It was a fresh, crisp morning in early February when we embarked on a walk through Wai-o-Tapu Thermal Wonderland. Known as one of the most colorful and diverse geothermal attractions in New Zealand, it was our top pick when selecting where to take our children to appreciate the unique volcanic features in the Rotorua region.
Since we happened to be in Rotorua during the Chinese New Year (along with thousands upon thousands of vacationing Chinese), we opted to follow some online advice that suggested we skip the famous “Lady Knox Geyser” eruption at 10:15am in a separate area of the park. This allowed us to start treking through the rest of the park while the hoards of tourists were at the induction of Lady Knox (yes, the geyser is literally “induced” by pouring a soap into–causing it to erupt according to their schedule each day)! One must select priorities, and since we’ve seen Old Faithful in Yellowstone National Park, USA (which is 2 to 4 times higher) we decided our children’s energy would be best put to use exploring the main area of the park without the crowds.
We started out fresh and ready to go…Ethan dashing under the myrtle, kanuka, and manuka trees!
The paths at Wai-o-Tapu (Maori for “sacred waters”) are well-maintained and defined with clear railings or wood boardwalks, when necessary. We opted to bring two strollers with us, making the walk easier with our two wee ones (ages 2 and 8 months).
With sunscreen lathered on, we treked up the hills in near-solitude, and enjoyed the eery steam that rose from the thermal pools into the crisp morning air.
As we spent time in the park, the morning air warmed up, and we were better able to view the bright green and orange colors of Champagne Pool, which is a relatively young hot spring formed by hydrothermal eruption about 900 years ago. It bubbles and boils at a temperature around 175° F (~75° C). Yowzers!
The park was dotted with many craters and pools, and then the path opened up to a scenic view of oddly yellow/green hot spring pools below. The upper paths were stroller-friendly (gravel/packed dirt or boardwalk), but as we descended to the lower hot springs there were quite a few stairs–so we left our stroller in a covered shelter area.
The colors of most of the pools were green or yellow, and of course, there were lots and lots of boiling spring and mud pools!
Sandals are not recommended for walking in the park…and we could see why!
The park’s path makes an easy large loop for those with time to explore the entire park (75+ minutes), however, if you’re limited on time you can do a smaller loop (about 30 minutes). Our favorite areas were actually in the smaller-loop area (see red below), but every section seemed to offer something new. With our progress being limited to the speed of our kids who enjoy discovery of what is around them, we definitely took longer than an hour and a half!
After about one hour of enjoying the morning solitude, the tourist masses caught up with us, and we no longer had the park to ourselves.
Back at Champagne Pool we glanced back across the hot springs at the throngs of tourists just beginning their walk around the park. We were glad to be on our way out!
The last loop ended with a bang at “Devil’s Bath”–which is a striking florescent green/yellow color!
While it’s not Yellowstone, the park was very interesting and in a fairly compact area. We saw a lot of craters, springs, and boiling things, but having missed the earlier geyser, a definite “wow” factor was missing. Why don’t they do an afternoon eruption of the geyser, too? After all–they get to control it! However, skipping the tourist masses worked for us–and we certainly don’t regret that choice!
Bring hats, sunscreen, water, and start early in order to not cook among the hot earth that steams and gurgles around you. Overall, we don’t think a visit to Rotorua would be complete without an opportunity to view the geothermal wonders in the area–and the locals recommended Wai-o-Tapu as the best! Enjoy!