Government Gardens Rotorua

Government Gardens is a public park located in central Rotorua.

Government Gardens

Government Gardens

In 1880 Ngāti Whakaue gifted this land to the Crown for the ‘benefit of all people of the world’. Originally the land was a swampy scrub-covered geothermal wilderness. The scrub was cleared and formal gardens were planted, including large imported trees, such as Japanese firs and California weeping redwoods.

Government Gardens is registered by the New Zealand Historic Places Trust as a nationally significant historic area. There is a heritage trail with 28 points of interest with information boards. Visitors can follow the numbered boards to explore the history of the park.

Government Gardens Heritage Trail Map

Government Gardens Heritage Trail Map

The main entrance to Government Gardens (off Hinemaru Street) is framed by the Prince’s Arch Gates. The wooden arch gates were first erected at the intersection of Fenton and Hinemoa Streets in 1901 for the Royal Visit by the Duke and Duchess of Cornwell.

After the royal visit the gates were moved to be the entrance to Government Gardens.

Prince's Arch Gates

Prince’s Arch Gates

Also near the entrance is the Te Rūnanga Tearooms and Band Rotunda. Te Rūnanga was built in 1903 as a tea pavilion where Māori girls in traditional dress would serve guests while they relaxed. The tearooms closed in 1933 following the opening of the Blue Baths tearooms. The building was then used as bowling pavilion until 1991. The tearooms were restored and reopened in 1993, exactly 90 years after its original opening.

The Band Rotunda was built in 1900. During the tourist season brass bands would entertain from the rotunda in the evenings. The rotunda was also used to deliver important speeches. New Zealand’s longest serving Prime Minister Richard Seddon (in office 1893 – 1906) once spoke there for an hour and a half.

Te Rūnanga Tearooms

Te Rūnanga Tearooms

Band Rotunda

Band Rotunda

Between the entrance and the backdrop of the Bath House building, which now houses the Rotorua Museum, is an ornamental pond and landscaped garden. Within in the garden is the Wylie Memorial. This statue unveiled in 1904 commemorates Fred Wylie, who was the son of one the first store keepers in Rotorua and a young soldier who fought in the Boer War. Wylie was killed in action Klipfontein in 26th May 1901.

There are also beautifully maintained lawns for bowls, croquet, and petanque.

Ornamental pond and garden

Ornamental pond and garden

As well as the impressive Bath House building there is also the Blue Baths. This Spanish Mission style building was completed in 1933. The Blue Baths were the first public pools to allow male and female patrons in the same pool. The popular baths closed in 1982 but after a restoration project opened again in 1999. It now hosts a heated pool, museum, and tearooms. The Blue Baths are open daily 10am to 6pm.

Another piece of history is the Rachel Pool or Whangapīpiro. The pool, which has a temperature of 212 degree Fahrenheit, was renamed the Rachel Pool after Madam Rachel, an English cosmetician, who claimed youthful complexions as a result of the silica water softening the skin. The water from this pool was originally piped into the Pavilion Bath, and later to the Bath House. Today the water is piped to the nearby Polynesian Spa. The bathing pools at Polynesian Spa are open 10am to 11pm daily.

Blue Baths

Blue Baths

Rachel Pool

Whangapīpiro – also known as the Rachel Pool

As well as Wylie Memorial there is also a war memorial located on the corner of Queens and Oruawhata Drives. The Arawa Soldiers’ Memorial was erected to remember the sons of the Te Arawa people who died during World War I. The memorial was unveiled in 1927 by the Duke of York (later King George VI).

A Krupps field gun, which was cast in 1898 and used during World War I, sits next to the memorial. It is believed this field gun was captured by the Pioneer Battalion of Māori soliders in France. After being in storage for many years at Te Amorangi Museum it was restored in 1998.

Behind the war memorial there is also a children’s playground and a rose garden.

Te Arawa Soliders' Memorial and Krupp gun

The Arawa Soliders’ Memorial and Krupp gun

Waitūkei Scultpure by Lyonel Grant (2001)

Waitūkei Scultpure by Lyonel Grant (2001)

Government Gardens

Government Gardens


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