Visiting the geo-thermal wonderland of Wai-O-Tapu.

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The colours of Wai O Tapu geothermal wonderland near Rotorua can only be described as ethereal. Mother Nature really is phenomenal. You don’t have to travel far within Rotorua to spot geothermal activity; it’s everywhere. There’s mud pools in the parks, steam billowing out under sidewalks, and even in patches and pools beside the lake. But experiencing the dramatic colours, smells and sounds of under-earth activity at Waiotapu is the best place to really get an understanding of what is going on…

Here’s everything you need to know about visiting Wai o Tapu:

About Wai O Tapu

The name Wai o Tapu is Maori, named by the indigenous people of New Zealand. In the most direct translation, it means Sacred Waters.

So what is Wai o Tapu like?

Wai o Tapu is part of an 18km active geothermal park, located on the perimeter of a collapsed volcanic crater (the Reporoa Caldera). The original crater of the park was formed over 230,000 years ago. Today, the site is one of the most extensive geothermal systems in New Zealand

Visiting Wai o Tapu will give you the opportunity to walk uninterrupted around the park and watch, hear and learn about the geothermal activity that is going on.

Visiting a thermal wonderland

It is recommend you allow at least 90 minutes for your visit to Wai O Tapu. The park is designed with walking trails around the park, consisting of three separate paths. If you haven’t got long, or you aren’t up for a hike, the first loop of the trail is a short 1.35km (0.85 miles) and takes you to the most popular stops in the park. The second and third loops of the park make the total walking distance 3.05km (1.9 miles).

A guide map to the park is given with purchase of your ticket which includes a map with numbered markers for 25 specific geothermal features around the trails. The three loops are marked with different colours (red, orange and yellow).

Crazy colours of mud and sulphur residue.

Highlights of Wai O Tapu

1. Champagne Pool

This is parks most popular attraction. It’s unreal in colour with vivid greens and orange hues in the water and rock surrounding the pool. The pool is 65m around and sits at a temperature of about 74 °C.

2. Boiling mud pools

You won’t be able to figure out if you can smell, hear or feel the warmth of these boiling pools of mud as you get close… The sounds are unreal, coming from metres down inside the earth.

Boiling mud pools at Waiotapu, Rotorua New Zealand.
Boiling mud pools on the first loop track.

3. Lake Ngakoro

The entire water of Lake Ngakoro appears in a bright green colour, formed by a volcanic eruption over 700 years ago. The lake is the furthest point on the walk around the park (about 45 minutes from the start).

Beautiful green Lake Ngakoro at Waiotapu Rotorua, New Zealand.
Beautiful Lake Ngakoro at the end of the trail.

4. The Devil’s Bath

The Devil’s Bath is the last stop on the trail (it can be viewed on each of the three walking trails). This was definitely my favourite spot in the park. The bright neon green colour is like nothing I’ve never seen!

The unreal neon green of the Devil’s Bath.

Know before you go

Due to the current state of Covid worldwide, the hours of operation to Wai-o-Tapu are limited. At the time of writing (September 2020) opening hours are:

  • Monday, Tuesday, Saturday, Sunday: 9am to 4pm (last admission 3pm).
  • Wai-o-Tapu is CLOSED on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday each week.

We spent a little over two hours exploring the park with the kids.

Visitors Centre entrance at Waiotapu, Rotorua.

Admission cost: 

  • $32.50 NZD per adult
  • $11.00 NZD per child (5-15)
  • $85.00 NZD per family (with 2 or 3 children) 

Note: The park does not accept cash payment for admission. Tickets are sold by electronic payment only.  All major credit cards and EFTPOS are available. Find all the details on the Waiotapu site website.

  • Toilets: There are no toilet facilites on the trails within the park. Use the toilet facilities in the Waiotapu Information Centre after buying a ticket; just beside the entrance.

Getting there

Driving from Rotorua
Travel south along the Thermal Explorer Highway (SH 5) towards Taupo for 27km (20 mins drive). When you reach the Waiotapu Tavern, turn left opposite the tavern and travel 2km to reach the Waiotapu park entrance.

Driving from Taupo
Travel north along the Thermal Explorer Highway (SH 5) towards Rotorua for 53km (40 mins drive). Turn right where signposted and drive a further 1km to the Wai-O-Tapu park entrance.

Wai O Tapu Address: 201 Waiotapu Loop Road, Waiotapu, Bay of Plenty, 3073, New Zealand.

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