Rotorua New Zealand is a wonderful place full of fun and exciting activities. The best part about all of these activities? So many of them are free! There are tons of great free things to do in Rotorua. From hanging out at Lake Tikitapu or Lake Rotorua to strolling through Government Gardens and Kuirau Park. You can be among the Whakarewarewa Redwoods in the morning, atop Rainbow Mountain in the afternoon, and finish the evening with a soak in the free hot springs at Kerosene Creek! There are a wide range of activities that will be fun for everyone of every age. Let’s get talking about the best free things to do in Rotorua New Zealand!
If you enjoy watching and reading about the amazing free things to do in New Zealand, check out our Rotorua adventure video below! This video shows all of the free things we suggest in this blog in video form.
The first thing you’ll notice when you roll into Rotorua is the enormous lake that abuts the town at one end. Lake Rotorua is an enormous and beautiful site, complete with bird sanctuaries in multiple places along its shores and islands.
The second thing you’ll notice in Rotorua is the sulfuric smell. Tons of hot springs located all over the city and surrounding areas contribute to the smell, which smells a bit like Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming USA, if you’ve ever had the chance to visit.
Rotorua’s downtown is full of many incredible sites and activities. You’ll be able to fill up at least a few days with free things to do, and you’ll have a blast doing it.
Rotorua’s Government Gardens is one of the most beautiful gardens in New Zealand. Located in front of the beautiful yellow and brown museum near Lake Rotorua, the Government Gardens sprawls across acres and acres of land.
Among the gardens you’ll find huge rows of flower beds with every color of the rainbow popping out. You’ll find huge square lawn-bowling greens, closely manicured and perfectly flat. There are huge palm trees and more butterflies and birds than you’ll be able to count. Definitely make Government Gardens one of your first stops in Rotorua.
Lake Rotorua is a must see site while in town. It is pretty hard to miss, and many of the walking trails around town take you straight along the lake. We recommend taking a lakeside stroll either for a sunrise or sunset, taking in the twilight beauty of Rotorua.
Kuirau Park is a huge green space located near the center of town, which makes for the perfect setting for a picnic and a walk. The park is full of great picnic areas, complete with jungle gyms, free grills to use, and more than enough seating.
We absolutely LOVE photography, and sharing pictures! These are the cameras we use on all of our adventures. The drone and GoPro help us get cool new perspectives (underwater, in the air, wide angle) and the Rebel we use on a day-to-day basis for most of our shots!
Full disclosure these are affiliate links. If you click them and buy the products we get a little bit of money, which helps us keep providing content to you for free!
When you walk around Kuirau Park, you’ll see a ton of awesome hot springs bubbling up in different shapes, colors, and temperatures. A few of the springs are mud baths, and some are as clear as glass. All of them are HOT though, so make sure to keep your distance!
One of the best parts about Kuirau Park is the free hot pool located in the heart of the park! There are 2 pools, one in the sun and one shaded, that are open for you to stick your feet in. If you are in a swimsuit and want to take a seat in the pool, you are more than welcome as well!
Rotorua Night Market
The Rotorua Night Market is an evening festival that happens once a week in town. The night market is located smack dab in the middle of downtown, and takes place every Thusrday Night. The streets are closed down to cars and open up fully to foot traffic, making this a unique way to experience the city.
At the Rotorua Night Market, you’ll have the opportunity to buy everything from locally made jewelry to artwork and furniture. You can have tea or coffee or ice cream, or even a beer or two! Of course, the best thing to buy here is the food. OH THE FOOD IS SO SO GOOD!
The food options at the night market are everything from east Asian delicacies to an American burger. Of course, there are local kiwi options as well, and a selection large enough that everyone will find something they love! Make the Rotorua Night Market your Thursday night dinner plans, you won’t regret it.
Located just outside Rotorua is the Whakarewarewa area. This is a natural wonderland that is home to some of the best nature walks and lakes on the North island of New Zealand.
Whakarewarewa Redwoods Walk
In Whakarewarewa the first thing you can do is the Redwoods Walk. While these Redwoods aren’t the same size as you’ll find in Northern California, the forest is still incredibly impressive and has many things that Redwoods National Park lacks.
First off, the endless ferns and palm trees throughout the forest make for an awesome jungle vibe, and give you awesome sites at every level of the forest. In addition to the view, all these plants combine to give off a wonderful smell. The smell is intoxicating, and is a wonderfully welcome break from the sulfur smell of Rotorua’s hot springs.
Thirdly, the sounds while walking through the Whakarewarewa Redwoods Forest are borderline overpowering. At times, it feels as though you have left civilization completely and are in a wilderness wonderland. The sights, sounds, and smells of this forest give you a truly unique experience, and make the Redwoods Walk a must-do free adventure near Rotorua.
Lake Tikitapu and Lake Rotokakahi
Lake Tikitapu (Blue Lake) and Lake Rotokakahi (Green Lake) are a pair of twin lakes located just a bit further up the road from the Redwoods Walk. We recommend driving up to the lookout between the lakes as a first stop, as this will give you a stunning view and help give you a lay of the land in this area. Also at the lookout, you can learn how and when these lakes were formed!
