A visit to Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland in Rotorua

This page may contain affiliate links.
Learn more in our disclaimer.

Rotorua, situated on the north island of New Zealand, is known for its geothermal activity. Think bubbling mud pools, steaming hot springs and a range of colourful waters and rock formations. It’s hard to image people living on top of a geothermal area, until you’ve been to Rotorua. There’s steam coming out of the sewerage and a constant sulphuric (rotten egg) smell in the air. Geothermal activity is all around you in Rotorua, but THE spot to witness it at its best is Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland.

Here’s everything you need to know when visiting Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland in Rotorua.

Geothermal Activity is StrangeGeothermal Activity is Strange
Green Lake at Wai-O-TapuGreen Lake at Wai-O-Tapu

Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland – Practical info

Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland got its name from the Maori, New Zealand’s indigenous people. They called the area Wai-O-Tapu, meaning Sacred Waters. Now it’s probably Rotorua’s biggest tourist attraction. The park is situated on an active volcanic area, the Taupo Volcanic Zone, displaying all sorts of natural works of art. Maybe you’ve heard of the world famous Champagne Pool, or seen photos of it without knowing what exactly you were looking at. Either way, it’s worth seeing with your own eyes. Only then you’ll believe that the colours in our photos aren’t fake, but the real deal.

A visit to Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland will cost you NZ$32.50 (adult) per person. This fee gets you in the park, armed with a guide map. Apart from the different walking routes, that guide map also includes a short explanation for each of the fascinating features you’ll encounter. We spent about 70 minutes in this thermal wonderland, doing all three hikes. Wouldn’t want to miss a thing! It was low season though, allow for more time during the summer months.

The Belching Mud PoolThe Belching Mud Pool
Wai-O-Tapu Thermal WonderlandWai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland

Beware: two features that are advertised to be part of Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland, aren’t actually in the park. The Lady Knox Geyser and the Mud Pool are both a 3 minute drive (in your own vehicle) from the Wai-O-Tapu Visitor Centre. We’re not sure about the Lady Knox Geyser, but the Mud Pool is definitely free.

Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland – Our visit

On our way to Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland we made a quick stop at the Mud Pool. It’s literally a mud pool, bubbling and belching, spraying mud in the air. The sounds coming out of that grey puddle reminded me of a toad. It’s a fascinating sight and definitely worth a visit when you’re in Rotorua. And it’s free! Stay behind the fences though, as the mud is 60 to 80°C and the steam up to 100°C.

We skipped the Lady Knox Geyser. Why? Only once a day at 10:15 there’s a presentation by a guide. He gives you some information about the history and workings of the geyser and starts it. Yep, you read it correctly, the geyser eruption doesn’t happen naturally. It sprays for about 45-60 minutes, and that’s the perfect time to visit Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland without the crowds. It was autumn though, so not much crowds anyway.

Champagne Pool at Wai-O-TapuChampagne Pool at Wai-O-Tapu

So, from the Mud Pool we drove straight to Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland. Taking the “scenic route” from the car park to the visitor centre, we were rewarded with a nice overview over the thermal wonderland we were about to enter. It was early afternoon on a warm autumn day and there weren’t many other people exploring Wai-O-Tapu. Perfect conditions for a nice and relaxed visit.

There are 3 different walks through Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland, taking you over boardwalks and clearly marked paths along stunning displays of geothermal activity. We walked them all, the full 3 km, which took us about 70 minutes. Stay on the path at all times. It’s an active volcanic area you’re walking on and you don’t want to burn your feet.

The most popular of Wai-O-Tapu’s features is without a doubt the Champagne Pool. It’s a big pool of bubbling water with a browny orange edge, one of the most unique pools in the world. Lots of steam is coming from the surface, where the water reaches 74°C. Don’t come too close when trying to get that perfect photo!

Incredible colours at Artist's PaletteIncredible colours at Artist's Palette
Devil's Bath really looks like thisDevil's Bath really looks like this

Another highlight of our visit to Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland is the Artist’s Palette, displaying a range of ever-changing colours. These colours are caused by the minerals in the overflowing water from the Champagne Pool.

There are more wondrously coloured features to be seen though, like the Devil’s Bath. Situated at the end of the walk, this crater has unreal coloured natural water on the bottom. It’s almost fluorescent green with yellow on the edges. Again, the colour is a result from overflowing water from the Champagne Pool, mixed with sulphur and ferrous salts. The colour changes with the amount of light reflected.

Walking through Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland, we were amazed and fascinated by the geothermal activity and the stunning colours it produces. We saw oddly coloured lakes, deep craters, beautiful mineral terraces, bubbling mud pools, all the while steam is rising everywhere you look. Don’t skip Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland when you’re visiting Rotorua. It’s worth the money to experience a side of nature that you don’t see often!

Have you been to Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland in Rotorua or seen geothermal activity somewhere else? Were you as fascinated as we were? We’d love to read all about your experiences in the comments!


Like it? Pin it!
Did you find this post helpful? Help us spread the word by sharing this post or pinning the following image.

Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland in RotoruaWai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland in Rotorua