Tourism Masterplan for Rotorua New Zealand

ExA were recently appointed as part of a team led by Scott Brownrigg, and together with Karu NZ and Arup working to develop a Sustainable Tourism Development Masterplan for Ngongotahā Station in Rotorua, New Zealand. Last week Kate from our London Office spent a day visiting Rotorua and Ngongotahā with Neil MacOmish from Scott Brownrigg and Francis Pauwels from Karu NZ soaking up the atmosphere in one of New Zealand’s most diverse and culturally rich tourism hot spots, and learning about the future of tourism in Rotorua and the consequent development opportunities this project presents.


Rotorua is a city set on the shores of Lake Rotorua; the North Island’s second largest lake; in the Bay of Plenty Region of New Zealand’s North Island. ‘Rotorua’ is Maori, translating as Lake (Roto) Two (Rua). There is a total of 17 lakes in the Rotorua region, which are very popular for recreational activities including boating, fishing and watersports. Rotorua is an exceptionally active area within the Taupo Volcanic Zone, a geothermal field extending from the Bay of Plenty Coast to beyond Mt. Ruapehu. The city has several geothermal features right on its doorstep which attract huge visitor numbers, including volcanic crater lakes, bubbling hot mud pools, colourful sinter terraces, spouting geysers and swimmable hot springs. Rotorua is also well known for its authentic and accessible experiences of Maori culture. The Te Arawa Maori have been sharing their culture, language, history, art and music with visitors to the region for over 150 years.

Tourism is an important sector of the New Zealand economy, with spending by international tourists accounting for 17% of New Zealand’s annual export earnings. International visitor numbers are on the rise, with a 61% increase in visitors from the U.K. since 2000, and more recently a notable increase in Chinese visitor numbers, at an annual average rate of 18% since 2012.

One of the key dangers of this trend and a concern for New Zealanders is the environmental impact of this increase; in particular; the capacity of existing infrastructure and management systems to support increasing numbers of visitors to natural areas. A further concern, which is particularly apparent in Rotorua, is an increasing presence of private tour companies who offer a potentially compromised tourism experience of New Zealand for a cheaper rate, undercutting many local businesses, yet still contributing to the collective environmental ‘footprint’ left by international visitors.

Rotorua is the third most visited tourism destination in New Zealand and is one of the most diverse and accessible. The range of tourism experiences on offer are exceptionally innovative and wide ranging; from adventure sports to natural or cultural experiences to everything in between. There is something to appeal to every visitor, domestic and international alike, all ages and throughout the seasons.

Ngongotahā Station is located on SH5, the northern gateway to Rotorua city. It is set amongst many of Rotorua’s most popular hot spots, including OGO Rotorua (World’s largest downhill park) and Wingspan (National Bird of Prey Centre) which are on the Station itself. The Station’s neighbours include Mitai Maori Village, Rainbow Springs Nature Park, Velocity Valley, Agrodome and Skyline Rotorua to name just a few…

The key challenge of this project will be considering how the masterplan response works with Rotorua’s long-term tourism strategy. The solution needs to complement the existing world-class experiences on offer, and add value to the overall appeal of Rotorua. The project presents an opportunity to establish Ngongotahā Station as a global tourism destination through a contextually rich, experientialsustainable, and visionary design response that isn't being offered elsewhere in New Zealand or potentially the world...

We are looking forward to getting stuck in!