Here are our best recommendations for travel accessories to complete any trip! We are ALWAYS looking for great deals and shopping on a budget. We swear by these accessories!
Once you’ve gotten your fill at the lookout, head back down the way you came towards Lake Tikitapu. Lake Rotokakahi is a private lake where swimming is not allowed, therefore we recommend enjoying the lookout view only. You can walk down to the lake, however there is much more opportunity for adventure at Lake Tikitapu.
At Lake Tikitapu you’ll have the opportunity to swim, hang out on the beach, sunbathe, and use any of the grills, all free of charge! And of course, you’ll have an incredible Central New Zealand view from the beach. The mountains fully surround the lake, and are covered with huge palm trees and thick undergrowth, which give you the perfect backdrop for the clear blue Lake Tikitapu.
If you want to further your adventure here, and are okay spending a few dollars, then there are kayak and stand-up-paddleboard rentals. You can get a new perspective of the lake by floating out to the middle on one of these toys! Also, there is a cute little Airstream Cafe here serving coffee and food, if you forgot to pack your picnic.
Just south of the Rotorua area is an incredibly wonderful hike to Rainbow Mountain and Kerosene Creek. On this hike, you have the option to go to just Rainbow Mountain, just Kerosene Creek, or both! If you aren’t a big hiker, then skip Rainbow Mountain and drive to Kerosene Creek. However, we feel the best way to get to both these sites is by strapping on your hiking shoes and walking there!
The Rainbow Mountain summit hike takes about an hour and a half each way, taking you on a 3.5 km path with significant elevation gain. Along the hiking trail, there is a beautiful lookout over a stunning red cliff with steam rising from a few holes near the cliff. Also along the path are a few other awesome overlooks, however nothing beats the 360 degree panorama at the top.
Atop Rainbow Mountain you’ll get a bird’s eye view of the New Zealand countryside that is very tough to beat. You will see mountains, lakes, farmland, towns, and the roads that connect everything together. The view is great for miles and miles on a clear day, pack a picnic and enjoy lunch at the top before heading towards Kerosene Creek.
If you are a mountain-biking enthusiast, then you are in luck at Rainbow Mountain. There is an epic mountain bike trail that goes directly from the Rainbow Mountain summit to Kerosene Creek. We saw a few groups of bikers rocking and rolling on this path, and to be honest it looked like a ton of fun. We are wimps with no mountain-biking experience, so walking sufficed for us.
Kerosene Creek is the best free hot springs we’ve seen in New Zealand. To be perfectly honest, we haven’t been to all of them, but we’ve seen our share and this is a GREAT free hot spring!
Why is Kerosene Creek so great? For starters, the water temperature is perfect. We love a ‘hot’ hot spring. Not lukewarm bathwater. Hot water. It is called a ‘hot spring’ isn’t it? Kerosene Creek delivers, at over 100 degrees Fahrenheit, this is a perfect temperature. It was especially relaxing to sit in a shaded area of the hot spring after our challenging hike up and down Rainbow Mountain.
Another reason Kerosene Creek is wonderful is because of the surrounding landscape. The hot spring is located amidst a beautiful lush forest complete with ferns and palm trees as well as towering trees standing tall above the surrounding area. With this background, you’ll be in heaven soaking in Kerosene Creek’s free hot springs.
Clothing We Love
You need clothes to travel. Heck, maybe you don’t. We don’t judge. If you want to hop around the world in your birthday suit then go right ahead! But if you want to cover up, here are a few of our favorite clothing items we love, and we think you’ll love too!
The final reason we loved Kerosene Creek is all of the free berries on the way there! Along the hike to Kerosene Creek (and not along the drive) the trail is LINED with blackberry bushes. If you are there at the right time, the blackberries will be in bloom and you can have your pick as you hike to the hot springs and back! If you are smart, you’d bring along a Tupperware or Ziploc bag and load up so you can have fresh blackberries for the next few days!
Free Camping Rotorua
As with everywhere in New Zealand, we camped for free in and around Rotorua, and you can too! If you have a self-contained campervan, you can take part in the free Freedom Camping sites here in Rotorua and all over the beautiful country of New Zealand!
We use the Wikicamps App to find free campsites, and wrote a blog all about how to search for and buy a campervan in New Zealand. If you are interested in the New Zealand van life, click here for that blog post!
We absolutely loved our time exploring everything we could in Rotorua. This area of New Zealand is so unique and unlike anything else in the entire country. Rotorua is basically what you would get if you took a part of Yellowstone National Park and placed it in the middle of Hawaii! The free hot springs, time on the lake, and wonderful hikes in the area made our time in Rotorua unforgettable. We hope you enjoy your own trip here!
We sincerely hope you enjoyed our blog post on free things to do in Rotorua. If you liked the article, please use the images below to Pin It on Pinterest to save for later.
We wrote an travel eBook with you in mind, and have given you EVERYTHING we know about how to maximize your ability to travel the world! The book has 3 parts:
- How to get INCREDIBLE Travel Deals
- Budgeting Your Life to Travel
- How to Get Away From Work
50% of the proceeds from the sale of our eBook is going to a cause that we care about: funding a trip for a family in need! We are putting half the proceeds from every eBook purchase towards a trip for a family who isn’t be able to take a trip.