If you go to New Zealand for any length of time, you will at some point hear about its position as one of the major geothermal areas in the world. In Rotorua, you will hear about it (and see it) everywhere you go. You will also smell it.
A visit to a museum or geothermal site will tell you all about the formation of New Zealand millions of years ago, back when it separated from the pre-historic supercontinent of Gondwana (Australia, Africa, South America, and most of the modern-day Southern Hemisphere). New Zealand is now on a major boundary line between the Australian and Pacific plates, which is why it is filled with so much geothermal activity (and earthquakes, unfortunately).
While you will find geothermal areas through the country, Rotorua is the major geothermal hotspot in New Zealand, and therefore one of the main tourist areas. Most of you know that sulpher-rich, rotten egg smell, and it’s certainly present around the town of Rotorua (although I didn’t notice it too much and was not at all bothered by it).
WaioTapu Thermal Wonderland
Geothermal attractions in and around Rotorua include Waimangu, Whakarewarewa, and many others. But the one site I had to visit during my time in Rotorua was Wai-O-Tapu, New Zealand’s “Thermal Wonderland”. Boasted as New Zealand’s (much smaller) version of Yellowstone, Wai-O-Tapu is home to geysers, hot springs, and magnificently colored pools.
While it stayed relatively sunny in town, out in the valleys surrounding Rotorua it quickly turned foggy and frosty. As my first stop after leaving Hot Water Beach, I was quickly reminded that was indeed winter in New Zealand. I spent a few hours walking through Wai-O-Tapu, and it was cloudy the entire time, so getting proper photos was difficult. It didn’t take away from the in-person viewing experience though.
A walking track leads you through the park, past all of the major features, with plenty of signage to tell you what you’re looking at. My favorite features were the Devil’s Bath (a neon green pool) and the Champagne Pool, but the entire place is filled with interesting things to look at.
I can’t compare Wai-O-Tapu to the other geothermal sites in the area since I was unable to see them all, but I can say that it’s totally worth a visit. Adult admission is just over $30, and it generally only takes about 3 hours to see the whole park.
Wai-O-Tapu is located about 20 minutes outside of Rotorua, so if you don’t have a car, you’ll need to arrange and budget for transportation. Luckily there are plenty of transportation and tour options available. I went with Thermal Land Shuttle. For $70, they provided transportation to and from Wai-O-Tapu, a stop at the Lady Knox Geyser, commentary from the friendly driver/guide, admission into the park, and a stop at a nearby hot springs pool at the end of the tour. I was pleased with my decision to go with Thermal Land Shuttles, as it made my trip to Wai-O-Tapu easy.
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