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Rotorua sits in the midst of New Zealand’s most active geothermal zone, a mountainous expanse of crater lakes, hot rivers, geysers, boiling mud pools and sulfurous steam vents on the North Island. By the 1880s, British settlers had established Rotorua as a destination spa, with rail lines arriving from Auckland soon after. The town of Rotorua retains its charming Victorian ambience, but don’t miss the many geothermal oddities just beyond town, including Pohutu Gesyer and Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland. After a day of touring, relax in one of Rotorua’s classic hot springs resorts, such as the venerable Polynesian Spa, with hydrotherapy treatments and 26 hot mineral springs pools.
The area is known as the District of Surprises, because of the unique experiences visitors get when they make their way inland to this north island tourist magnet.
They come for the same reasons Maori settled here centuries before - some of the best active geothermal activity on the planet.
The Maori had a practical attraction to the hot pools and steam - using the heat to bathe, cook and warm their homes.
Tourists come for the bubbling mud pools, erupting geysers, creaters, spectacular sulphur crystal formations and waterfalls. The city, which shares its name with beautiful Lake Rotorua, 300 metres above sea level, has become one of New Zealand's most tramped areas.
The deep Maori heritage has made Rotorua a centre for that culture - home among many things to the Maori Arts and Crafts Institute. Visitors who want a real taste of Maori-dom can steep themselves as much as they wish in the culture, or settle for a quick fix at the popular Hangi (feast) and concert staged at the Rotorua Hotel.
Or they can head out instead to the Waimangu Volcanic Valley and marvel at what's percolating just below the crust of this planet.