Lake Rotorua, North Island, New Zealand

Lake Locations:

New Zealand - North Island - Rotorua -

What greeting will you hear when you come to Lake Rotorua on New Zealand’s North Island? Kia ora!! Kia ora means ‘Be healthy’ or ‘well’ in the Maori language, and much of the early European settlement at Lake Rotorua was based on health. The geothermal springs with their high mineral content was the basis of early spa and ‘medical’ baths created so the well-to-do could come here to rest, rejuvenate and hopefully cure such conditions as arthritis, hysteria, lymph congestion and fatigue. Because of geothermal activity around the lake (including still active geysers and hot mud pools), the lake has a high sulphur content. This gives the lake’s waters an unusual yellowish-green hue. In some areas, the high sulphur content can eat the webbing from lake-dwelling birds’ feet.

Lake Rotorua is formed by the collapsed caldera of an ancient volcano and is generally much more shallow than nearby lakes. Many small tributaries feed the lake; some are warm, spring-fed streams such as Whakarewarewa, Kuirau and Ohinemutu. These are balanced by the cold waters of Hamurana, Rainbow, Fairy and Ngongotaha. The latter is famed as a trout fishery. Fishing access is provided at nearly all tributary streams and several commercial boat launch areas around the lake. At the north eastern corner of the lake, Rotorua flows directly into Lake Rotoiti via the Ohau Channel; this channel is navigable by boat and is also favored by fly fishermen. Adjoining the Ohau Channel, the Mourea delta, with its very low water levels is very attractive to swimmers and novice kayakers. Lake Rotorua is the second largest lake on the North Island in area, but much smaller than many nearby lakes in total water volume due to its shallow bottom.

The main town on Lake Rotorua is Rotorua on the south shore. Here, mineral baths were developed early, operated by a variety of well-respected medical doctors who prescribed massages, mud baths and hot mineral water treatment. Some bathing establishments still exist but the most famous – the Blue Baths – is in the process of being restored. The famed Rotorua Bath House is now under the care of the Rotorua Museum where restored portions are open for tours with accompanying narrative of the history, treatments and famous visitors from the Bath’s past. Because of the early development of the baths, many vacation rentals exist in the form of restored Victorian resorts and cottages along the shore.

The Rotorua Museum is a great place for the visitor to become acquainted with the history and geology of the Lake Rotorua region. Here, exhibits will explain the dynamics of the geothermal features in the landscape along with their history as is currently understood. Here too, the visitor will become familiar with the Maori settlement and 750 year history on the North island after their migration from Polynesia. Their legends, myths and beliefs will be explained and a stellar exhibit of the Maori World War II battalion’s history in battle is provided. One finds that the Maori lost many, many warriors to the battles in Northern Africa.

One favorite excursion for the visitor to Lake Rotorua is a cruise to Mokoia Island. This rhyolite dome, close to the center of the lake, is owned by four local Maori iwi or tribes. The island is the subject of several famed Maori myths and preserved as a wildlife sanctuary. Because of the lack of natural predators and the care with which visitors are allowed on the island, a variety of rare and endangered birds and plants have been brought here to increase their populations. Mokoia Island is a botanical sanctuary for native plants such as Totara, Pohutukawa, Kawakawa, Karaka, Totara, Whau, Puriri, Pohutukawa, Cabbage trees, and native plants like the Pikopiko, Titoki, Flax and various ferns that were essential everyday ingredients for the Maori people who have lived there. Bird species thriving here include the Pukeko (swamp hen), Papango (Teal), and Tui. Kiwi,Saddleback (Tieke), Weka, North Island Robin (Toutouwai), and Kokako. Access to Mokoia Island is restricted to permitted operators only, who must undergo certain inspections and procedures to assure their vessels are pest-free. Cruise times and reservations are available at the Museum on the mainland.

Lake Rotorua is a favored fishery, with brown trout and rainbow trout caught at the mouths of tributaries where they follow the smelt to spawn. The lake is home to most water sports, including power boating, water skiing, wind surfing, sailing, canoeing and kayaking. Other visitors come to observe not only the wildlife on Mokoia Island but the variety of water birds found around the lake itself; Australian black swans, red-billed gull, dabchick, mallard duck and Caspian tern call Lake Rotorua home.

