Rotorua New Zealand – Geological & Cultural Diversity

Why visit Rotorua?

Tamaki Maori Village warriors guarding entranceDoes local culture and history interest you? How about geology? Or Hobbit and Lord of the Rings? All this and more awaits you in the Rotorua area.

It is rich in Maori Culture, and located near a geothermal wonderland. It is one of New Zealand’s most popular destinations; in high season it’s important to be flexible in accommodation preferences. This area is close to many major attractions, like the Hobbiton Movie Set, Lake Taupo, and Waitomo’s glow worm caves. The Maori Culture, thermals, and Hobbiton attracted us the most.

Maori Culture

There are tribal experiences, a cultural center, and demonstration tribal villages available to visit. We chose Tamaki Maori Village which included the hangi (the evening meal). Tom Parsons, our Maori guide from Taranaki, works with Maoris serving tourists, and Tamaki Maori Village was his recommendation. However, there are other Maori experiences, and the prices and highlights vary.

The 4-hour experiential visit takes guests through a welcome ceremony, into a mock village to participate in Maori daily life activities, like warrior training, then to a dance performance, and ending with hangi dining.

At Tamaki Maori Village, no outsiders may enter without participating in the formal welcome ceremony. Warriors come out with their weapons drawn, an intimidating approach to test visitors’ intent. They put on an menacing performance with ferocious eyes, tongues out, and shaking spears to exhibit a fierce demeanor. Once they see that visitors are friendly, a leaf for peace is offered. When the leaf is accepted it means the visitors come in peace and friendship. Once the visit is ascertained to be peaceful, the Tribe Leader invites the Group Leader and his party into their village.

In the village groups are escorted to different huts and places throughout the village, each demonstrating a different aspect of tribal life. An interactive activity that had us all laughing and entertained was the warrior training where all the men in our group were taught the warrior’s ancestral Haka war dance, traditionally used to intimidate an opponent before battle.

Tamaki Maori Village hangi dinnerThe hangi (meal) is buried and cooked underground in hot coals for many hours. Visitors watch it being unearthed and learn about how it is prepared and cooked. Just before dinner is a typical tribal dancing entertainment. Know that it is definitely amateurs dancing, just the local people as they might have been historically.

After dinner, the entertainment is more contemporary music by the service staff before we were sent off for our return trip to town – satiated and entertained.

The dinner was delicious and plentiful. Learning about historical daily life of Maoris was interesting and the interactivity made it fun. I would recommend the Tamaki Maori Village experience. Know that it is an expensive activity that includes a full dinner with drinks being extra. Although we learned quite a bit on our other museum and cultural center visits, this was our only in-depth experience of Maori daily life, so we were happy we did it.

To enjoy this experience more fully, visit the museums to learn about the Maori history before going to a village experience. It will provide context and background that is not part of the village experience.

While we were given a small discount for the Tamaki Maori Village encounter, this is a totally independent and honest review based on our experience.

Thermal Activities

Geothermal activity in this area is quite evident with steam seething from street cracks, backyards, hot pools, bursts from area geysers, and cauldron-like mud pools. Various crystalized mineral formations, and colorful hues blend with the lush native greens, blue lakes, and earth tones of rust red to yellow ochre. The landscape has been  sculpted by the volcanic activity over thousands of years transforming this area into an impressive natural art form.

There are many thermal wonders in the Rotorua area, and we chose to visit two:

  • Hell’s Gate, the area’s most fierce geothermal region has the hottest waterfall in the Southern Hemisphere. Truthfully, it was my choice because of the various hot and mud pools available in which visitors can soak. After our walk through the geothermal park to view all of the activity, I chose to relax and enjoy the different pools – my favorite part. Only a few geothermal places are safe enough to allow visitors into certain pools.
  • Waiotapu is New Zealand’s most colorful and diverse set of geothermal vents and pools, and not open for bathing. It is experienced by a walk through New Zealand’s most extensive geothermal systems in the natural landscape, wooded areas, lake overlooks, and via a walkway over and around the pools and vents. Waiotapu has the most colorful volcanic features, and one of its pools is called ‘Artist’s Palette.’

Lady Knox Geyser can be seen spewing here.  Boiling mud pools are entertaining as well.  I highly recommend visiting both of these natural phenomena. Although, there are other geothermal sites to check out in the area too. 


If you are a Hobbit fan, don’t miss the movie set, Hobbiton, located in lush pastures on a 1,250 acre private sheep farm in Matamata, about one hour from Rotorua. Sir Peter Jackson’s team selected this location for its remarkable similarity to Tolkien’s description of the Shire. This peaceful farm was transformed into the Shire for movie-making.

