Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland, Rotorua

The star attraction at Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland is The Champagne Pool with its sun burst orange edges and tiny champagne like bubbles on the surface.

The Champagne Pool at Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland

The Champagne Pool at Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland

Elsewhere in the park sulphur colours the landscape yellow and adds a pungent and uniquely Rotorua smell to the air.

Yellow sulphur mounds

Yellow sulphur mounds

Kanuka grows wild along wooden walkways that hug cliff faces and take you over steaming ground to the miniature Lake Ngakoro waterfall.

Walkway to Lake Ngakoro waterfall

Walkway to Lake Ngakoro waterfall

Miniature Lake Ngakoro waterfall

Miniature Lake Ngakoro waterfall

You can’t see the boiling mud at the bottom of Inferno Crater but you can hear it swishing violently like an angry washing machine. In contrast the delicate and pretty Primrose Terraces have been forming for over 700 years and cover 3 acres.

The Primrose Terraces

The Primrose Terraces

Close up of The Primrose Terraces

Close up of The Primrose Terraces

The steaming Artist’s Palette contains pools within pools of mineral rich water – green showing the presence of arsenic, and yellow showing sulphur.

Artist's Palette

Artist’s Palette

The Devil’s Bath changes colour depending on the amount of reflected light and cloud cover. We stood over it late in the afternoon as the last of the sun’s rays tinged the crater edge orange and the water within swamp green.

Devil's Bath

Devil’s Bath

The images were taken on walks 1,2 and 3 which take at least 75 minutes and cover 3 km. Not all of the walks are wheel chair and push chair friendly, check with the Visitor Centre. Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland is located at 201 Waiotapu Loop Road, 27km from Rotorua. Admission is $32.50 adults, children $11, families of five $80. The park opens at 8.30am 365 days of the year.

Devil's Ink Pots at Wai-O-Tapu - mud pools coloured by crude oil and graphite

Devil’s Ink Pots at Wai-O-Tapu – mud pools coloured by crude oil and graphite

An added extra at Wai-O-Tapu for morning visitors is the eruption of Lady Knox Geyser at 10.15am. The eruption isn’t a natural phenomenon, the geyser is given a helping hand or at least a handful of washing powder to set it off. Some people aren’t impressed, but if it was left to Mother Nature it could be some time between eruptions.

Giving Lady Knox Geyser a helping hand

Giving Lady Knox Geyser a helping hand

We enjoyed the story the guide told about the geyser, and were astonished at the number of people who were there to see the eruption mid week. Note: If you want to see the eruption allow plenty of time. You need to get your ticket from the Visitor Centre first, then travel a short distance to the geyser car park. If you don’t want to see the eruption take the opportunity to beat the crowd and head out on the Wai-O-Tapu walks.

But wait, there’s more – Free Mud Pools
The mud pools are listed on Wai-O-Tapu’s website but you can see them free of charge. Look for the Mud Pool signs off Waiotapu Loop Road and take a short drive to the car park and viewing area. The mud is active here so it’s worth the detour.

See mud pools for free on Waiotapu Loop Road

See mud pools for free on Waiotapu Loop Road

The mud pools are hypnotic

The mud pools are hypnotic

In summary, we think it’s the vivid colours, and the geyser story and eruption (albeit human assisted) that are reasons to visit Wai-O-Tapu. The unusual formations also made us feel like visitors in an alien landscape, and despite Wai-O-tapu’s popularity and the necessary addition of boardwalks and barriers it still feels like a landscape left to evolve as nature intends.

Close up of The Champagne Pool

Close up of The Champagne Pool

A few tips:
Wai-O-Tapu is a busy tourist attraction and as such it has a well stocked cafe cabinet if you were planning to visit for lunch.

The park will be busiest in the morning after the Lady Knox Geyser eruption at 10.15am. If you don’t want to see the eruption you could beat the crowd and head out on the walks, opening time is 8.30am.

Wai-O-Tapu is 27km from Rotorua and a short detour from the Thermal Explorer Highway on the way to Taupo. Visitors wanting to make the most of their time could include Wai-O-Tapu as part of the journey to Taupo rather than making a round trip from Rotorua.

Cover up in summer as much of the park is exposed to the elements.

Wai-O-Tapu offer free* entry to Rotorua and Taupo residents – take proof of address. (Note: *Entry is no longer free for locals, see comments below).

The Champagne Pool

The Champagne Pool

8 thoughts on “Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland, Rotorua

  1. Is it possible to cover walk 1+2+3 in time just before seeing Lady Knox Geyser eruption (just see it erupt not listen to the story-telling).

    Though looking at waiotapu map, seems most of the highlight is within walk 1 itself. Hmm So i might just cover walk 1, am i gonna miss anything wow from walk 3?

    • Hi
      Walk 1 is the most popular and includes the highlights, but what I liked about doing the other two walks as well was that there were less people around and at times we had the place to ourselves. If you only do walk 1 you might always wonder what you missed so if you have the time do the three walks I reckon.

      Unless you already know the story of the geyser, I think it’s worth listening too. Tell you what, if you have the time and follow my advice but think it was time wasted, let me know and I’ll happily pay for you to do a Zorb ride or an activity at Agroventures or something else in Rotorua that you’d like to do.

      PS. I wouldn’t recommend trying to do the three walks before the geyser eruption, I doubt you could do them and see the geyser as well.

  2. Rotorua is an absolute wonderland of geothermic activity! The incredible steam vents set the scene for an almost-Alien landscape. I love these pictures and such great content! I enjoyed my time visiting this awesome destination very much!

  3. “Wai-O-Tapu offer free entry to Rotorua and Taupo residents – take proof of address.”

    Unfortunately its NOT FREE anymore, we went today and they say tha they are no doing that any more (its seems that there are new owners)

    • Thanks for the heads up, as we discussed via email it’s a shame Wai-O-Tapu is no longer free for locals. As you mentioned, the free entry allowed locals to take their various fee paying relatives and visitors so they could enjoy the experience together, locals will probably be less inclined to take visitors to Wai-O-Tapu now.

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