New Zealand history and Maori tradition adventures are easily located around Lake Rotorua: Te Wairoa Buried Village, buried by volcanic explosion in June, 1888 with the loss of over 150 lives, is a short side-trip from Rotorua. Partially excavated, the exhibit explores native lifestyle and European settlement in the 1800s as it attempted to co-exist in an active volcanic zone. Another favored destination is Whakarewarewa Thermal Village a few miles south of Rotorua. This active Maori village has developed tours and activities which showcase the Maori lifestyle in a traditional village, including meals cooked over active thermal vents. Nearby the Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland invites the visitor to view bubbling hot mud springs, geysers and steam vents in a surreal landscape.

The Lake Rotorua area is particularly popular with the activity-focused visitor, with bungee-jumping, white-water rapids running, sky-diving, off-road racing and even a giant hamster ball-type of downhill roll adventure for thrill-seekers. As is expected in New Zealand, nightlife is focused on the many unusual bars and clubs catering to the adventurous. One can always meet new friends at a nightclub frequented by sky-divers or river runners. There is no shortage of places to stay for a night, a week or a season. Vacation rentals include cottages, bed-and-breakfast locations, resorts. fishing camps,condos and timeshares. Camping facilities can be found both on the lake and in the surrounding area. Local real estate opportunities exist both for business and personal residences.

So, Kia ora!! Join native New Zealanders and visitors alike. Come to Lake Rotorua and check out the activities, the trout and the history. There is enough here to keep you busy for many a season. Once you experience Lake Rotorua, you’ll be determined to return.

Things to do at Lake Rotorua

  • Vacation Rentals
  • Fishing
  • Boating
  • Sailing
  • Swimming
  • Canoeing
  • Kayaking
  • Water Skiing
  • Wind Surfing
  • Camping
  • Wildlife Viewing
  • Birding
  • Museum

Fish species found at Lake Rotorua

  • Brown Trout
  • Rainbow Trout
  • Smelt
  • Trout

Lake Rotorua Photo Gallery

Lake Rotorua Statistics & Helpful Links

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Lake Type: Natural Freshwater Lake, Not Dammed

Surface Area: 19,714 acres

Shoreline Length: 25 miles

Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 919 feet

Average Depth: 36 feet

Maximum Depth: 147 feet

Water Volume: 705,321 acre-feet

Water Residence Time: 1.2 yrs

Drainage Area: 155 sq. miles

Trophic State: Eutrophic

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Trophic State | LakeLubbers

Trophic State measures the level of algae and nutrients in a lake.

An oligotrophic lake is very clear (blue in color) and does not support much plant or fish life. A hyper-oligotrophic lake is the clearest of all lakes, and is nearly devoid of plants and fish.

A mesotrophic lake is slightly green and supports a moderate degree of plant and fish life. A lake's most desired trophic state is generally this mid-point - the mesotrophic state.

A eutrophic lake is somewhat murky and supports a large amount of plant and fish life. A hypereutrophic lake is clouded with algae, plant life, and fish life. A eutrophic or hyper-eutrophic lake can be difficult to navigate by boat - and is often an unpleasant place to swim.

The use of phosphorus-rich and nitrogen-rich fertilizer on lawns and golf courses surrounding a lake can cause it to become eutrophic or hypereutrophic.


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Catchment or Drainage Area | LakeLubbers

This is the surrounding area that drains into a lake, including land, rivers and their tributaries. This is also known as the lake's "catchment basin".

Small lakes at the highest peaks of mountains have small drainage areas. The world's oceans have the largest drainage areas.


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Lake-Area Population | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated number of people who live in a house with a view of a lake, plus those who self-describe the lake as their home, for example: "I live at Smith Mountain Lake."


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Water Residence Time | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated time that it takes for an amount of water equal to the entire volume of a lake to flow out of - or evaporate from - the lake.

Residence Time can be as short as a few days for fast-flowing small lakes, and can exceed 100 years for slow-flowing large lakes.


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Completion Year | LakeLubbers

This is the year that a reservoir was first filled to the reservoir's normal elevation - or the year that a natural lake was first dammed. A large reservoir can take more than a year to fill after its dam is first closed.

The Grand Anicut in southern India is generally considered the world's oldest dam that still operates. Grand Anicut was constructed in the second century BC. It now impounds an irrigation network that includes roughly one million acres.

You can find many of the the world's newest reservoirs on LakeLubbers. Many of the world's oldest reservoirs appear on the last page of that list.


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Water Volume | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated volume of water that a lake contains -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. By this measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal.

You can find many of the the world's largest lakes (by water volume) on LakeLubbers.

Water Volume can be measured in acre-feet, in cubic miles, or in cubic kilometers. One acre-foot is the amount of water needed to cover one acre (43,560 square feet) to a depth of one foot. One cubic mile equals 3,379,200 acre-feet. One cubic kilometer equals 810,713 acre-feet.

