Which Geothermal Park to Choose in Rotorua (and New Zealand)?
New Zealand is a hotbed for geothermal activity. Although hot springs can be found all over the country, the region between Rotorua and Taupo has the highest concentration of hot springs, geysers, silica terraces, sulfuric pools and bubbling mud. Perhaps only rivalled by Yellowstone National Park in the United States, the geothermal parks in Rotorua and New Zealand are truly a unique experience that makes it hard to believe this landscape exists on Planet Earth!
Along the aptly named Thermal Explorer Highway, between Taupo and Rotorua, you can practically hop from one geothermal park to the next. Orange-lined hot pools, neon green lakes, erupting geysers, trees wearing a coat of orange crystals… You can see some weird and wacky natural wonders.
So, hold your nose (for the eggy sulfuric smell), grab your camera, and visit these geothermal parks not only in Rotorua but across New Zealand!
1. Orakei Korako
Known as “The Hidden Valley”, Orakei Korako features caves, springs and silica formations among other geothermal wonders. The highlight of the valley is a variety of silica terraces, such as the Golden Fleece Terrace with its bronze and golden(ish) steaming terraces. Even your journey to this geothermal park between Rotorua and Taupo is an exciting one as you cruise by boat across New Zealand’s longest river, the Waikato River.
Location: Orakei Korako Road. On State Highway 5 at Mihi, turn down Tutukau Road then onto Orakei Korako Road. This attraction is approximately 67 km (42 mi) from Rotorua and 35 km (22 mi) from Taupo.
2. Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland
“Out of this world” is the best way to describe Wai-O-Tapu. The iconic Champagne Pool, the Devil’s Bath and the huge bubbling mud pools are a window to the inner workings of the planet. Touring the park takes only about an hour at the most. Regardless, there are more than 25 different geothermal features to see. Time your trip with the “eruption” of the Lady Knox Geyser every day at 10:15 am. You also might like to take your swimwear to bathe in the natural hot spring just outside the park, as described in the 5 Free Natural Hot Pools in Rotorua.
Location: Along State Highway 5 about 53 km (33 mi) from Rotorua. Turn down Wai-O-Tapu Road for 1 km (0.6 mi).
3. Waimangu Volcanic Valley
On 10 June 1886, the Tarawera volcano erupted destroying all life in the area. With that, the volcanic area grew 20 times larger and formed the Waimangu Volcanic Valley. This devastating event destroyed the once-famous Pink and White Terraces, which were known to be a truly unique sight. Since then, Lake Rotomahana has slowly filled up many small crater pools that now stew in the bottom of the valley. Visiting the valley via walking trails and an optional lake cruise is your chance to witness one of the youngest geothermal systems on the planet. Plus, the Waimangu App allows you to rediscover some of the geothermal features now lost after the 1886 eruption.
Location: 587 Waimangu Road, approximately 25 km (15.5 mi) from Rotorua town centre.
4. Te Puia
Te Whakarewarewa Geothermal Valley was once home to a Maori pā (fortified village) called Te Puia. It is now a great cultural attraction mixing Maori culture and geothermal features. While there are many mesmerising mud pools and bubbling springs to admire, the highlight of this geothermal park in Rotorua is Pohutu Geyser, the largest geyser in the Southern Hemisphere. For its Maori experiences, check out 10 Places to Experience Maori Culture in New Zealand.
Location: Hemo Road, approximately 3 km (1.5 m) from Rotorua city centre.
5. Whakarewarewa Living Maori Village
Walk, ride an e-bike and incorporate Maori cultural experiences at Whakarewarewa Living Maori Village. Guided and self-guided options are available to explore the vast hot spring lake and mud pools among native plants. The jewel of the park is Parekohuru, a large hot spring pool which bubbles intensely every 45 minutes or so. When you’re done, try hangi pies among other Maori dishes at the on-site cafe. Learn more about this geothermal park in Rotorua and book tickets on Viator and Klook.
Location: 17 Tryon Street, Whakarewarewa, approximately 3 km (1.5 m) from Rotorua city centre.
6. Hell’s Gate
Not only can you admire the bubbling mud, land coral and other features of their geothermal park, but you can also relax in a mud spa bath to rejuvenate your skin at Hell’s Gate. It’s a hot pool experience with a difference! Book your entry to Hell’s Gate on Viator, Klook or whatever you prefer!
Location: 351 State Highway 30, Tikitere, approximately 16 km (10 mi) or 20 minutes drive from Rotorua city centre.
7. Kuirau Park
This free geothermal park is situated right in the city centre of Rotorua. See bubbling mud, steaming lakes and small silica terraces in Kuirau Park connected by a network of footpaths. What’s more, you can even bathe your feet in hot foot baths. Check out more attractions like this in the 15 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Rotorua.
Location: Kuirau Street, Rotorua.
8. Craters of the Moon
Craters of the Moon has a very different history than the previous parks mentioned. The area only opened to the public recently when a geothermal power station was established nearby. The natural gas in the area just outside of Taupo is now captured by the station which toned down the activity in the area, making it possible to visit today. Walking the whole park through fumaroles, craters and mud pools takes under an hour. What’s more, at around NZ$10 per adult, it’s one of the cheapest paid geothermal parks in New Zealand.
Location: Karapiti Road, Wairakei, Taupo.
9. Wairakei Terraces
With hot pools fed by geothermal springs, Wairakei Terraces is a place where you can experience the tranquillity of geothermal waters and see some stunning terraces, geysers and hot springs. The hot pools are the main attraction, however, so learn more about them in the 10 Best Hot Pools in New Zealand.
Location: State Highway 1, Wairakei, Taupo.
10. Tokaanu Thermal Walk
Just outside of the little town of Turangi and the Tongariro National Park is the hidden gem of the Tokaanu Thermal Walk. This free 20-minute loop walk takes you through native bush to various different hot pools, bubbling mud and colourful displays.
Location: State Highway 41, Tokaanu, approximately 6 km (4 miles) from Turangi.
More About Geothermal Parks in Rotorua and New Zealand
That’s it for our list of the best geothermal parks in Rotorua and New Zealand! For more geothermal wonders across the country, take a look at these guides:
- 7 Free Natural Hot Springs in New Zealand
- The Natural Wonders of New Zealand
- 10 Best Hot Pools in New Zealand
Finally, to complete your bucket list for Rotorua, check out the 25 Best Things to Do in Rotorua, while the rest of New Zealand is covered in the 101 Things to Do in New Zealand: The Ultimate List.