Rotorua is an awesome town to spend a few days, and a good base to explore a bit further afield.
For anyone visiting here, this would be my plan (in order of priority Squadrun style). Pick and choose the days that appeal to you!
Priority 1. Morning at Te Puia (Maori cultural show, geysers, carving/weaving schools), afternoon at Skyline Skyrides (gondala/luge/MTBing), dinner up the Gondolas or on Eat Street (Brew Bar is a favourite).
Priority 2. Morning at Waiotapu (catch the Lady Knox geyser being set off, it’s very entertaining, and amazing coloured geothermal pools to walk around), afternoon at Waikite Hot Pools (great for kids).
Priority 3. Morning exploring Whakawerawera forest, either a walk or MTB. You can hire MTB’s at Waipa with kids seats for the 5 year old. Afternoon at Paradise Valley Springs, beautiful trout streams and native animals/birds plus a lion park. Lion feeding is at 2:30pm. Depending on time of year there may even be lion cubs to pat. Another great option is a night time family outing to the Redwoods. If you look in the right places (yellow track & mud pool loop) you should hopefully spot some glow worms!
Priority 4. Day trip to Mount Maunganui (1 hr each way), lovely beach with a gorgeous walk around the mount (suitable for a 5 year old), or head up the Mount for stunning views if someone is happy to carry the 5 year old some of the way, it’s quite a climb for kids. Both the walk around and up take around an hour at a sedate pace Afterwards hang out at the surf beach, or harbour side for littlies if the weathers good, or the Mount salt water hotpools if it’s not.
Priority 5. Walk some of the Tarawera Trail from the Landing to Hot Water Beach (12km one way) book the water taxi for the ride back. If this is too hard for the 5 year old, take a Duck Tour instead (amphibious vehicle that will drive you out and into the lakes).
Priority 6. Day trip to Taupo (1 hr each way), see Huka Falls and maybe do a bungy jump! Good spot for trout fishing.
Priority 7. Day trip to Hobbitton (1hr 15 each way), a must do for Lord of the Rings fans, and great exploring for kids too, they love going into the hobbit houses.
If you have an hour or two to spare some good time fillers are walking around Ohinemutu village (marae, church, geothermal activity), the Lakefront has a good kids playground, walking in Kuirau Park (geothermal activity), Okere Falls.
As for accommodation, if you want lakeside head to Okareka, Tarawera or Roititi, they’re all a 15-20 drive from the city. Tarawera in particular has world class trout fishing. If you want to be closer to the city look into the Glenholme or Lynmore suburbs.
You might die, bonus activities!
New Zealand is famous for scaring the living ba-jeezus out of you only to have you survive at the last possible moment. For those that like to squeeze the adrenal gland consider these near death experiences.
Fly through the trees. This incredibly well renowned activity has won more prizes than Beyoncé. If the reviews are correct it may well be one of the best activities in New Zealand. Based in Rotorua, check out Rotorua canopy tours.
Swing life away. A short shot of adrenaline to go. On the outskirts of town is Velocity Valley which specialises in speeding you up and slowing you back down again. Various activities to help you remember your lunch again.
Not a dry seat in the house. One of the most extreme guided rafting trips in the world with a serious high-grade rapid to ensure you wet yourself good and proper. Just on the other side of Lake Rotorua is the awesome 7m Kaituna waterfall. Get into with the local river rafting specialists for a range of options.
Jump off something because the earth sucks. Ever wondered what it would be like to go hurtling towards the earth with little more attached to you then the waistband of your comfy house pants? Check out Taupo bungy. 50 minutes drive from Rotorua.