New Zealand is never short on beautiful landscapes and breathtaking geographical features. As a country of islands created by volcanic and geothermal activity, visiting the Wai-o-tapu Thermal Wonderland in Rotorua must be on your bucket list.
The vibrant colors, bubbling mud, and explosive geysers makes Wai-o-tapu one of New Zealand’s most diverse and colorful geothermal attractions, and will make quite an impression on you and your family!
Wai-o-tapu is located in Rotorua on the North Island of New Zealand. The whole property is 18 square kilometers, and is owned by local Maori tribal business, Te Arawa Group Holdings. It was once owned by the Sewell/Leinhardt family who had run the tourist attraction for 30 years prior to being returned to Maori ownership. Prior to European occupation, the land was inhabited by the Maori tribe, Ngati Whaoa.
The most famous hot pools at Wai-o-tapu (which translates to “sacred waters”) are the Champagne Pool, Primrose Terrace, Echo Lake and Artist’s Palette. The Lady Knox Geyser is an exciting geyser well worth the wait for explosion. Even better are the beautiful waterfalls, sinter terraces, steaming fumaroles, and mud pots!
Check out the Visitor’s Center
You will be led to the visitor’s center when you first enter the park to pay the entrance fee (book your tickets here). The visitor’s center has a dedicated area for cyclists to park their bikes safely, as well as a disability provision and a baby changing facility. There are picnic areas located near the grassy area opposite of the visitor’s center, perfect for a mid-day meal with your family before or after your time at the park.
The gift shop has an assortment of souvenirs, clothing, and beauty products available so you can remember your time at the gorgeous Thermal Wonderland. That’s not all – the visitor’s center also has a cafe with delicious coffee, hot meals, snacks, New Zealand ice cream, and cold drinks. They are still taking precautionary measures to protect against COVID to ensure the safety of all. For more on the safety from COVID and use of the park, check here for their details on safety protocols.
Take a stroll through the park
The park leads the travelers through the Wonderland on a wooden boardwalk to prevent anyone from straying too close to dangerous territory. There are a 3 loops for a total of 1.9 miles in order to see the entire park.
The thermal pools are quite majestic with colors ranging from burnt orange to sapphire and are quite surreal. These pools are HOT and should not be touched, so make sure to keep to the footpath and behind the wooden fences to protect yourself. Champagne Pool is the largest hot spring on the reserve and is shockingly diverse and vibrant in colors.
Some of the local fauna around the area is just as unique as the geothermal features themselves. Many of the felled trees are covered in orange moss, and stilt birds are able to withstand the heat from the pools while they peck at crustaceans that survive in the temperatures of the acidic water.
You should be warned, most geothermal activity contains sulfur, so most of the park does smell like the distinct scent of rotten eggs. Sulfur is easy to point out with its yellowish color.
The Devil’s Pool is the last feature to enjoy, filled with greenish-yellow water, and the sides of the pool are covered with stone that look like reptile scales. The whole park is surrounded by forest, giving the space an even more mystical feel. While the park is the main attraction, there is still more to enjoy at Wai-o-tapu Thermal Wonderland.
Enjoy a clay mask in a hot spring
After exiting the park through the gift shop of the visitor center, there is a small spring to the side of the entrance of the geothermal park that a few travelers know about. Alongside the road, you can park up your car and walk towards the small foot bridge and you will find wooden steps leading down to the spring.
There is a beautiful natural bath that travelers/locals are welcome to dip in to soothe their souls. The clay at the bottom of the spring has many nourishing properties for your skin and will make you feel pampered! If you want some of your own clay to take home, it is sold at the gift shop inside the welcome center so you can remember your time at Wai-o-tapu.
It is easy to spend hours soaking in the hot spring, smearing mud on your family members, or meeting fellow travelers from around the world.
Where to stay?
Rotorua is a common traveler’s destination, so finding a decent hotel will not be a challenge. It all depends on your preference, whether you want a nicer hotel or a budget hostel. For some tips on traveling New Zealand on a budget, check out our post here. You can locate some bookings here for places to stay in the area, as well as check out the many activities Rotorua has much more to offer.
As the locals say, “kia ora,” and enjoy your time in this beautiful country!