Rotorua is at the North-East corner of a triangular area of tourist attractions in the middle of the North Island of New Zealand. The other corners of the triangle are at Waitomo, 100 kilometres directly West of Rotorua as the crow flies, and at Taupo, 100 kilometres South-West of Rotorua. Waitomo is famous for its glow-worm caves, with tens of thousands of glowing larvae shining like galaxies on the roofs of flooded caves that tourists traverse by boat. On the same little highway as the Waitomo Caves there's a large but little-known natural bridge, which most New Zealanders aren't even aware of. The nearby town of Otorohanga has a kiwi house which is probably the only chance you'll get to see New Zealand's noctural national symbol (if you miss this one, there is another kiwi house at Auckland zoo). The area around Lake Taupo is excellent for trout fishing, and there are also attractions like the snow-clad volcanoes Tongariro and Ngaruahoe just to the South, both with skifields in Winter, and the spectacular Huka Falls just to the North. Also to the North of Taupo is the Wairakei geothermal field, where cunning New Zealanders have tapped the volcanic heat and steam of this area to produce 5% of the country's electricity needs.
Rotorua's main claim to fame is its geothermal attractions, similar to Yellowstone Park in the United States. Sadly, the most magnificent of all of Rotorua's natural wonders, the Pink and White Terraces, were destroyed in 1886 when Mt Tarawera covered them with ash. However, there are still plenty of other sights to make a trip here well worthwhile. You soon know when you're getting close to Rotorua, because of the strong sulphur smell emanating from the many geothermal features in the area. After about a day, thankfully, you don't notice the smell any more. The inhabitants of this small city live with both the up side and the down side of all of this activity. In the past many people sank bore holes to tap steam for heating, but it seems that nowadays the bore holes are being made naturally, with several cases of mud pools and geysers spontaneously forming in parks and residential areas.
The geothermal wonders of Rotorua are scattered in pockets over quite a large area, but the place most people know best is right within the city limits at Whakarewarewa. As well as the usual geysers and lakes of boiling water, you can also see boiling mud pools and I'll teach you the secret techniques required to take photos of mud bubbles at the very moment of bursting. Whakarewarewa is owned by the native people of New Zealand, the Maori, and it's not just a good place to see geysers and mudpools, it's also a good place to see traditional Maori culture. Whakarewarewa is very good, but I really regret not visiting the other geothermal fields in the area as well - maybe next time!
There are other things to see here for those who've tired of looking at steam-driven delights. For starters, you can soak in a steam-driven delight, at the Polynesian Spa hot pools, with names like the Radium pool, named in an innocent age before radiation sickness was a concern! There are also attractive lakes for sightseeing or fishing, starting with Lake Rotorua right next to the city, and continuing on in two chains - Lakes Rotoiti, Rotoehu and Rotoma to the East, and Lakes Okatana, Tarawera, Rotomahana and Rerewhakaaitu to the South-East. Foreign visitors will probably find it faster to visit the lakes than to pronounce them! A very attractive area for the whole family is called Fairy Springs, where native birds can be easily seen and ducks swim over crystal clear waters above schools of rainbow trout. Finally, there is a rare example of New Zealand pakeha ("European") culture at the Agrodome. Here you can see the different varieties of sheep which at one time outnumbered the human population by almost 20 to 1! Noted for their stupidity, someone has actually managed to train these critters to keep still while sheep dogs daily run along their backs for the amusement of tourists.