Rotorua Museum

NOTE: As of November 2016 the Rotorua Museum has closed for earthquake strengthening.

Rotorua Museum is a local history museum and art gallery located in Government Gardens in Rotorua.

Rotorua Museum

Rotorua Museum

The museum is housed in the historic Bath House building. The Bath House opened it 1908 offering therapeutic geothermal spa treatments. It closed in 1966 and the museum opened in the south wing in 1969. Later in 1977 the art gallery opened in the north wing.

The museum is open from 9am daily (except Christmas Day). March to November the museum closes at 5pm and December to February it closes at 6pm. Entry is $20 for adults, $18 for seniors and $8 for children (5-15 years). Admission is free to Rotorua residents with relevant ID.

Museum staff also offer one hour guided tours, which is included in the admission price.

A good place to start is the cinema. Rotorua Stories, is a short film presented by actor and former Rotorua resident Temuera Morrison, which explores Rotorua’s volcanic landscape, the Pink and White Terraces, the Mount Tarawera eruption and history of the Bath House. The film runs every 20 minutes and although the special effects are now dated it is still very informative and entertaining.

Taking the Cure: The story behind the Bath House building is a permanent exhibition, which outlines the history and purpose of the Bath House. Visitors can view the remains of the baths, pools, and cooling rooms.


Taking the Cure: The story behind the Bath House building

The mud bath basement is located under the building and is accessed through a basement walkway. Hard hats are provided as the ceilings are low. There are four remaining mud baths pretty much as they were when the building first opened.

In the attic visitors can see the lighting and ventilation operations used in the Bath House. From the attic there are stairs to a rooftop platform offering views of Government Gardens, Lake Rotorua and Sulphur Bay. It was closed when I visited due to weather conditions.

Ngā Pūmanawa o Te Arawa – The Beating Hearts of Te Arawa is the other main permanent exhibition, which explores the Te Arawa people’s journey from Hawaiki to Aotearoa. There is also exhibits on the Pink and White Terraces and the 1886 eruption of Mount Tarawera and the aftermath. No photography is permitted in this gallery.

There is also a short documentary B Company Remembers with WWII veterans from the B Company 28 Māori Battalion and their families. It plays every half from 9.30am.

On the ground floor on the north wing is the Rotorua Trust Galleries, which features changing exhibitions. When I visited there was an exhibition Corrugations: The Art of Jeff Thomson, a sculptor best known for his work with corrugated iron. Thomson created the famous corrugated iron gumboot sculpture in Taihape.

There was also an exhibition Whiria: Weaving Global Connections, which explores indigenous weaving in New Zealand and internationally.

Garden (2010-2013). Corrugations: The Art of Jeff Thomson

Garden (2010-2013). Corrugations: The Art of Jeff Thomson


Whiria: Weaving Global Connections

Upstairs on the level 1 there are two more art galleries, the Southern Trust Gallery and Chamber of Commerce Gallery. Both these galleries have changing exhibitions.

Also on the upstairs level is an exhibition on Tudor Towers, detailing the space’s transition from a restaurant to a cabaret venue and to a night club from 1965 to 1990.

Essential Details:

Rotorua Museum

Oruawhata Drive, Government Gardens, Rotorua

Rotorua Lakefront Walkway

The Rotorua Lakefront Walkway is part of the larger Rotorua Walkway.

Rotorua Lakefront Walkway

Rotorua Lakefront Walkway

The entire Rotorua Walkway spans 26 km and is split up into eight sections. This blog post will address two sections of the walk – Rotorua Lakefront and Motutara. Click here for a brochure on the entire walkway.

One of the first sites on the lakefront located opposite the Rotorua Central Scout Group hall is Te Arawa Waka Taua, a war party vessel built by hand in 1989 by local carver Lyonel Grant. The Waka, which is constructed from totara wood, is approximately 20 metres in length and weighs approximately 2.5 tons.

Te Arawa Waka Taua

Te Arawa Waka Taua

A dirt track and boardwalk travel around the lakefront to Motutara Point offering views of Mokoia Island. The island, which is administrated by four Te Arawa sub-tribes, was originally set aside as a wildlife sanctuary in 1921. In 1953 the island become a wildlife refuge. Three endangered native birds, the North Island Robin, North Island Saddlebacks, and stitchbirds have been introduced since 1991. Wekas were first introduced in 1958 and only recently have become common on the island.

The track is lined with kanuka and manuka bushes. It can be difficult to tell the two tea trees apart. But there are some key differences. Kanuka trees traditionally grow taller than manuka and the kanuka tree’s leaves are softer to touch. Also the flowers of the kanuka tree grow in clusters, whereas the flower of the manuka grows singly.

Looking out to Mokoia Island on a grey winter morning

Looking out to Mokoia Island on a grey winter morning

Rotorua Lakefront Walkway

Rotorua Lakefront Walkway

Motutara Point is on the eastern end of the Rotoroa Lakefront Walkway. It takes approximately 15 minutes to walk from the lakefront to Motutara Point.

As I continued around past Motutara Point the water became quite milky in colour. This is the start of Sulphur Bay, which is the southern most bay on Lake Rotorua and stretches from Motutara Point to Ngapuna.

Off the Motutara Peninsula is Timanga and Moturere Islands. Timanga Island was originally much larger and offered living space for a number of families. This small inlet is now home to roosting and nesting birds. Moturere Island was once host to a geothermal bath that was used for treating many illnesses. Lake levels rose over the years and today only a small part of Moturere remains above water.

Sulphur Bay

Sulphur Bay

From Motutara Point to the Polynesian Spa it is approximately 25 minutes walk. I exited the track and walked to Government Gardens and Rotorua Museum.

