Cultural Landscape.
Rotorua Lakefront.


The Rotorua Lakefront Redevelopment re-establishes the landscape values of this national taonga; a new relationship with the lake edge is under construction for future generations, a relationship that respects the lake and enhances the wairua and mauri of this shared cultural landscape.

The lake’s scalloped bay forms, history of migration, stories connecting the lake and the land and the beautiful love story that embraces Mokoia Island all go into creating the conceptual framework for Rotorua’s new lakefront.


Lake Rotorua is a taonga—a highly prized natural resource—for those that live on its shores, the city that has grown along its edge, and the nation treasures it as a destination. Building on the 2012 Rotorua Lakefront Development Framework (by Wraight & Associates), Isthmus was commissioned to produce an ambitious master plan that would tell Rotorua’s stories and presents its unique cultural identity in a high-quality environment, on a par with other internationally renowned waterfronts.

The key features in the master plan promote the tension between the arc of bay and the gentle projection of the headlands.

The master plan helped to secure significant funding from the Provincial Growth Fund. The $40 million Lakefront revitalisation project is an important, multi-year project intended to ensure ongoing progress towards Rotorua’s 2030 vision. As one of the Rotorua Lakes Council’s “5 Big Moves” the development is focused on creating a world-class lakefront experience, a destination that enhances both the land and the lake.

Indicative Cross Sections showing the new terraces and constructed landforms that embrace the natural water’s edge, mark the prior shoreline, and protect the current shoreline.


All the design elements of the project have been developed in consultation with Ngāti Whakaue and Te Arawa Lakes Trust, guided by both Rotorua Lakes Council’s steering group and a project advisory group alongside the team’s cultural design coordinator Karl Johnstone. The lakefront redevelopment reflects a shared vision that is enriched by the generosity of shared knowledge, where Isthmus’s role has been to listen and “give form to” the key principles provided.

Master Plan Key Concepts
1. Remake the Coast
2. Celebrate the Bay
3. Connect to the Town
4. Mark the History

Sophisticated in its simplicity the concept has the principle of provenance (mana taonga) at its core; provenance of people, provenance of place and provenance of the histories associated to the site.

The old, hard foreshore edge has been deconstructed, abstracted and recreated to evoke the local silica terraces and allow direct and protected access to the water. This softer edge will be supplemented with native planting and feature meandering pathways.

The master plan has develops a narrative unique to, and reflective of Rotorua, and creates opportunities for future commercial development. The connection between land and water is re-established through both formal and informal lake edge conditions. This allows the public to reengage with the water and access the lake for recreation while clearing away the clutter of sheds to simplify the edge and reveal the significance of Mokoia Island.

The old brick lake edge path has been replaced by a 5m wide timber boardwalk that arcs across the bay, joining headland to headland and sweeping out to terminate in the lake at each end. Movement patterns along the boardwalk echo the koura’s migration along the bay below the water. Each end of the boardwalk offers a distinct experience; the western end is active, providing opportunity for waka ama and other recreational water sports, including swimming. The eastern end is a more reflective space that celebrates natural lake character.

Above and Right
Light bridge structures float over the gap between the terraced shoreline and boardwalk and are reminiscent of waka resting on the shore.

A series of bridges, Te Ara Tukutuku—the pathway of waka, provide access to the boardwalk from the surrounding landscape, creating a functional and metaphorical connection between place and whakapapa. Te Ara Tukutuku connect to the water, offering space for sitting and play, observation, and interpretation. On their land side  artworks are in development with the local iwi; these vertical elements express the connection to the old lakebed location, standing in the land that once was water.

Left & Above
The design also features destination play space which draws on the qualities of the lake edge as a place of movement and migration for people of all agesDesigned as a play boulevard, it acts as a social edge that connects lake and city. The holding circular form is based on the ‘korapa’—the net to hold koura when lifted from the water.

Construction of the entire lakefront development will be completed across a several stages to ensure that parts of the Lakefront Reserve always remain accessible. The first stage, which involves the construction of the boardwalk and terracing around the lake edge, is currently underway and is scheduled for completion mid 2021. Stages 2, 3 and 4 are also under construction and are set for completion at the end of 2021; they encompass the playground, carparking and new city cycleway connection.

Stage 1 = Upgrade of main lakefront walkway, boardwalk and terracing.

Stage 2 = New playground, upgrade of existing playground and new toilet block.

Stage 2a = Upgrade of streetscape along Tūtānekai St including parking, a widened footpath, and verandah walkway.

Stage 3 = Grass terracing, cycle and walk way.

Stage 3a = Main open space area and terracing around new commercial development.

Stage 4 = New Memorial Plaza carpark.

Stage 5 = Upgrade of area west of the lakefront.


Construction of the lakefront is led by HEB Construction Limited.

The design team acknowledges mana taonga—the authority residing in the tangible and intangible elements which hold intrinsic and extrinsic cultural value. This includes kōrero-a-iwi and mātauranga-a-iwi, physical sites and material elements and culture which acknowledge or connect with the people of the place or their ancestors. We also acknowledge the importance of mauri and are clear on the connection of this essence between the environment and the wellbeing of people and have strived to ensure mauri is enhanced as the kaupapa is developed.

Rotorua Lakes Council

Tonkin & Taylor
Services Engineering Group (SEG)

Ngāti Whakaue
Te Arawa Lakes Trust

HEB Construction Ltd (Stage 1)
Campbell Contracting (Stages 2, 3 & 4)