Learning Experiences Outside the Classroom

EOTC opportunities to explore in and around Rotorua

Seen by many as the nation’s cultural capital, Rotorua ticks a lot of boxes for a lot of schools when planning a trip in this country.

Well-known for its geysers and geo-thermal pools, and often dubbed ‘Nature’s Spa of the South Pacific’, this sulphurous scented central North Island city has much more to explore. The lake-filled region has plenty to offer school groups of all ages, abilities and sizes, with its many traditional Māori experiences, rich natural landscapes, arts, activities and adventures. 

Accessible by car or coach in a few hours from almost anywhere in the North Island, it’s a sensible option for travel. Direct flights from Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch are also available. Once there, it’s an easy area to navigate by road, with 18 lakes offering opportunities on the water.

Many of the accommodation sites in Rotorua make use of the naturally heated water by providing spa pools on site. Lakeside accommodation options such as Blue Lake TOP 10 Holiday Park Rotorua are particularly ideal for school groups; cabins, motels, self-contained units, and camping options all provide a good balance of cost-effectiveness, cleanliness, and proximity to adventure with a back to nature buzz.

Holiday Park Managers can further extend learning opportunities by helping to arrange tours and activities. Call ahead to make sure your cabins or rooms are nice and close to the amenities; and remember to book ahead with larger groups, particularly if you aim to travel during December or January.

© Adobe Stock, NMint

The ancient forests surrounding Rotorua are a delight, day and night. You can take students on a world-renowned canopy tour of ancient NZ treelines; which often include thrilling swing bridges and epic adventure ziplines, but the knowledgeable tour guides will ensure students are thoroughly engaged in learning during these once-in-a-lifetime experiences.

Rotorua is also an internationally renowned destination for mountain biking, and schools around the country travel there to undertake cycling tours. Whakarewarewa Forest provides 200 kilometres of purpose-built mountain biking trails woven into the landscape to provide routes to suit everyone from beginners through to global competitors. Rainbow Mountain, Skyline Rotorua Gravity Park, Moerangi Track, Western Okataina Walkway, the Timber Trail and Whirinaki Forest all offer further mountain biking options. The area is hard to beat in the two-wheeled field.

The natural phenomena the region is known for provide sensory experiences to remember – with the aroma of the area adding something of note to the visual and auditory feast. The bubbling hot pools and firing fountains of water and steam offer opportunities for some creative captures with a camera.  Hells Gate is the only location in New Zealand where visitors can experience a mud bath in some of the finest mineral mud in the world; students can learn about its significance to Māori culture.

Traditional Māori, customs, practices and beliefs are integral to Rotorua’s past and present. The region is home to many mesmerising cultural tours and performances, showcasing historic lifestyles and traditions, mythology and art.

Maori Haus in Rotorua, North Island, Neuseeland. © Adobe Stock, cmfotoworks

Guided experiences allow visitors to experience poi dancing and to feel the fury and beauty of a traditional haka, enjoy a mouth-watering hāngī or stand witness to a traditional pōhiri. Waka can be boarded for a paddle around the shores of Lake Rotorua, while learning about the Māori of local Ohinemutu Village and beyond.

As a contrast to a sedate paddle, the high-octane opportunities in Rotorua are plentiful. There’s the universally popular luging down the mountain side, and cable car ride up, or for another way down, there’s zorbing or zip-lining.

These activities can make memorable team building exercises for students, and staff. As can whitewater rafting. Rotorua is home to the world’s highest commercially raftable waterfall, on the Kaituna River. It’s not for the faint-hearted and flipping out – literally – is likely so save this for your strong swimmers and confident colleagues!

Three major rivers all provide plenty of opportunity for water-based adventure, alongside Rotorua region’s incredible 18 lakes. From jet boating to kayaking, paddleboarding to paragliding, kitesurfing and more, there are options for all ages and group sizes. Beyond the lakes and rivers are stunning waterfalls – generously heated by nature – that can be reached by boat, as can the nearby Mokoia Island. Appropriately named, ‘The Squeeze’ is a hidden geothermal valley, another destination for a boating adventure.

Te Puia Springs, Rotorua, North Island, New Zealand. © Adobe Stock, Matthew

Rotorua Museum Te Whare Taonga o Te Arawa has been undergoing major upgrade work for seismic strengthening. Significant structural challenges unearthed in the repairs have led to lengthy delays and it is expected the museum will not reopen until 2025. Despite this closure, there are other arts experiences to enjoy, such as the 3D Trick Art Gallery, which aims to enlighten and educate with its immersive art you can jump into and experience being a part of.

This is set within the Rotorua Heritage Farm complex. The farm and surrounding area provides an enchanting day out for primary school visitors. Its Heritage Farm Tours for a traditional animal farm experience, where visitors can pet and feed sheep, cattle, deer, llamas, alpaca and more. There is also a delightful café with a wonderful outlook for teachers’ and helpers’ quality coffee intake.

Waimangu Volcanic Valley is around 25 minutes’ drive from the central Rotorua and is where, at the base of Mount Tarawera, Lake Rotomahana is located. There, the once considered ‘8th wonder of the world’ the Pink and White Terraces lie buried. The long-lost natural treasure served as a popular tourism destination in the 1800s, until they were covered in the 1886 eruption of Mount Tarawera. Visitors can take a boat cruise across the much-fabled lake and discover geothermal delights reserved only for water-goers.

However, your students and team like to let off steam, geothermal Rotorua, and its adventure-rich region, doesn’t disappoint.

Heather Barker Vermeer

Heather has worked as a journalist, writer and editor in England and Aotearoa New Zealand for over 20 years. She fell in love with words when she received a 'Speak & Spell' tech toy for Christmas in 1984.
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