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Rotorua Cruises

About Rotorua, New Zealand

Nestled on the Bay of Plenty, the port of Tauranga is watched over by the dramatic Mt. Maunganui, an extinct volcano that helped shape this spectacular region of white-sand beaches and azure waters. The Māori arrived here in the 13th century, followed by the British 600 years later. Today, the city is home to a thriving cultural scene and stunning vistas of mountains rising from the surrounding waters. Tauranga is best known as the gateway to the bubbling mud pools and thermal fields of Rotorua. The local Māori believe this cauldron-like region to be a gift of fire from the gods. The dramatic phenomenon derives from sulfurous steam and hot springs rising from within the earth through deep crevices.

Arawa tribes, ancestors of the Māori, arrived here in the 14th century and settled on Mokoia Island in Lake Rotorua. The Māori revered all things of the earth, and this particularly active region is steeped in their legends and lore. For centuries, they harnessed the energy of the hot springs and respected their power as sent from the gods. They named one of the most magnificent springs Wai-O-Tapu, or Sacred Waters. Today, among the bubbling pools, a Māori atmosphere remains.

Rotorua Lifestyle and Culture

The life of Rotorua revolves around its scenic lake and around the area’s geysers, hot springs and mud pools. It has been a spa and tourist town since the 1800s, and some of its architecture proudly reflects this past. In all, the town exudes a fascinating blend of commercial tourism and Māori devotion to the earthly wonders that have drawn travelers here for more than a century.

So sacred is this place to the Māori, it’s said that they comprise 35% of the people who live here, more than in any other part of New Zealand. Their presence is reflected throughout the city: Rotorua is home to three Māori language immersion schools known locally as Kura Kaupapa Māori, which aim to pass down the cultural values of ancestors. So it’s no surprise that, after English, the most common language is Te Reo Māori. It is also here that travelers will find some of the most robust Māori cultural performances and hangi, or large community feasts in which food is cooked in a pit oven with heated rocks.

Rotorua Sights and Landmarks

Rotorua is named for its lake, one of 14 in the region. A lakefront promenade offers relaxing walks and views of Mokoia Island, where the Arawa tribes first settled. More pleasant walks await at Government Gardens, a beautifully manicured park. The Rotorua Museum of Art and History here is housed in a stunning timber-framed building that once served as a sauna for the spa town. Its sprawling lawn is a popular spot for croquet. A walkway from the gardens to Sulphur Bay, or Motutara, traverses geothermal hot springs and sulphur vents.

The port city of Tauranga also has its share of fascinating sights. Mt. Maunganui, an enormous lava dome formed millions of years ago, watches over the city from across the Bay of Plenty. The Tauranga Art Gallery showcases works in a variety of media from around the world. Visit the Elms Mission Station, the oldest building in the Bay of Plenty. And admire the Brain Watkins House, built of local kauri wood and one of the area’s best preserved colonial homes.

Rotorua Entertainment and Activities

Exploration of the thermal features of Rotorua is high on most any visitor’s list. Gurgling mud pools, soaring geysers and hot springs are among the natural wonders you’ll see in “Sulphur City.” More specifically, marvel at Te Wairoa, or the Buried Village, the excavated ruins of a small town buried by an eruption in 1886. See Tikitere, or the Hell’s Gate mud pool. And view the Prince of Wales Feathers thermal spring as it bubbles and spurts. The Lady Knox geyser in Waiotapu is said to erupt every day at 10:15 AM.

If you choose to stay closer to the port, visit Classic Flyers NZ, the fascinating aviation museum of biplanes, helicopters and retired Air Force jets. For history of another sort, explore the Monmouth Redoubt, a key fortress during the Māori Wars. The replica canoe at the foot of the fort provides insight into a lost way of Māori transport.

Rotorua Restaurants and Shopping

Throughout Rotorua, there are opportunities to sample the Māori feast, the hangi. In this traditional style of cooking, food is cooked in an “earthen oven” of hot rocks, resulting in a distinct smoky flavor. You’ll find plenty of other choices to enjoy Kiwi cuisine, too.

Restaurants can be hard to find in Rotorua, but the town’s hotels such as Novotel or Ridges serve good local cuisine. The lower end of Tutanakei Street is known as “Eat Street” for its several establishments. Indian Star serves excellent Indian food. For a quick lunch, stop by one of the area’s cafés such as Ciccio or Capers. In Tauranga, Harborside offers Asian selections in an atmospheric 100-year-old boathouse on the water. Or try Somerset Cottage, one of the port town’s well regarded restaurants, for its fresh seasonal ingredients and creative preparations.

Māori arts and crafts are everywhere in Rotorua, and the quality varies from shop to shop. For finer pieces, steer away from souvenir shops and lean toward the galleries showcasing contemporary artwork or tastefully crafted greenstone or bone jewelry. Boutique shops in Tauranga can be found along the waterfront.