Since we only had 9 days in New Zealand, we had to make them count. Being on the north island, we decided to see the volcanic region around Rotorua, which is also 1 of the 1000 Places To See Before You Die. As it turned out, that was a great decision.
Rotorua is famous for all the geothermal activity in the area. You won’t find too many hotels or caravan parks that don’t have their own thermal pool for their guests. Even walking around the city and the parks, you’ll pass hundreds of small steaming wells and if you go in the winter (like we did), you can even see them from far away, because the amount of steam increases with colder air temperature.
Even though it has a beautiful lake named like the city, Rotorua in itself was not the attraction that we enjoyed most. It really is all about the geothermal activity even though the city is also called Roto-Vegas because there are so many motels and there is so much entertainment there.
The Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland
Erupting geysers, huge volcanic craters, bubbling mud pools and of course the steam in the air with that strong stench of sulfur, that is what you’ll find in Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland just outside of Rotorua.
It is an amazing geothermally active area with pools of differently colored hot waters that really make you forget about that sulfuric smell in the air.
The different minerals which are dissolved from the rock by the hot water and then deposited on the surface create a wonderful play of colors all around the area, where you can do a 90 minute walk to see the different spectacles of the park.
The park is home to the Champagne Pool, one of the largest thermal pools in the world with both the diameter and depth being over 60m. The name is derived from the constant bubbles which are coming to the surface. We didn’t have the fortune of seeing the bubbles (or much of the pool) because there was too much steam – probably because of the cold air temperature of about 5°C.
The pools are quite hot, some even are almost boiling – so watch out, there is no swimming in those pools.
Just outside the park it the Lady-Knox-Geyser which erupts every day at 10.15 am (well, they use some sort of soap to make it erupt). The geyser shots up hot water and steam up to 20m high for as long as an entire hour. It is pretty amazing to see the geyser, but after 10 minutes it gets a bit boring.
Also just a few hundred meters outside the parks are New Zealands largest bubbling mud pools, where – as the name implies – you can see hot mud bubbling away. The mud is not bubbling because it is boiling, but because gases from underneath come out at these mud pools. Nevertheless, they are quite hot and you probably shouldn’t jump in.
The Thermal Pools of Rotorua
We happened to be in the area on Soni’s birthday so we wanted to treat ourselves to a nice visit to one of the thermal pools in Rotorua. The most popular one is the Polynesian Spa directly in Rotorua, which is also the most expensive one.
Lucky for us, the owners our Caravan Park in Rotorua (very nice people btw) told us that there is another thermal pool just 30 minutes outsides of Rotorua called Waikite Valley Thermal Pools which only cost $14 compared to $42 for the more luxurious Polynesian Spa. It doesn’t have massages and stuff, but we didn’t want that anyways. So we saved some money and had an amazing time there.
Since it was winter, the landscape was even more impressive as the hot water (up to 99°C), which runs down a slope to cool down to a comfortable 39°C, was creating so much steam that it felt like walking through a sauna. Truly impressive!
I have been to other thermal pools, but this one is right in the middle of nature, which made this a very unique experience.
Is Rotorua Really One Of The 1000 Places?
I’ve never been to Yellowstone National Park, which is another very famous geothermal region, but I strongly believe that this area deserves to be on the list. With all the exciting stuff there is to see around there, you’ll find something fun for everyone.
And the fact that there is a city built right on this area with all those steaming pools and wells makes this quite an interesting place to be. So yes, this is one that stays on the list.