We found it interesting to see the movie set in real life. From the tiny underground Hobbit houses with brightly colored round doorways and smoking chimneys in the hillside, to the laundry on the line, cheese shop, and wood shop, it felt like the daily Hobbit life was happening in real time (except we didn’t see any Hobbits).

They offer several different tours. Don’t miss it, if you like to see movie sets or if the Hobbit is a fond memory.


We chose activities that weren’t like anything we had done so far in New Zealand, and thoroughly enjoyed them all. If you just use our itinerary, visiting Hell’s Gate, Waiotapu, Hobbiton, and Tamaki Maori Village, you can’t go wrong. However, there are so many options that it would be easy to spend weeks visiting all the different sites.  Even though it is the busiest tourist area, it definitely deserves a visit if you are touring New Zealand.

For information on other places to visit in New Zealand:

Stay tuned for our next article on Poor Knights – touted by Jacques Cousteau as one of the top dive sites in the world.


33 thoughts on “Rotorua New Zealand – Geological & Cultural Diversity

    • Yes – it was so much fun to explore Hobbiton, and have a tour guide provide background and history. The thermals were amazing. While I loved Waiotapu, I am happy we did Hell’s Gate for bathing in the hot springs and mud pools.

  1. Gorgeous! I’m curious what types of dishes they served at the hangi? It’s so wonderful to experience the cuisine of other cultures!

    • Since they cooked it on coals underground, it was basically smoked or barbecued meats – chicken, pork, red meat. There were plenty of vegetables and salads. Some of the veggies were cooked in the pits also. I am a very picky eater and do not eat red meat; there was plenty for me to choose from.

    • It was an amazing 2 months. Please check out some of our other posts on New Zealand (12 total – so far), if you liked this one. One more on a lesser known area of New Zealand – Poor Knights – will be published in 2 weeks.

  2. I would love to spend 2 months in New Zealand touring around. We just got a dog, so it will be awhile before we can be gone that long. Thanks for sharing the activities you liked, as I would like them too! Culture and natural wonders are always high on my list, and who doesn’t want to go to Hobbiton?!

  3. Very interesting and entertaining tours. The Maori Village experience looked like it was a lot of fun, especially learning their war dance. Pacific Islanders know how to welcome and entertain their guests. I still have warm memories about our visit to a family dinner luau in Kauai. Your post made me smile. Thank you for sharing.

  4. Wendy, your post brought back so many sweet memories of a memorable trip to NZ. We did an adventure activity also in Rotorua – abseiling in a 100 m deep cave. This and the geothermal park were out of the world experiences for me.

  5. It was lovely reading your blog 🙂

    I have two questions:

    1) Which is the least touristy and the least cold month to visit NZ ?
    2) Does Hobbiton tour involve a lot of trekking ?

    • Answers
      1) The warmest months are January, February. I am not sure which is least touristy, but January and February are filled with summer vacationers from down under. Their winter months draw skiers.
      2) There is walking on the Hobbiton tour, but I would not call it trekking; it is not strenuous at all. You walk during the whole tour until arriving at Dragon Inn. I think they may have wheelchair access; if you need that, I would check with them directly. The link is in the blog post.

  6. I will always remember my trip to Rotorua, it has been many years ago now but I will never forget the smell…lol…and the feast and dancing were the highlight of my trip to NZ. Thanks for bringing back some great memories.

  7. We live in Auckland and always enjoy visiting Rotorua. Unfortunately, we haven’t recently because my youngest has an allergy to the sulphur in the region. We’ve never been to Hobbiton because of the price but I’m sure my girls would love to go on their own one day.

  8. The welcome ceremony sounds a bit scary. However, I always find it interesting to learn about such ancient traditions and customs. I’m glad that you had a great experience and the whole area seems to be beautiful, especially Hobbington, of course.

  9. New Zealand has so much to offer and while cruising around both islands I visited Rotorua a geothermal ponds, it was all such a fascinating touristy trip. I’ve been back a couple of times and find New Zealand to be amazing, I’ve even entertained the idea of doing a work stint there – maybe one day huh.

  10. The hottest waterfall in the world sounds like reason enough to go there! The Maori cultural experience sound fascinating as well. I had no idea the food was prepared underground.

  11. Those thermal pools are wild! I can’t get over the colors of them. They sound both relaxing and a bit intimidating at the same time (def wouldn’t want to get in the wrong one!)

  12. All of these spots looks really fun! The welcome ceremony at Tamaki Maori Village sounds like quite an introduction to the village! And it would be neat to see how the food is prepared, as well. I always love geothermal landscapes, too–we really need to plan a trip to New Zealand soon!!

  13. We were in Auckland this August but only for a few days. So we didn’t have the time to go to Hell’s Gate, Waiotapu, Hobbiton, and Tamaki Maori Village, just a few hours away. Very regrettable decision!

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