In November 2014, I traveled around New Zealand and Australia with my husband and two terrific friends. We started our journey by flying into Auckland and making a beeline for Rotorua. This area has some amazing geothermal sites to visit. We visited both WaimanguVolcanic Valley and Wai-O-Tapu. For the money, I really enjoyed the latter more because visitors have closer access to the geothermal activity in Wai-O-Tapu. The admission costs $36 NZD and $32.50 NZD, respectively. Both sites can be accessed by car or by day tour. We had a limited amount of time for this trip, so I cannot comment on public transportation options. If you are in the area but do not want to spend the money to enter these sites, visit the mud pits that are just outside of the gates of Wai-O-Tapu.
There aren't a lot of restaurant options in the area of Wai-O-Tapu but we popped into the Wai-O-Tapu Tavern. It's just a little snack shop with a pool table but it was good, basic food (sandwiches, burgers, and the best wedges we had on the trip) at around $13 NDZ per meal.
The town of Rotorua itself was lacking in character and people when we were there. I would guess this is because Rotorua is more of a day trip by tour bus than a town to spend time in. This might also be the case because the sulfurous odor from the geothermal activity can be smelled everywhere.
Outside of town is a great thermal bath called WaikiteValley Thermal Pools. While this type of attraction is not usually a big draw for me, this location had seven pools heated to different temperatures which made the experience much more appealing. For an entrance fee of $15 NZD, I found it to be a good deal especially after walking around in the cold and rainy weather all day.