In this review we explore New Zealand’s Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland, spanning over approximately 18 square kilometres of protected New Zealand thermal landscape.
New Zealand is home to some of the most dynamic environments the world has to offer. With a spine of rugged mountains running through its core, the country is divided into a mixture of rolling hills, dynamic coastlines and active thermal attractions that draw consistent crowds all year long.
Earlier this year I was lucky enough to visit the incredible natural attractions present at Wai-O-Tapu’s Thermal Wonderland.
Featuring some breath-taking geothermal attractions, such as steaming lakes, bubbling mud pools and seemingly bottomless pits, the area is a must-see for anyone travelling through New Zealand’s north island.
Set in the heart of the North Island, the site is conveniently located just half an hours drive south of Rotorua, or three hours south-east of Auckland.
How much it costs (subject to change)
- FREE for Children under 5 years.
- $10.34 for Children aged 5-15 years.
- $30.55 for an Adult
- $75.20 for a Family of four (two Adults and two Children)
How to get there
- Car: To get there from Rotorua, travel along the Thermal Explorer Highway (SH 5) towards Taupo for 27km until you reach Wai-O-Tapu Tavern. Turn left opposite the tavern and follow the road for about 2km to arrive at the visitor’s centre.
- Shuttle: Thermal Land Shuttle provides shuttle services from Rotorua for $30 per adult (call 0800 894 287 to enquire). Pick-ups and Drop-offs are at the Tourism Rotorua i-Site (1167 Fenton Street) or from your accommodation by arrangement.
The Champaign Pools
A 65 metre wide, bubbling hot spring surrounded by dramatic orange earth. The pool is constantly filling the air with incredible volumes of evaporating water, making for an almost otherworldly atmosphere.
The Devil’s Bath
A strikingly vibrant green pool that captivates audiences with seemingly impossible colours jumping over the surrounding ridges. This fluorescent body of water is one of the last attractions you’ll see as you exit the park, and you won’t soon forget it.
What to do
After finding a park, slathering on some sunscreen, and swapping out jandals for enclosed shoes, you’ll be all set to explore Wai-O-Tapu’s Thermal Wonderland for yourself.
Get all the information at the on-site visitors centre
Upon arrival, you are greeted by friendly staff in the site’s expansive visitor centre, which comes complete with a café, large retail shop, picnic area, restrooms and even a baby changing facility.
Here you’ll be able to ask any questions you might have before you head off. It’s also a good idea to have a toilet break while you can, with no restrooms available beyond this point.
Along with some general directions, you will also be issued with a map of the park. Make sure to hang on to this as it makes for a fantastic guide on your journey.
The map includes walking times and distances for each available track, the location of seats (these come in handy!), bridges, steps, shelters and even where all the best viewing spots are.
See if the Devil’s Home
Attraction number one (of 25!) is affectionately known as the Devil’s Home. An uninviting hole amidst sulphur rock, the crater is the first taste of what you’ll find on your exploration of Wai-O-Tapu.
Continue along the path and you’ll arrive at attractions number two and three, both impressive crater’s that seem better suited to the surface of the Moon than New Zealand’s backyard.
As you make your way around the track each attraction seemingly grows larger and more extreme than the last, and they’re never more than a few metres from the path. At times you can even feel the heat on your face as it rises from the thermally active attractions.
Celebrate with Champagne
After passing the Devil’s Ink Pots and making your way around the first loop, you’ll be confronted by the park’s most prominent feature.
Attraction number 21, The Champagne Pool.
Despite the numbering system, the pool is actually located between attractions 9, 5 and 10. It’s a little confusing, but the path doubles back on itself a few times which mixes up the order.
The pool holds an impressive 50,000 square metres of water, with deep geothermal water reaching temperatures of up to 260 degrees Celsius.
We ended up spending a fair bit of time at The Champagne Pool, soaking up the ambient moisture, reading each and every information board (there’s quite a few, and they’re jam-packed with facts on the sites volcanic history), and taking a heap of photo’s capturing this truly unique geothermal formation.
When you’re ready to move on from The Champagne Pool and continue along the designated walking track, you will eventually stumble upon a spot known as the Panoramic View.
Take advantage of some spectacular outlooks
The Panoramic View is just one of many outlooks featured in the park, providing some incredibly picturesque scenes of the surrounding landscape.
Attraction five on the map is appropriately named Artist’s Palette, with expansive views of the champagne pool and it’s surrounding sulphurous sandy flats, perfect for budding artists who fancy a go at capturing the unique colours present in the area.
Other viewing areas include the uniquely beautiful Lake Ngakoro Waterfall, Frying Pan Flats, the Opal Pool, and if you’re willing to follow a short detour, there’s a spot off The Sacred Track.
Warm up at Ngakoro Waterfall
This charming thermal waterfall is filled with super-hot water all year round, resulting in a strict do-not-touch rule for curious visitors.
The adjoining lake, Lake Ngakoro is a beautiful shade of emerald green and is the largest body of water you’ll see on your journey.
The lookout for this attraction (number 18) is a little narrow, but it’s well worth waiting your turn to take a magical shot or two from this beautifully scenic viewing area.
Save the best till last!
The final four attractions of the loop are truly some of the best on offer.
First up is the Inferno Crater. A dark, steaming crater that resembles a meteor crash site moments after a collision with the earth’s crust. The crater truly lives up to its name when billowing steam from its large opening into the sky above.
Second is the ever-popular Bird’s Nest Crater. A large, wide crater that features a variety of nesting birds, taking advantage of the natural heating to help incubate their eggs.
Third, you’ll find the vibrant Sulphur Cave. The cave is blemished in bright yellow stains, creating a lively look of exuberant life within an otherwise desolate environment. The Sulphur Cave is yet another feature within Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland that boasts almost unnatural colouring, and makes for some magnificent photos if you’ve saved any space.