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 combined Mexico and Morocco mid 2013 and the cafe and menu have had a makeover. The cafe is a riot of colour, there's a beer garden out the back and three themed rooms, if your day needs brightening up Abracadabra should do it. Open 6 days, Tuesday - Sunday. (Trip Advisor 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's a changing selection of NZ craft beers. Brew organise regular events like the Beer Club and Sunday Sessions, they also have a Hoppy Hour, visit Facebook for more information. Open 7 days. (August 2013 - Another branch of Brew opened on The Strand in Tauranga).
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. Fat Dog Cafe is open 7 days from 7am. (Trip Advisor reviews).
Nuvolari at 1122 Tutanekai Street is another venue that serves a cheap lunch for $9.90, 7 days. We've eaten here more than a few times for lunch and order Spaghetti Marco Polo, and the pita pocket with lamb, vegetables, feta and hummus, both meals are good value. (Trip Advisor reviews).
Drink a cocktail or two at the slick Regent of Rotorua Cocktail Bar, 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 is a section of Tutanekai Street near the lake, it's open to pedestrians only so there are plenty of tables for al fresco dining. (Eat Streat is getting a makeover - retractable roofing is being added to make it an all weather dining venue, work should be completed by December 2013). Indian Star Tandoori Restaurant at 1118 is rated well on Trip Advisor. Like the majority of reviewers we agree that Triple 1 five is a good choice too, thumbs up for the free range chicken, pork and eggs. On Sundays $10 lunches are offered by a selection of restaurants.
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 - no show 2013); Deepawali (October); Festival of Gardens (November); A & P Show (January);Rotorua Bike Festival and Parade of Classic & Wooden Boats (February); Walking Festival and Women's Lifestyle Expo (March); Blues Festival (June), and Fire & Ice Winter Festival (July) 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.
Wai-O-Tapu Mud Pools, Waiotapu Loop Road (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. Kerosene Creek is another free hot spot in the area, Rankers note the security issue and travellers give reviews.
Pay to see Geothermal Spills
Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland, 201 Waiotapu Loop Road (20 minutes drive south of Rotorua)
The Lady Knox Geyser gets a helping hand to erupt every day at 10.15am. Allow yourself plenty of time as you need to purchase your entry ticket first, then drive a few hundred metres to the geyser viewing area. You'll hear a good story about the geyser before it erupts with enthusiasm. After the eruption, drive back to the main car park and start your self guided walk - allow at least an hour if you want to do the three adjoining loop walks. The Champagne Pool and Devil's Bath were the most colourful sights on our visit. Wai-O-Tapu is open 365 days of the year, admission - $32.50 adults.
Tips: Wai-O-Tapu mud pools (mentioned above) are nearby, they're a worthwhile stop and they're free. If you need transport see Thermal Land Shuttle or HeadFirst Travel.
Free Lakeside Concert is held annually in March. The 2013 concert had a Beatles theme and featured Michael Murphy, Tina Cross, Russell Harrison and a whole bunch of other talented singers and performers. 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. You can do a wine tasting with a view at Volcanic Hills Tasting Room - five wines for $12. We highly recommend a tasting, if you're travelling with children the tasting room is a quiet place to hideout while the kids let loose on the luge.
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.
Half price deals on attractions and activities like Rainbow Springs and Rotorua Duck Tours are common on Bookme. Also see GrabOne Rotorua - Taupo.
||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 has happy hour on 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, see What's On. Another happy hour option is Our Backyard Pub at 1287 Eruera Street, on Friday between 4pm-7pm wine and tap beer is $5.
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 from $28 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 (Trip Advisor 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.
Hotel deals - Check out wotif Rotorua, particularly the Wot Hotel? Mystery Deal. Travelbug is another option and GrabOne Escapes is 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 the Lakeland Queen at 8am or 1pm ($20 adult). 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. (Trip Advisor reviews)
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 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 allows you to return at night to see the Kiwis (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).
We've yet to attend a Bird Show and experience The Big Splash, these attractions have been added without the admission fee being increased - way to go Rainbow Springs. What the visitors say.
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, BBQ's 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 (Trip Advisor reviews). During summer you can hire pedal boats; cruises, fishing charters and kayak tours are also offered. 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 MenuMania 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, Wednesday and public holidays.
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 with its Maori Jesus who appears to be walking on water (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.
Museum - Rotorua Museum of Art and History is in the Government Gardens. Admission $20 adult, $8 child (includes optional guided tour). Open daily except Christmas Day. (Trip Advisor reviews).
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, see Facebook for updates.
On Tuesday Reading Cinema at 1281 Eruera Street have $11 movie tickets for all screenings.
||One Love - Raggamuffin Rotorua - follow the link to thecuriouskiwi/blog to read about the Raggamuffin Music Festival held January/February each year.
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).
||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. The Shweeb is at Agroventures where you'll also find Agrojet, Rotorua Bungy, Swoop and Freefall Xtreme (transport options if you don't have your own).
Soak in hot water - 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. Polynesian Spa is open 365 days of the year from 8am - 11pm, admission from $14.50 for adults. (Trip Advisor reviews)
Another soaking option is the Blue Baths in the Government Gardens (read about the history of the baths in the former mens changing rooms). Admission is $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, the other was hot stuff (around 42°C), and too hot for some. Open from 10am in summer, midday in winter. (Trip Advisor reviews)
||The Arts Village is located at 1240 Hinemaru Street, there will usually be an exhibition to view. The Arts Village is also the venue for the Hot Lakes Craft Market held on the second Sunday of the month - everything is handmade in Aotearoa.
Two wheel hire - Visit www.riderotorua.com to see a list of bike hire options.
Unique airport transfer - the Kawarau jet boat will drop you off at lakeside accommodation or at the main pier. The transfer includes a 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 (check Bookme for discounts). (Trip Advisor reviews).
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 (no show 2013), tickets are priced from $35 adults - our YouTube video of the 2011 event.
|| Who Let The Ducks Out at Agrodome Rotorua? Follow the link to thecuriouskiwi/blog to read about the hijinks at an Agrodome Farm Show.
Wifi is free in the Rotorua CBD.
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. The cafe looks out over Lake Rotorua and Ohinemutu Village, it's a popular coffee stop for locals.
You can visit the Buried Village on Tarawera Road to learn about the eruption of Mount Tarawera that buried the pink and white terraces and claimed many lives in 1886. We spent a couple of hours in the museum and reading our way around the story boards in the remains of Te Wairoa Village, we found it fascinating. You need to be interested in reading about or listening to the history of the area to get the most out of a visit. There's a decent sized waterfall onsite, wear flat shoes if you take the steep route. Open 7 days, except Christmas Day, admission $32 for an adult. (See Bookme for discounted admission).
||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 Zydro Zorbonaut 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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