Lake Rotorua Day Trip

Visitors to Rotorua city have so many fantastic things to do at their fingertips. But what about Rotorua Lake activities? The largest of a dozen Rotorua lakes with volcanic origins, this beautiful, tranquil lake has something for everyone, from Zoom Ziplines at Skyline Rotorua to stunning scenic cruises.

Here is a brief history and a list of must-see attractions for your Lake Rotorua day trip:

History of Lake Rotorua

The Rotorua township and Lake Rotorua as seen from a towering mountain on the outskirts of the city.
Image credit: @paulmichael

Geologically separate from nearby lakes, Lake Rotorua formed in a circular caldera when a large volcano collapsed after its last major eruption around 200,000 years ago.

The upper sides of the caldera now form gentle slopes around the lake, which is about 12 km from north to south and 10 km from west to east. The lake has an average depth of 10m and a maximum depth of 45 metres. It has a surface area of 79.8 km² and is the largest lake in Rotorua Lakes District.

Geothermal inputs flow into the lake via streams, and steaming geothermal springs pepper the southern shore. Due to the high sulphur content and volcanic minerals, the lake’s water is an eye-catching dark green-yellow colour.

The Love Story of Hinemoa and Tūtānekai

A stunning nightscape appears above Mokoia Island in lake Rotorua, New Zealand.
Image credit: @paulmichael

Sitting in the centre of the lake is Mokoia Island, once formed by lava and now a wildlife sanctuary. The island was the setting for a famous love story - the tale of Hinemoa and Tūtānekai.

Living on the eastern shores of Lake Rotorua was a beautiful maiden, Hinemoa, who was regarded as sacred, meaning her tribe would choose her husband. Tūtānekai was a young man living with his family on Mokoia Island. One day, Tūtānekai and Hinemoa spotted each other, which was love at first sight. But unfortunately, Hinemoa’s tribe would not allow them to wed.

Heartbroken, Tūtānekai played mournfully on his flute as he sat on the island shore. Finally, no longer able to stand being apart, Hinemoa swam over to the island. When she reached it, she headed for Wai-Kimihia hot pool to warm up.

While bathing, Tūtānekai's worker came to fetch water. Hinemoa asked, “For whom is the water?” The worker answered, “For Tūtānekai”. Hinemoa snatched his calabash and smashed it. The worker returned to Tūtānekai to relay what had happened. He went to investigate, and he spotted his love. At last, the two lovers were reunited, and finally, Hinemoa's tribe allowed them to wed.

Rotorua Te Arawa Lakes Programme

An aerial photo of a steaming geothermal pool in Rotorua, New Zealand.
Image credit: @roadynz

To the Te Arawa people, the Rotorua Lakes are a taonga (treasure). To preserve and protect the Rotorua Lakes for present and future generations, the Bay of Plenty Regional Council has partnered with the Rotorua Lakes Council and Te Arawa Lakes Trust to roll out the Rotorua Te Arawa Lakes Programme, servicing twelve lakes in the Rotorua district. They’re working to remove 320 tonnes of nitrogen from Lake Rotorua by 2032 and restore the lake’s water quality.

Lake Rotorua Activities and Attractions

Rotorua Lakefront

The Rotorua lakefront as seen from a drone point of view.
Image credit: @paulmichael

The Rotorua Lakefront is a central hub for enjoying lake-based activities. The recently built boardwalk is perfect for exploring the waterfront by foot or bike.

Ōhinemutu Māori Village

The Ōhinemutu Māori Village as seen from across a steaming geothermal pool in Rotorua.
Image credit: @paulmichael

Ōhinemutu is a Māori settlement chosen for its abundant geothermal activity. Walk around this living village to view steaming vents and bubbling hot pools in a tranquil environment.

Trout Fishing

A man fly fishes on the edge of Lake Rotorua in New Zealand.
Image credit: @_joshuayates

Lake Rotorua is the most productive trout fishery in New Zealand. As the lake enjoys one of the highest catch rates in the district, it is wildly popular for brown and rainbow trout fishing.

Lake Rotorua Cruises

The Lakeland Queen parked at a wharf with a stunningly pink sunset on Lake Rotorua appearing behind.
Image credit: @shelleyedhouse

Take a gentle paddle across Lake Rotorua on a heritage-style vessel, the Lakeland Queen. Enjoy a meal aboard as you pass incredible geothermal landscapes and natural wonders.

Sulphur Bay Wildlife Refuge

Geothermal steam rises from a hot pool in the Waimangu Valley in Rotorua.
Image credit: @juanvillanueva8

Sulphur Bay Wildlife Refuge is home to an array of bird species thriving in the active geothermal environment. The water is a milky colour due to the sulphur content.

Jet Boating to Mokoia Island

A jet boat full of tourists pauses on the side of Lake Rotorua to show passengers a geothermal feature.
Image credit: @joelmcdowell

Propel across Lake Rotorua on a powerful jet boat with 360° spins to Mokoia Island. Reach the island’s shores to explore and spot majestic water birds, then visit the Polynesian Spa to relax and rejuvenate in hot mud pools.

Blue Lake Rotorua Walk

An aerial photo showcasing both lakes Tikitapu and Lake Rotokākahi (AKA Blue Lake and Green Lake).
Image credit: @gettinglostisnotawasteoftime

Located nearby is Blue Lake, or Lake Tikitapu, featuring clear blue waters where people enjoy watersports, swimming, and boating. Take an easy 1.5-hour walk around the lake, admiring stunning beaches, native bush, lush farmland, and towering Californian Redwoods.


Two double kayaks explore lake Rotorua in the middle of New Zealand's North Island.
Image credit: @paddleboardrotorua

Lake Rotorua is popular with swimmers and novice kayakers. Water flows from Lake Rotoiti and Lake Rotorua into the Kaituna River and the Pacific Ocean. The rapid water descent from over 900 feet above sea level makes the area a hotspot for white-water rafting and extreme kayaking.


A Lady Smiles As She Prepares To Go Ziplining
Image credit: @skylinerotorua

Head to the peak of Mount Ngongotahā and race your friends and family at speeds of up to 60km/h. Zip down 400-metre dual lines amongst giant exotic conifers with Zoom Ziplines at Skyline Rotorua.

Helicopter and Floatplane Tours

An aerial perspective of the idyllic Crater Lake located on Rainbow Mountain in Rotorua.
Image credit: @tom.jarwis

Experience the thrill of a floatplane or helicopter taking off to the peak of an active volcano, Mount Tarawera. From there, you’ll have spectacular aerial views of the vibrant red volcanic landscape and vibrant blue lakes that speckle the Waimangu Volcanic Valley below.

Explore More Incredible Things to See and Do around Rotorua

The fun doesn’t stop there! Discover Rotorua’s other nearby lakes, including Lake Tarawera and Lake Rotoiti (known as the ‘Small Lake’, but actually a relatively large lake), together with Lake Rotorua making up the region’s three largest lakes.

Visit Skyline Rotorua for exciting attractions and a world-class restaurant. Check out our guides for some of the best day tours and epic bike trails. Visit our blog page for more sightseeing tours, attractions, and activities in New Zealand. We can’t wait to welcome you!

Back to top