Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland: Exploring Hot Springs and Rainbow Rocks

by Karen Warren
A neon green geothermal hot spring called Devil's Bath at Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland

One of the consequences of New Zealand’s geothermal activity is an abundance of hot springs

Some of these are now spas, visited for their therapeutic and health-giving properties. Others, like Whakarewarewa, are centuries-old Maori settlements. 

But Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland, 27 kilometers (16.8 miles) south of Rotorua on the North Island, focuses on the natural environment and is a local attraction accessible to everyone. 

Although I’ve never seen a nature reserve quite like this before, Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland is full of trees, rocks, and water of every imaginable color, giving the whole place an otherworldly appearance.

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Sacred Waters Of Waiotapu

Waiotapu means “sacred waters” in the Maori language. Although the area has long been uninhabited, it was once home to the Ngati Whaoa tribe

As you walk around the park you come to a path known as The Sacred Track, passing the probable site of the early settlement.

Today Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland is run as an eco-reserve. It seeks to protect the geological landscape and provide a safe environment for the plants and animals that live there. 

Since 2012 the site has been owned and managed by a Maori company, preserving the physical and cultural heritage for future generations.

Trees and a walking path around Waiotapu

A forest path at Waiotapu. Photo credit: WorldWideWriter

Geological Formations Of Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland

Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland is an 18 sq km volcanic zone, full of craters, hot springs, and weird geological formations. The landscape was formed 160,000 years ago, but it remains a work in progress. 

The newest addition, the Thunder Crater, emerged as recently as 1968, and there are signs everywhere urging you to keep to the paths as the volcanoes are still active.

Not all of the park is accessible to the public, but visitors can choose from three waymarked walks through the Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland.

We took the longest, 3 kilometers (1.9 miles) of varied and sometimes steep pathways. 

This led to a panoramic viewpoint, looking across the massive Kaingaroa forest to a geothermal power station in the distance. 

An aerial view of the light blue hot springs, mud pools, and walking path of Wai-O-Tapu Frying Pan Flat

Looking over the Frying Pan Flat. Photo credit: WorldWideWriter

As we went we passed craters and pools with evocative names. There was the Inferno Crater, where we could hear the mud pounding at the bottom, and the Devil’s Bath, full of evil-looking green water.

An Artist’s Palette

Walking through Wai-O-Tapu is a slightly unreal sensory experience. There was a strong smell of sulphur everywhere and we breathed in hot steam as we walked

It was a dull wet day, and we went from being cold to hot depending on where we were standing, a bit like being in a sauna. 

We could hear bubbling mud and hissing steam and birds chattering in the trees.

Bubbling grey mud at Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland

You’ll see lots of bubbling mud pools at Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland. Photo credit: WorldWideWriter

But it was the colors that were remarkable. Oxides in the ground have given their colors to the rocks and the water. 

Rainbow Crater has bands of red and yellow rock, and the orange water of the Champagne Pool is fringed with grey and yellow silica. 

Orange waters of Champagne Pool

Vivid colors of Champagne Pool. Photo credit: WorldWideWriter

Orange and green geothermal springs with steams coming up at Waiotapu Thermal Wonderland in Rotorua, New Zealand

Here is another photo of Champagne Pool on a sunny day. Photo credit: Life Of Doing

At the center of the park is the Artist’s Palette, a vast pool with a whole range of colors from green and yellow to orange.

One of the hot springs called Artist's Palette has orange, yellow, and green waters at Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland

Artist’s Palette with multicolored waters. Photo credit: WorldWideWriter

The trees and bushes soak up the minerals too. Some of them are blackened, giving them a burnt appearance. Elsewhere they are tinted with shades of mauve and yellow, like something from a sci-fi movie set.

A tree that has yellow color due to absorbing nearby minerals at Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland

The trees were this color. Photo has not been edited! Photo credit: WorldWideWriter

Lady Knox Geyser

*Recommended by Life Of Doing

Before entering the Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland attraction, you may consider checking out the Lady Knox Geyster. 

Located about a 5-minute drive from the main parking lot, this is a geyser that starts erupting at 10:15am. The full eruption is at 10:30am. The eruption is not natural since it needs extra chemicals to expedite the process.

But it’s a fun and child-friendly interactive show. Member participation is highly encouraged, especially to make the geyser erupt magically. 

The show is free to watch. (You’ll need to pay for the Wai-O-Tapu tickets at the main entrance.)

Lady Knox Geyser is an induced geyster that erupts hot water daily at 10:30am at Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland

Lady Knox Geyser eruption. Photo credit: Life Of Doing

Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland Additional Information

Address: 201 Waiotapu Loop Road, Rotorua 3073, New Zealand 

Location: Click for Google Maps

Official Website & Buy Tickets Here: https://www.waiotapu.co.nz/ 

Social Media: Instagram | Facebook

Final Thoughts

Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland is a vibrant and bubbly geothermal hot spring in Rotorua.  

It’s worth the visit to walk around and witness the colorful springs such as the neon green Devil’s Bath or the multi-colored Artist’s Palette. The walkways are well-maintained and have plenty of signage to direct you to various areas of the nature reserve. 

We hope you get the chance to visit!

Check out WorldWideWriter to see my latest travel adventure. 

Featured Photo Credit: Life Of Doing

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