Rotorua Walking Festival New Zealand

For any Aussies looking to dip their toes into international walking events, the Rotorua Walking Festival is the perfect place to start, (after the Aussie Peace Walk course!).

Feb 12, 2024

Just a short flight over to Auckland (or Wellington) from the East Coast of Australia, then hire a car to get to Rotorua. There are also flights from Auckland to Rotorua, if you prefer.

“The Rotorua Walking Festival was my first international walking experience in 2009 and it did not disappoint.”

I have returned on four subsequent occasions, with my latest visit in 2023. Each year there is usually a large group of Aussies who make the trip over for the event, some going almost every year. It’s also a great opportunity to meet up with other international walkers; with most travelling on to Australia for the Aussie Peace Walk the following weekend.

Saturday’s walk goes through the magnificent Whakarewarewa (redwood) Forest. The next day goes through the town and thermal active areas in the town and along the shoreline of Lake Rotorua. Two very different days of walking, highlighting the unique features of Rotorua. 

Another unique feature of Rotorua is the smell! The thermal active areas emit a distinct “rotten egg” sulphur smell that is quite pervasive and can be quite over-powering to the uninitiated. That said, I have found that I get accustomed to the smell pretty quickly, and it’s a small price to pay for experiencing this fascinating location.

Continuing my multi-day walking adventures around the world, this is the third event on the IML calendar of international events, and the closest event to home.

Tip 1: The weather in Rotorua can be quite changeable. Definitely bring your wet weather gear just in case.

Sturdy hiking boots/shoes with good grip soles are recommended for the first day walking in the forest, but lighter sandshoes are fine for Sunday.

Rotorua Walking Festival Start
Dipping their toes in a thermal pool

Background: Kathleen and Elisabeth in the Rotorua Walking Festival.

Inset: Jamie, Yvonne and Ruud (from the Netherlands) ‘dipping their toes’ in one of the free thermal pools at Rotorua. Photo: Tony Verwey.

Aussies at Rotorua Walking Festival 2018
Aussies in the 2018 Rotorua Walking Festival

While in Rotorua…

While in Rotorua, I highly recommend visiting Te Puia; home to the New Zealand Māori Arts and Crafts Institute and a Kiwi Conservation Centre. Their “Te Pō” experience starts at 5:30pm, so can be booked for Saturday night, and includes a delicious all-you-can-eat hāngī buffet dinner, followed by a traditional Māori haka and cultural entertainment.

The evening concludes with hot chocolate beneath the stars, surrounded by geothermal steam and sound. It’s not cheap, but it is definitely memorable – and you have to eat somewhere!

Taupō also offers plenty to see and do, with cruises on the lake (both gentle and jet boats); the Aratiatia Rapids (need to be seen to be believed); and Huka Falls. 

Hobbiton is a short detour on the way to/from Auckland. You don’t need to be a Lord of the Rings fan to appreciate this place – it was much better than I had expected. You will need to book well in advance, especially if you want to combine a meal with your visit. The tour alone is very good though.

This is just scratching the surface and I am sure you will want to return again and again. But remember… you need to be back in Canberra for the Aussie Peace Walk on the following weekend, so don’t stay too long.


Tip 2: At the conclusion of the walks, there is a presentation ceremony and it is definitely worthwhile staying because there are usually some pretty impressive lucky door prizes given out.

The only problem being that many are for attractions in the area, so if you are leaving immediately after the walk you may not have the opportunity to use them.

Don’t forget your IML and IVV passports.

Rotorua is on the north island of New Zealand and there are plenty of things to see and do while you are there. A few of the activities that I have done on various trips include:

The full day Tongariro Crossing (via Taupō, south of Rotorua) – a challenging one-way walk that will take 6-9 hours for the 20km hike. This is perhaps the best one-day walk/hike I have ever completed, but it was a tough one. The scenery is magnificent and so diverse. You definitely need to be prepared with the right gear and have a prior booking, both for a pass and shuttle. 

Photo: On the Tongariro Crossing.


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