Guide To New Zealand Geothermal Attractions At Waiotapu
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Anyone exploring the central North Island will not want to miss the geyser, mud and hot spring wonderland that is Waiotapu (Maori for “sacred waters”). Located in the heart of the central plateau on a highly active geothermal field, there are many places where the natural forces brewing beneath the earth spout forth in spectacular ways. These create unique natural wonders, as well as health-related attractions.
How To Get To Waiotapu
Waiotapu is located 30km south of Rotorua along SH5, making it an exceptionally worthwhile journey if you are passing through the central North Island area.
What Is At Waiotapu?
Waiotapu is the gateway to an amazing natural geothermal wonderland. Some of this can only be accessed via a visitor’s centre where you will need to purchase tickets to see the attractions, which are easily accessible via a boardwalk much of the time. There are information boards and signs explaining the geological history of the area, as well as knowledgeable staff. There is also a cafe and store for those wanting to take a break and grab a snack or meal.
Because the whole area is geothermaly active, there are also places where you can see natural wonders on your own. Calderas and rock pits, as well as natural hot water streams and pools are located all through the area, though some may require either a walk or a more off-road drive to reach, rather than being right there and accessible. Because Waiotapu is a fairly long drive from either Wellington or Auckland, there’s also accommodation so you can stay overnight and break up the journey. In busy tourist seasons (the New Zealand summer months, November – February) it’s highly recommended that you book ahead of time.
Highlights Of The Waiotapu Geothermal Field
There are so many attractions to enjoy if you’re interested in geothermal science, as well as spectacular natural phenomena.
- The Champagne Pool
- Huge Volcanic Craters
- The Lady Knox Geyser
- Naturally coloured hot and cold pools
- Sinter Terrace formations
- New Zealand’s largest bubbling mud pool
Waiotapu Champagne Pool
Formed 900 years ago by a geothermal eruption, the name “Champagne Pool” comes from the CO2 that causes this heated body of water to be constantly bubbling. Water temperature within the pool is around 74 °C and conditions are highly acidic – this is not a health spa. It is however fantastically colourful due to all the different chemicals contained in its waters.
Waiotapu Volcanic Craters
Due to the long and highly volatile volcanic history of the region – including Mt Tarawera, which erupted explosively in 1886, burying an entire village and changing the landscape permanently – there are many volcanic craters to explore.
They range in size from small to massive, and are often accessed through walking tracks maintained by the Department of Conservation. Though they are by and large dormant, you should pay attention to any heightened seismic activity while in the area.
Geysers are extremely rare phenomena, so a location that offers a chance to see them so easily is a special thing. Most geysers occur in only 5 countries worldwide, and New Zealand is fortunate to be one of them. The reason they’re so rare is that they have very specific requirements for their formation – they need hot underground rocks, an ample water source, a sub-surface water reservoir and cracks in the earth for the boiling water to get through.
The super-heated boiling hot water blasts its way to the surface, resulting in huge jets being shot into the air. It’s a fantastic spectacle, and Waiotapu is fortunate to have the Lady Knox Geyser that erupts every day at 10.15 am, so you can be sure of a viewing.
Waiotapu Hot Pools
With so much naturally abundant heated water, there are a number of different hot pools located throughout the region. Some are commercialised and managed while others are naturally occurring that you can experience for free, such as a small spot known as “The Bridge“.
The water is extremely hot and perfect for relaxation and enjoying the surrounding forest scenery. It’s said to contain minerals and sulphites that are extremely good for the skin (but should never be inhaled).
Waiotapu Sinter Terrace
The explosion of Mt Tarawera caused the huge and naturally beautiful pink and white terraces to be lost, and now New Zealand’s largest remaining scinter terrace resides at Waiotapu. Made up of silica deposits, it forms amazing patterns that almost look geometric.
Waiotapu Mud Pools
Exposed to the surface when the side of an ancient mud volcano eroded away, the Waiotapu mud pools show a continuous state of slow, gentle eruption. Gases and steam from underground constantly bubbles up to the surface, creating a pattern of bubbles. For a guaranteed look at a geothermic reaction, the mud pools are a great stop.
Rotorua Travel Tips
One of the best ways to enjoy Waiotapu is to include it with a tour of Rotorua, as it’s only a 30 minute drive from this hub. Stay for a few days in Rotorua to ensure a full day exploring the geothermal landscape. Rotorua is a large town nearby with a rich history, especially of Maori communities. It contains a mix of sacred historical sites and new colonial buildings that are architecturally beautiful and unique.
There are shops with works from local artisans including bone and wood carving, as well as plenty of places to stay. The National Army Museum is also based in Rotorua, and provides a comprehensive view of New Zealand’s military history throughout several international wars. Rotorua is warm and sunny during summer, but the region can get sudden barrages of snow during the winter, so be sure to check weather forecasts before you set out.
Waiotapu in New Zealand is one of the only places in the world where you can see so many different natural geothermal phenomena in one small area, making it an absolutely essential stop on your journey.