Named as one of the most surreal places on earth by Tripadvisor, Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland should be right at the top of your list when you’re in the North Island of New Zealand. Wai-O-Tapu (Māori for “sacred waters”) showcases New Zealand’s most colourful and unique geothermal elements. There’s nowhere else like it on earth!
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A Little Background Info About Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland
Wai-O-Tapu is located 30 kilometres from Rotorua (a 30 minutes drive from the city), located in the middle of New Zealand’s North Island. As its name suggests, it is indeed a wonderland. It showcases an exceptional landscape of geothermal features such as large colourful unreal hot springs, steaming fumaroles, spouting geysers, sinter terraces and bubbling mud pools. Yes, they are all-natural, sculpted by thousands of years of volcanic activity.
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Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland is run privately within the Waiotapu Scenic Reserve, so there’s an entry fee; NZD$32.50 per adult and NZD$11 per child. Pretty pricey for a park but you won’t get to see anything else like this elsewhere. 😉
Bubbling Mud Pool – A Treat Before Entering the Park
Before you enter the central geothermal park, there is a mud pool on the way there. This can be easily spotted by a small sign on the Waiotapu Loop road, stating ‘mud pool’. Taking the path will lead to a free mud pool with a short boarded track just off the road.
What a nice little freebie just outside the park!
Geothermal Park – The Real Deal of Wai-O-Tapu
It is recommended to spend 2-3 hours (photo-taking time included) here. There are 3 loops available, each building upon the previous so you could easily adjust based on your capability and the time you have. There is information at each spot with an easy to follow map so you will get to learn where all that beauty came from.
The beauty of the Wonderland is mainly from the Artist’s Palette, Champagne Pool and the neon green Devil’s Bath.
The Artist’s Palette is unique as the landscape is constantly changing, where no two days are the same; hence, the name Artist’s Palette.
The Champagne Pool is the largest hot spring in New Zealand. It was formed an estimated 700 years ago by a hydrothermal eruption. It measures 65m in diameter and 62m in-depth, with a surface temperature of 74 degrees Celsius. The bubbles you will see are caused by carbon dioxide, giving the pool a Champagne-like effect. This is probably the most photographed highlight of the wonderland.
Devil’s bath, or Roto Kārikitea, is a crater essentially filled with excess water from the Champagne Pool. It is extremely acidic and is 14 degrees Celsius cold.
The neon green colour is a result of mineral deposits being suspended in water and refracting the sunlight. That being said, the pool will be brighter on sunny days and duller on cloudy days.
Tip: If you’re not that particularly interested in the Lady Knox Geyser, you will pretty much have the whole geothermal park to yourself at around 10 am. Perfect for photos and some quietness!
Lady Knox Geyser – Not at the Same Carpark!
At 10.15 am every day, the Lady Knox Geyser erupts. They put soap in it so that it will blow on schedule, but it was still very impressive to us, nonetheless. The eruption height differs daily, ranging from 10-20 metres.
The Lady Knox Geyser is outside of the main park, so you need to pre-purchase (online) or purchase your ticket at the entry and then drive back to the road that takes you there. Do take note of this as we saw some people getting turned away because they didn’t have the ticket to the Lady Know Geyser. Also, make sure you have enough time to find parking, walk to the geyser, etc. as there may be some traffic congestion (due to the confusion of the different areas) and you do not want to end up missing the eruption.
Extra things to take note – No Hidden Surprises!
So that you don’t get alarmed at the entrance – This whole site has gone cashless so you can only use credit cards for all purchases, including drinks, souvenirs and your entry tickets.
The smell of sulfur is pretty intense, but that’s just how nature works. It is due to the geothermal activity underground, and besides, the key to what you see lies below the surface!
There are no toilets and no drinking water stations in the whole park, except at the starting point. Make sure you are fully prepared before embarking on your walks! This could seem pretty impractical to many, but we’re sure the park has a reason behind this. Perhaps, this is to maintain the purity and cleanliness of the geothermal area? We’re not too sure.
Last but probably the most important tip, come to Wai-O-Tapu, as early as you can. In fact, visit the place the moment it opens for business! Thousands flew all over the world to visit this wonderland.
Being an early bird really pays off when you get to spend more quiet time in the area, and the extra mist due to the cooler temperature is definitely something we would all appreciate!
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Last updated on March 15th, 2020.
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