The Rotorua Walkway can be entered and exited at any point along the track and it is an excellent way to explore some of Rotorua’s geothermal areas, native wildlife, and historic sites.

Kuirau Park

Kuirau Park is a geothermal park located in the heart of Rotorua.

You can see bubbling mud, steam oozing from the ground, and smell that famous Rotorua sulphur all for free as you explore the dirt walking tracks and boardwalks.




As geothermal nature is unpredictable please use common sense and stay to the tracks.

There are also two footpools where visitors can soak there feet. There is also a children’s paddling pool close by. Although it was empty when I visited probably due to it being winter.

Every Saturday morning from 6am to 1pm is the Rotary Market. The various stalls sell a variety of fresh fruit, vegetables, meats, bakery items, hot food, art, crafts, clothing and much more.

It is not all boiling mud and sulphur there is also a scented garden, children’s playground, picnic tables and plenty of green space.



Kuirau Park is located on the corner of Ranolf Street and Lake Road. There is plenty of parking or is a 10-15 walk from the city centre.

Rotorua Duck Tours

There are 18 lakes within the Rotorua region hence it is not surprising that Rotorua is often referred to as the Lakes District.

Rotorua Duck Tours is one company offering the opportunity to explore a few of these lakes. Where they differ from other tour companies is that it is aboard WWII six-wheel-drive amphibious landing craft.

The vehicle’s technical title is DUKW. Each letter represents a feature of the vehicle. The letter D indicates the vehicle was made in 1942 (the fourth year of the war), U means it is an utility (amphibian) vehicle, K means all wheel drive and W means dual rear axles.

US servicemen nicknamed the vehicles ‘Ducks’. Over 21,000 Ducks were manufactured between 1943 and 1945.


Rotorua Duck Tours

Rotorua Duck Tours offer two tours – the Rotorua City & Lakes Tour (90 minutes) and Tarawera & Lakes Tour (120 minutes). I was booked on the Tarawera & Lakes Tour but for some reason that was not specified this tour was cancelled and replaced by the City & Lakes Tour.

Once onboard I was issued a duck whistle by Grant, our driver / conducktor. These will make the tour fun for the younger tour participants and the young-at-heart.


Duck whistle

The Duck drove through Rotorua city centre towards Rotorua lakefront. Grant provided informative commentary on the region and history of the Duck vehicle. The Duck does not enter Lake Rotorua due to the lake weed.

Our first lake to enter was Lake Tikitapu (the Blue Lake). Lake Tikitapu is the smallest of four lakes that lies between Lake Rotorua and Lake Tarawera. Its blue colour is due the rhyolite and pumice on the lake bed reflecting in the sunlight. The Blue Lake Track is a popular 5.5km loop track, which takes approximately 1.5 – 2 hours. There is also the Tikitapu Nature Walk, which is a 30 minute bush walk.



Lake Tikitapu

The second lake was Lake Okareka, which is located approximately 12 km southeast of Rotorua city centre. Okareka mean ‘lake of the sweet food’. The banks of Lake Okareka are surrounded by some of Rotorua’s more expensive real estate and accommodation, including Lake Okareka Lodge, which is a five-star luxury lake house, which has attracted international celebrities.



Lake Okareka

Essential Details:

Rotorua Duck Tours

1241 Fenton Street, Rotorua

Phone 07 345 6522

Cruise Lake Rotorua

Lake Rotorua is the second largest lake in the North Island by surface area (79.8 km). Although it is quite a shallow lake with an average depth of 11 metres. Its deepest point is 45 metres.

Near the centre of the lake is Mokoia Island, which is widely recognised due to being the setting for the Māori legend of Hinemoa and Tutanekai. Legend has it that forbidden by her father from seeing her lover Tutanekai, Hinemoa swam across the lake to Mokoia Island guided by Tutanekai’s flute. Unlike Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet Hinemoa and Tutanekai’s love story had a happy ending. This story is one that will be heard many times while exploring the Rotorua region.

The Lakeland Queen is one way to see Lake Rotorua. They offer one hour cruises that take in the sights of Sulphur Bay, Kawaha Point and Mokoia Island with live commentary provided by the captain.



I took their one hour breakfast cruise, which departs at 7am and 8am. Onboard there was also an elderly couple from Tauranga for the long weekend and tour bus groups from China, Japan and Taiwan.

It was a grey and wet Queen’s Birthday morning, which did not provide the best photo opportunities. But the grey skies and old style boat did offer a charm to the cold winter’s morning.


At the back of the boat there were two buffet tables. On offer were a wide range of cereals, breads, fruit and yoghurt as well as scrambled eggs, hash browns, sausages, baked beans, and noodles. Tea, coffee, milk and orange juice were available at the front of the boat.

As well as the breakfast cruise Lakeland Queen offers a coffee cruise, one and two hour lunch cruises, and a twilight dinner cruise during the summer. Minimum numbers apply for lunch and dinner cruises. Bookings are essential for cruises I would recommend calling the office rather than booking online. They have a Freephone – 0800 572 784.


The Lakeland Queen, which is modelled after Mississippi style river boats, was built in Rotorua in 1986 and refurbished in 2006. It is stern-wheel paddle driven and has been specially designed for Lake Rotorua’s shallower waters.

The boat has two separate decks, outdoor viewing platforms and two licensed bars. It can host up to 240 seated dining guests or 300 guests cocktail style.

It departs from Lake Rotorua waterfront off Memorial Drive.


Essential Details:

Lakeland Queen

Memorial Drive, Lakefront, Rotorua

Ph: + 64 7 348 0265

Freephone: 0800 572 784