1 acre-foot is equal to 325,851 US gallons. Siberia's Lake Baikal contains about 6,276,367,740,000,000 gallons of freshwater - nearly 1 million gallons for every living person on earth.

The other - and more widely used - measure of a lake's size is the lake's surface acreage. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is North America's Lake Superior.


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Maximum Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated greatest depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. The world's deepest lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal; that lake's maximum depth is estimated at 5,314 feet.

You can find many of the the world's deepest lakes on LakeLubbers. If you select the last page of that list, you will find the (maximum depth of) the shallowest lakes in our database.


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Average Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated average depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. If the water volume and surface area of a lake are known, an estimate of the lake's average depth can be calculated:

Water volume ÷ Surface Area = Average Depth

Example: 1,000,000 acre-feet ÷ 20,000 acres = 50 feet average depth


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Maximum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's highest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can occur during flooding. A lake's highest possible maximum elevation is usually the top of the lake's dam or spillway.

At lakes that include residential development, government regulations usually forbid the construction of homes below a lake's maximum elevation.


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Minimum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's lowest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can be reasonably expected to occur. Low lake levels can occur due to deliberate seasonal draw downs for irrigation or impending snow melt, reduced water inflows, drought and evaporation, residential or commercial water demands, and hydropower generation.

Some lakes' minimum and maximum elevations are virtually the same. Lakes that generate hydropower may vary by several feet - according to power demand. Lakes whose primary purpose is to prevent flooding can seasonally vary by 100 feet or more.

When some lakes reach their minimum elevation, their boat ramps may not be long enough to permit boat access - and boats docked on shallow parts of the lake may end up on dry ground. In those cases, kayakers and shore-based anglers may be among the few happy recreational users of the lake.


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Normal Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's normal water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level. For a reservoir, this water level is also known as "full pond" or "full pool".

You can find many of the world's highest-elevated lakes on LakeLubbers. Lakes with the lowest elevations (known by LakeLubbers) are shown on the final page of that list.


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Shoreline Length | LakeLubbers

This is the length of the exterior shoreline around a lake - measured at the lake's normal elevation. The shoreline length can be considerably shorter or longer when lake water levels are lower or higher than normal.

A lake with many coves has a much longer shoreline than a lake of similar surface area that is nearly circular in shape.

When known, the shoreline miles that we report in our statistics include only the lake's exterior shoreline, and exclude the shorelines of islands located within a lake's boundaries. In lakes with many islands, those islands' combined shorelines may exceed a lake's exterior shoreline.

You can find many of the world's longest-shoreline lakes on Lakelubbers.


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Surface Area | LakeLubbers

This is the area (acreage, square kilometers, etc.) of the top surface area of a lake - measured at a lake's normal elevation. The surface area can be considerably smaller or larger when lake levels are lower or higher than normal. North America's Lake Superior is the world's largest freshwater lake by this measure.

The other measure of a lake's size is the lake's water volume. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Lake Baikal in Siberia.

You can find many of the world's largest lakes (acres) on Lakelubbers. There is no widely-accepted minimum surface area that defines a lake. What Lakelubbers describes as a lake, you might call a pond. The smallest lake that Lakelubbers currently includes is Hawaii's 2-acre Lake Waiau.


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Water Level Control | LakeLubbers

This is the organization that controls water releases or outflows from the lake or reservoir. In the USA, this is often the US Army Corps of Engineers, a power company, a municipal water system, an irrigation district, or a paper manufacturing company. In the case of private or gated lakes, a homeowners' association may be the lake's controlling authority.

Many lakes cross borders, including North America's Great Lakes. The control of such lakes and their coveted freshwater may be amicably shared - or hotly disputed.

"Water wars" continue at many lakes as growing populations and crop irrigation needs compete for the freshwater that lakes contain.


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Lake Type | LakeLubbers

There are 3 basic types of lakes that are currently included on LakeLubbers. 2 types may be dammed or not dammed, producing 5 classifications.

- A Reservoir is a man-made freshwater lake that is usually created by damming rivers.

- A Natural Freshwater Lake occurs naturally - often by glacial activity - and has a salinity of less than 30 parts per thousand. It may be dammed to produce electricity or for other reasons.

- A Natural Saltwater Lake occurs naturally and has a salinity of more than 30 parts per thousand (ppt). It may be dammed.

"Brackish" water may be categorized as freshwater or saltwater, depending on its salt content (salinity). Oligohaline water has less than 15 ppt of salt. Mesohaline water has 15-29 ppt. Polyhaline has 30-335 ppt.


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