Must-visit Geothermal Parks in New Zealand
New Zealand is literally a hotbed for geothermal activity. Although hot springs can be found all over New Zealand, the region between Rotorua and Taupo has the highest concentration of hot springs, geysers, silica terraces, sulfuric pools and bubbling mud in the world. Perhaps only rivalled by the Yellowstone National Park in the United States, the geothermal parks in the North Island area truly unique experience which will make 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 geothermal park to geothermal park. 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 wonderlands in New Zealand!
1. Orakei Korako
Known as “The Hidden Valley”, Orakei Korako features caves and thermal wonders. The highlight of the valley is a variety of silica terraces. The Golden Fleece Terrace, which is bronze and golden(ish) steaming terraces, are the biggest and most impressive of them all. We can’t help but be mesmerised by the bubbling mud pools too.
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 planet Earth! Touring the park takes only about an hour at the most. Nevertheless, there are 25+ different geothermal features to see. Quick tip: time your trip with the “eruption” of the Lady Knox Geyser every day at 10:15am. Extra quick tip: take your swimwear to bathe in the natural hot spring just outside the park. Take a look at 5 Free Natural Hot Pools in Rotorua for more information.
3. Waimangu Volcanic Valley
On the 10-June-1886, the Tarawera volcano erupted destroying all life in the area. With that, the volcano 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: 25 minutes south of Rotorua. Take State Highway 5 to Waimangu and turn onto Waimangu Road. Book your entry to Waimangu Volcanic Valley here.
4. Whakarewarewa (Te Puia)
Te Whakarewarewa Geothermal Valley was once home to a Maori pa (fortified village) called Te Puia. It is now a great cultural attraction mixing Maori culture and geothermal features. The jewel of the park is Parekohuru, a large hot spring pool which bubbles intensely every 45 minutes or so. Other features of the park include geysers and mud pools. For more Maori experiences, check out 10 Places to Experience Maori Culture in New Zealand.
5. Craters of the Moon
The Craters of the Moon have 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 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.
Location: 8 minutes north of Taupo. Take the Thermal Explorer Highway and turn off onto Karapiti Road.
6. 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.
Location: Kuirau Street, Rotorua.
7. 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 Wairakei Terraces also make one of the great 10 Things to Do in Taupo at Night.
Location: Taupo. Wairakei Terraces is on State Highway 1 in Wairakei 7km (4 miles) from Taupo.
8. 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: 6km (4 miles) from Turangi on State Highway 41.