Rotorua is without a doubt New Zealand’s premier geothermal destination. However, it is also the most visited city by tourists in the country, so we tend to recommend you avoid some of the geothermal areas closest to the city itself, and instead focus on those further south between Rotorua and Taupo where the tour buses start to thin out.
Waimangu Volcanic Valley is the youngest geothermal system in the world; the 17km active fault running through it developed following the eruption of Mt Tarawera in 1886. It is not as impressive as some other spots when it comes to the variety of colours but the 4 hour walk through the park or a cruise on the lake is still really worthwhile, especially to catch the steaming fumaroles that come out under the lake.
Wai O Tapu is certainly the most remarkable of the geothermal areas in terms of the impressive array of colours on display, particularly in the artist’s palette and the famous Champagne Pool. We wouldn’t recommend waiting around for the geyser to go off as it’s actually artificially triggered but the bubbling mudpools that are off the main site are worth the detour.
Between Wai O Tapu and Waimangu you’ll find Kerosene Creek, a stream with natural hot water flowing from a spring, there’s no facilities here and you need to bring your swimsuit and a towel but it’s a really unique experience to relax in a hot spring that is 100% natural. If however you’d prefer to stretch out in proper hot pools then head to Waikite Valley thermal pools which are still pretty confidential but also provide a lot of fun for the kids.
Finally the last spot you should put on your to visit list is further south, closer to Taupo. Its name is Orakei Korako which means the hidden valley in Maori. To get to the geothermal site you have a quick ferry trip across Lake Ohakuri and then it takes one to two hours to explore this unique area including silica terraces, geysers, mudpools and the Ruatapu Cave. There is also a day combo option including a jetboat ride on the Waikato River followed by the Orakei Korako experience.
So there you have it - our pick for the not to miss geothermal sites in the Rotorua area.
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