way. More information - Lake Rotoiti Classic & Wooden Boat Association.
Xtra good custard squares are served at Third Place
Cafe, 35 Lake Road, MenuMania reviewers agree. Good food and a good cause - Third Place Cafe is a charitable trust that assists the local community by donating funds to a variety of causes. Open Monday - Saturday from 8am.
You can get cheap books at the Rotorua Public Library, 1127 Haupapa Street, there is a bookshelf of ex library books that can be purchased by donation. Also visit the book sale on the first and third Saturday of each month in the Tea Kiosk at Kuirau Park. There is a large selection of books, many are ex library but others are second hand. Red Cross run the annual Rotorua Book Fair.
||Zorb was the obvious choice, if you want to get wet (but not roll upside down) make it a Zydro Zorb. To become a Zorbonaut you roll down a hill in a large balloon called a Zorb, get wet or stay dry, from $45. Mike became a ZydroZorbonaut and highly recommends it - Keep Rollin' on You Tube. OGO is your other rolling option, also priced at $45. Tip: Visit bookme to check for up to 50% off OGO.
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