A Full Day In Rotorua: Redwoods and Maori
Rotorua, New Zealand is chock full of activities and cool things to do. Whether you are into nature, adventure, relaxation or culture you can find something here satisfy. Set against a geothermal and volcanic wonderland everything you do here will have a unique spin…and smell. You could easily spend a week or more here and not run out of activities.
We stayed at the hotel BK’s Rotorua Motor Lodge which is owned by the nicest couple. It was a nice location for a good price so if you are ever in Rotorua check it out. For dinner and most meals we walked about 20 minutes to Eat Street, which is a long walking mall with restaurants on both sides.
Unfortunately and fortunately New Zealand has tons to do so you might not be able to spend too many days here. The New Zealand Itinerary I created only allows for 1 full day which is not nearly enough. It is enough to get some great experiences in, below are my sites that you just can’t miss!
Rotorua Region Must See Sites:
- Wai o Tapu Thermal Wonderland
- An active geyser at Te Puia
- The Whakarewarewa Redwood Forest
- Mitai Maori Village
Te Puia Geyser
If you choose to go to Wai o Tapu Thermal Wonderland your ticket will include a trip to their geyser. The geyser goes off at 10:15am everyday and is about a 25 minute drive from Rotorua. The Te Puia geyser complex is just on the edge of town and has a lot to offer in addition to the geyser. Another thermal park, Te Puia also has Maori cultural experiences and Kiwis!
Just a short walk inside the park and you can already see the steam coming off the geyser. The Pohutu Geyser erupts every hour for 20-25 minutes so you don’t have to worry about coming at a specific time! The amount of water and steam coming out is just amazing. It also sits next to a beautiful clear blue pool of water making the experience more memorable.
Don’t miss the Kiwi viewing area as you walk around the park. They are nocturnal so the room they’re in is pitch black and they’re a little tough to see. They were a lot larger than I expected and their beaks are super long and pointy!
You can also check out traditional Maori buildings and watch some Maori weave and create baskets. The gift shop is full of different Maori arts and crafts and geothermal mud soap that you should be sure to stock up on.
Whakarewarewa Redwood Forest
The Whakarewarewa Redwood Forest is about 10 minutes outside of town. In 1901 several species of Redwoods were brought to the area and planted to see which would grow. The California Redwoods were the most successful and now there is a huge forest full of them! There are several options for tours and activities but we did a 30-minute tree walk along several suspended bridges. The bridges allow you to walk over untouched areas of forest and provide exceptional aerial views.
Afterwards we took a 30-minute stroll (on the ground) through a different part of the forest. It was very relaxing, quiet and cool in the trees. There was an interesting little stream that must have been filled with some kind of minerals because the water was crystal clear. You could see all of the fallen ferns and branches perfectly. The fallen leaves were completely covered in moss. You can walk through the redwood forest on several paths of different lengths. The paths are differentiated by colors and clearly marked.
Ferns are very plentiful all over New Zealand and are actually the national icon. There are literally hundreds of different species and you see them everywhere. There was no shortage here, especially from the bridges you could see ferns filling in every little nook and cranny of the forest.
Interested in learning more about New Zealand? Check out my other New Zealand Travel Tips & Tricks
Mitai Maori Village
If you want to do a Maori cultural experience, and you do, you should consider booking your tickets in advance. This is a very popular experience in Rotorua and especially in high season they can book up quickly. There are several different Maori villages to choose from but the Mitai Maori Village made the most sense for us. From the research I did, Mitai Maori Village is the only one that does a waka entrance as described below.
You can arrange for a van pick up from your hotel or drive yourself. Upon arrival at the complex we were greeted by several women dressed in traditional clothing. You will be seated in a large tent and given some delicious Maori wine called Tohu. A very funny man provides an introduction to Maori culture and the events of the evening.
The large group of tourists attending that evening were split into 2 smaller groups. One group was led outside to a covered pit. The Hangi or traditional Maori meal was cooking inside of the pit and we were given a description on its preparation. The pit is filled with hot rocks, the food is placed on top and then it is all buried. For our group there were about 20 chickens and large pieces of lamb as well as some potatoes, sweet potatoes and stuffing. The other group was led to view a waka. Waka is actually the Maori word for any from of transportation but in the case it is a riverboat hollowed out from a tree. It must have been a large tree as it was capable of holding 18 men.
A Nighttime Waka
The 2 groups switched locations so everyone could see everything and then the real show began. As the sun went down and it began to get dark the entire group will take a short walk down to the nearby river. Lined along the river banks you watch as a group of 8-10 men row a waka down the river. The river was lit with lights and there were fiery torches on the boat. The men are all dressed in traditional Maori clothing including the iconic facial tattoos and are chanting and singing. They paddled past you and then backwards and forwards a couple of times in tune with their chanting. It is super cool and might give you goosebumps!
The Maori Performance
After the waka the group is led into a staged area to watch a performance. There are several Maori men and women all dressed in traditional clothing and sitting around a replica of traditional houses. Traditional weapons and instruments are on display and used to perform song and dance. A pair of men perform a choreographed fight and the chief describes Maori culture and teaches you some Maori words and phrases.
At the very end you get to see a traditional haka or dance, originally used to intimidate their enemies. Hakas are now used at celebrations, funerals and sporting events all over New Zealand. The dance is meant to be intimidating to enemies and it definitely would be. The men bulge their eyes and stick out their tongues to imply that their enemies look delicious and they will kill and eat them. The chief made several jokes about the Maori having been cannibals in the past.
One of the most interesting parts to me was when the chief explained the facial tattoos. Tattoos on the right side are dedicated to their fathers’ story and the left side to the mothers’. Everything in the center is personal; the chief had wings representing a bat (wisdom), a beak on his nose representing a parrot because he was the orator, and large circles around his mouth to represent the Kiwi! The women have smaller tattoos around their mouths. The women’s tattoos are smaller because they are in charge of the household and children. The men’s are bigger because they are in charge of the village.
Hangi Dinner And Night Walk
Back in the large tent you have dinner! The chicken, lamb, potatoes, sweet potatoes and stuffing shown before are available as well as seafood chowder, bread, salad and rice. There is no shortage of food and everything is provided buffet style. For dessert they had fruit salad, pavlova, steamed pudding, custard and a chocolate log cake. The food really was pretty tasty and definitely hearty.
You will end the might with a walk through the forest to a sacred Maori natural fresh water spring. Unbeknownst to you, there are glowworms in the forest all around. Your guide will ask everyone to turn off their flashlights so you are able to see them as you make the walk back to camp. You will learn so much about Maori culture and it was an awesome experience to get to see everything up close and personal.