Rotorua history & Māori culture

New Zealand's Māori history is respected and honoured in Rotorua, a region that's been wowing intrepid tourists since the 1860s.

Rotorua is the tribal home of the Te Arawa people, who settled in lakeside geothermal areas more than 650 years ago. Entertaining in any weather, and at any time of the year, this area of New Zealand promises to keep you captivated with geothermal phenomena, fascinating historical stories and special cultural experiences. Geysers, boiling mud pools, marae stays, hangi feasts and weaponry displays will provide plenty of compelling content for your Instagram posts.

Explore Te Puia

Te Puia is a fascinating two-in-one destination that lets you discover geothermal attractions and Māori Culture for one admission cost. You can choose a day-time or evening experience:

  • Te Ra, the day-time experience, includes exploring the 60-hectare Te Whakarewarewa geothermal valley. There are more than 500 bubbling, hissing and steaming geothermal features here; the highlight is Pohutu, a geyser that's active nearly all the time. Other attractions covered by a Te Ra day pass include a kiwi noctarium, a model pre-European Māori Village and the chance to see traditional Māori carving and weaving.
  • Te Po, the evening experience, has more of a Māori culture focus. It includes storytelling, live performances and a tasty hangi meal. A special highlight of the Te Po option is touring through Te Puia's geothermal valley, which is lit at night to reveal a totally different view of the geothermal attractions.

New Zealand Māori Arts and Crafts Institute

The day-time experience at Te Puia includes entry to the New Zealand Māori Arts & Crafts Institute (NZMACI). Dating back to 1926, this important educational centre is where young artisans learn traditional carving, weaving and tattoo (moko) skills. It's much more than a tourist attraction; it's a thriving school that's keeping Māori art traditions alive.

Discover free geothermal attractions at Kuirau Park

Many of Rotorua's geothermal features are free to see, like those at Kuirau Park. Located close to the city centre, this public park has free geothermal foot baths, boardwalks alongside steaming geothermal attractions, duck ponds and boiling mud. New features erupt from time to time, so the park's fences keep moving to keep visitors safe.

Another area for free geothermal sightseeing is the walking track at the edge of Sulphur Bay, next to Government Gardens. The fiercely active Rachel Spring near Rotorua Museum is also free to view.

Wander the geothermal wonders of Whakarewarewa Village

Te Puia and Whakarewarewa Village share access to the Whakarewarewa geothermal area, however admission through Whakarewarewa Village offers something different - the chance to see a living Māori village where people are actually living within the geothermal area. Every day, village residents use the geothermal heat to cook, bathe and heat their homes. As part of the experience, you can see how food is cooked in boiling pools and steam vents.

After walking around the village - which includes homes, churches, burial grounds and marae centre - you can explore the geothermal valley. Self-guided walks around the highly-active area lead to boiling craters, hissing fumaroles and beautifully-coloured formations. Pohutu, the southern hemisphere's most active geyser, is nearly always turning on a show.

Visit Ohinemutu, the original Māori settlement

Before Europeans settled in Rotorua, the lakeside village of Ohinemutu was the main centre for Māori life in Rotorua region. Today the area still has a sense of importance - and it's free to see.

Ohinemutu's most admired building is beautiful Saint Faith's church, where Māori carvings and woven panels mix with European religious traditions to create a one-of-a-kind building. The most-photographed feature is a decorative window etched with the image of Jesus Christ wearing a Māori cloak - he appears to be walking across the surface of Lake Rotorua.

Have an adventurous day at Waimangu Volcanic Valley

To really appreciate the extraordinary volcanic history of the Rotorua region, visit a valley that has many stories to tell. Located 25 minutes from the city, Waimangu Volcanic Valley is quite unlike the other geothermal attractions in the Rotorua area. It gets solid 4+ star ratings from visitors, especially those travelling with children.

Waimangu has a 'lost world' feeling and the walking is all downhill, so you can easily spend two hours on your feet without getting tired. Along the way you'll learn about the world's biggest-ever geyser, which played here in the early 1900s, as well as how the geothermal features have changed over time - especially following the Mt Tarawera eruption. A self-guided tour of the valley can be linked to a boat cruise cruise around Lake Rotomahana.

