With glow worm caves, white sandy beaches, ancient native forests and some of New Zealand’s best biking within a short drive from Rotorua, you can set yourself up for a while and explore the area with a range of Rotorua day trips. Rotorua is the perfect spot to base yourself and explore the Central North Island.
Avoid the constant unpacking and packing by staying in one place. Return to a familiar bed each night after an epic day trip from Rotorua.
If a classic kiwi road trip is more your style, check out our North Island New Zealand Itinerary for tips to avoid the masses on the popular Auckland to Tongariro road trip route.
Rotorua Geothermal Adventure
Rotorua to Wai-o-Tapu (30 min)
Give yourself a full day to explore a diverse range of geothermal attractions just half an hour out from Rotorua. Start the day off early at Wai-o-Tapu, where you can see the iconic Champagne Pool and marvel at the bright green Devil’s Cauldron, before taking your seat in the natural ampitheatre to watch the Lady Knox Geyser erupt at 10.15am.
Check out the free mud pool on the way out and then head to Waimangu Volcanic Valley for a hike through the geothermal valley, created by the volcanic eruption of Mount Tarawera in 1886. You’ll see Frying Pan Lake, the bright blue Inferno Crater and heaps of other geothermal attractions as you meander down to Lake Rotomahana where you’ll board a 45 minute geothermal scenic boat cruise. Take the courtesy bus back up the valley and then end the day with a well-deserved hot soak at the Waikite Valley Thermal Pools.
Walk with giants in the Whirinaki Forest
Rotorua to Whirinaki Forest Park (90 min)
Whirinaki Forest is known for its ancient giants, huge podocarp trees home to a thriving native bird population. Conservation groups saved this special area from logging as recently as the 80’s, but the area remains relatively unexplored. Nature lovers will be amazed by the eco-systems here in one of the last remaining virgin native forest of its type, and love exploring the range of walking trails. For a longer escape, make it an overnight adventure with a stay in a Department of Conservation hut.
If you don’t have transport or want to learn about the forest from knowledgeable guide, Foris Eco Tours can get you there as a day trip from Rotorua for either a hiking or birding tour.
If exploring on two wheels is more your scene, there are some great backcountry trails waiting to be discovered. Choose from the epic Moerangi Trail if you’re feeling adventurous, or a shorter but still challenging 16km forest loop will give you a taste of riding through Jurassic Park! New Zealand Mountain Biking offer packages with guiding and transport, and even have a heli-bike option if you feel like spoiling yourself!
Relax on a white sandy beach and check out the wildlife
Rotorua to Whakatane (75mins), Rotorua to Tauranga (60 mins)
You can be sinking your toes into the white sand on a picture-perfect beach within an hour of leaving Rotorua. So pack your togs (swim suit) and head to the coast for a beach day trip from Rotorua.
Mount Maunganui is a popular beach spot and the climb up Maouo provides some stunning panoramic views. If you’d prefer to be out on the water, the Bay Explorer offer dolphin and wildlife cruises, or try your luck at deep sea fishing on a fishing charter boat from Tauranga.
Further along the coast, you’ll find Whakatane and picture-perfect Ohope beach. You can even walk between them on the Toi’s coastal walking track.
From Whakatane, you can take a boat trip out to Moutohora (Whale Island), an island sanctuary off the coast of Whakatane. The island is predator free, so native plants, birds and reptiles have found a safe home here, including the Tuatara. You can also swim at a secluded hot water beach and visit a fur seal colony.
Waitomo Glow Worm Caves
Rotorua to Waitomo Caves (120 mins)
Checking out the glow worms at Waitomo Caves is something that can’t be missed from your North Island itinerary. Waitomo is under 2 hours’ drive, so easily manageable as a day trip from Rotorua.
Be sure to check out which cave experience you’re most interested in first, and make a booking as spaces sell out quickly, especially in peak season. Options include walking tours, some with underground boat rides, or the more adventurous will love tubing through underground rivers, abseiling and ziplining through cave formations.
Hang out with the Hobbits in Waikato
Rotorua to Hobbiton (60 mins)
Hobbiton Movie set is just an hour drive from Rotorua, so it's perfect for a Rotorua day trip. While you can book the Hobbiton tour including transport from Rotorua, if you have your own vehicle, take the opportunity to discover some more of the South Waikato region.
You can also stop off on the way at the Blue Springs at Putaruru for a walk along Te Waihou Walkway. You’ll see some of New Zealand’s purest water as you walk along an easy trail beside the river.
Make a day of it by combining it with a walk at Wairere Falls, a short drive from Matamata. This waterfall drops over 150m from the Kaimai ranges, and there are viewing platforms midway up and at the top.
Discover the Mighty Waikato River
Rotorua to Taupo (60 minutes)
New Zealand’s longest river, the Waikato is one of the highlights of a day trip to Taupo from Rotorua. Stop off on the way down for a thrilling jetboat ride to the Squeeze, where you’ll discover a hot natural waterfall on the edge of the Waikato River.
Then carry on towards Huka Falls. You can see the waterfalls just a short stroll from the carpark, or to explore a little more, walk or bike either to Aratiatia Dam or Spa Park. If you’re feeling adventurous, check out Taupo Bungy on the riverside. You can choose to stay dry or opt for a dunk in the mighty Waikato.
Ride the Timber Trail
Rotorua to Ongarue (120 mins)
Rotorua is full of epic mountain bike trails, and within easy reach of some of the best backcountry riding in the North Island. The Timber Trail is an 85km ride through stunning native bush in the Pureora Forest, known for huge swing bridges over tree clad valleys.
Riding half the trail makes for an ideal day trip from Rotorua, Timber Trail Shuttles can connect the dots, transporting you and your bike to the start point, so you can ride in your own time back to your vehicle at the end. Or take on the full 2-day ride with an overnight stay at The Timber Trail Lodge or luxury forest glamping with Epic Camping.