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.
Elsewhere in the park sulphur colours the landscape yellow and adds a pungent and uniquely Rotorua smell to the air.
Kanuka grows wild along wooden walkways that hug cliff faces and take you over steaming ground to the 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 steaming Artist’s Palette contains pools within pools of mineral rich water – green showing the presence of arsenic, and yellow showing sulphur.
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.
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.
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.
We enjoyed the story the guide told about the geyser, and were surprised with 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.
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.
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).