Experience a living culture at Tamaki Māori Village

The award-winning experience you'll discover at Tamaki Māori Village embraces pre-European cultural history, performance art, Te Reo (Māori language), traditional food and handcrafts. From the outset, back in 1989, the two brothers behind this venture - Doug and Mike Tamaki - decided to do things differently. They focused on authenticity and visitor experiences that avoided the 'packaged' feeling. The result is an iconic Rotorua destination that's regularly ranked in global Top 10s.

Tamaki Māori Village currently offers two experiences - a 3.5 hour evening event that includes a hangi meal; and an overnight stay, which covers the full evening experience plus a spa pool soak and accommodation in a traditional wharemoe.

Be guided by people from the Te Arawa iwi

During your time in Rotorua, you'll probably meet people from the Te Arawa tribal group - especially if you visit Te Puia, Whakarewarewa or one of the other Māori village experiences in the region.

Rotorua Museum, which has excellent exhibits related to the area's Māori history, is currently closed for earthquake strengthening work. However the museum still runs free guided tours of Government Gardens every day. These tours cover the buildings, battles and historic places in and around the gardens.

Enjoy an evening at Mitai Māori Village

An exciting end to an adventurous Rotorua day can be found on Fairy Springs road, just five minutes from the city centre. Mitai Māori Village is a place to learn about Māori culture in a hugely entertaining way. The evening experience includes haka performances, poi dances, weaponry demonstrations, seeing an authentic battle waka manned by Māori warriors and watching the preparation of a hangi feast (which you'll get to eat of course!).

Explore every angle of Mt Tarawera

South-east from Rotorua is Mount Tarawera, a volcano with an explosive past. While you're exploring the area, it's likely you'll encounter the mountain either as a backdrop to a gorgeous view or as part of a local story. A little over 1000 metres high, Mount Tarawera is a dome volcano - but there's not much left of its dome. Instead, it has a gaping 17-kilometre rift - a spectacular sight that reveals the full spectrum of volcanic colours.

Mt Tarawera eruption

For centuries the Tūhourangi people held Mount Tarawera in the highest regard. Their leaders were buried on its summit and the bones of countless ancestors were entombed around its base. But everything changed in the early hours of 10 June 1866. The ground shook and mountain began to erupt, sending columns of molten rock thousands of metres into the air.

Beneath the earth's surface, hot magma met the underground waterways of nearby Lake Rotomahana. This rapidly created a vast amount of superheated steam that simply blew the bottom out of the lake, sending scalding mud far and wide.

Today the giant mountain lies sleeping once more. Access to the mountain is restricted to guided tours.

Explore Mt Tarawera

While a scenic flight will give you the big picture of Mount Tarawera, Kaitiaki Adventures can actually put you on the mountain. Their Mt Tarawera Crater Walk half-day trip is comprehensive, right down to an optional scree-run down into the crater. They also do a fly/drive combo - an awesome all-day adventure.

The Buried Village of Te Wairoa

At the time of the Tarawera eruption, Te Wairoa was a thriving Māori village at the edge of Lake Tarawera. It's now known as 'the buried village' - New Zealand's version of Pompeii.

The comprehensive museum at the village delivers all the detail you need to understand the enormity of Mt Tarawera's 1866 eruption, but the big attraction here is the archaeological trail that leads you around the relics of Te Wairoa. Guided tours are available for groups or you can use a Mozivision multi media guide for no charge.

The Pink and White Terraces

Known as the '8th Wonder of the World', the pink and white terraces were New Zealand's first big tourist attraction. Sadly, they were destroyed by the Tarawera eruption, but recent discoveries have mapped the position of the terraces - directly under Lake Rotomahana.

While it's impossible to see the terraces, you can explore Waimangu Volcanic Valley, and then take a boat trip over Lake Rotomahana as an add-on. You can also visit Wairakei Terraces near Taupo, where silica terraces and a series of hot pools have been created by a man-made geyser that originates at the Wairakei geothermal power station and is fed by the Alum Lakes. What you'll see at Wairakei shows how silica terraces are formed and lets you imagine the beauty of the original pink and white terraces.

Keep exploring Rotorua