The Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland is probably the most famous geothermal park in Rotorua New Zealand thanks to the famous Champagne Pool. But it is also home to the Lady Knox geyser, mud pools and surprising fluorescent colors ponds. Below is my guide to help you plan your visit to Wai-O-Tapu geothermal park.
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Why visit the Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland?
The region of Rotorua-Taupo is an active geothermal wonderland.
It is home to many thermal valleys surrounded by lakes and forest. They all offer different features and incredible colors, as if painted by artists.
It is also home to a rich Maori culture.
The combination makes it a wonderful destination for your New Zealand road trip.
But with so many options which geothermal parks should you choose to visit? Wai-O-Tapu is definitively in my top 3 Rotorua geothermal parks.
Why choose the Wai-O-Tapu geothermal park over the others?
The reason I love Wai-O-Tapu (which means “sacred waters” in the Maori language) and rank it high are:
- The intense unicolor features. The other parks tend to have multicolor features but here you have a few places with just a single intense (incredible) color.
- The famous Champagne Pool, even though it is one of the most famous places in New Zealand North Island, does not disappoint (in my opinion).
- The first loop is a very easy walk accessible to many
Geology of Wai-O-Tapu
You have access to only a small portion of the 18m2 of the geothermal area.
It is located in the Northern part of the Reporea caldera. It has the largest remaining sinter terrace in NZ (since the Pink and white terraces disappeared).
After the planning tips you can see more photos. Enjoy the beauty without the smell!
Planning Tips - Wai-O-Tapu Rotorua New Zealand
How to get to Wai-O-Tapu
- Located on North Island, not far from Rotorua
- Rotorua to Wai-O-Tapu = 30min drive
- Taupo to Wai-O-Tapu = 40min drive
- Auckland to Wai-O-Tapu = 3h15 drive
- From Rotorua: south on SH 5 towards Taupo for 27km (20 mins drive) until you reach the Waiotapu Tavern. Turn left opposite the tavern and travel 2km
- Wai-O-Tapu is included in my eBooks, to help you plan an unforgettable road trip:
Be overwhelmed by the beauty, not the planning!
- 12 easy-to-plan Maps
- 200 scenic locations in NZ
- Tips to plan + make the most of your time
- 285+ large photos to decide where to go
- GPS coordinates direct to the carparks
- 6 easy-to-plan Maps
- 90+ scenic locations in NZ North Island
- Tips to plan + make the most of your time
- 150+ large photos to decide where to go
- GPS coordinates direct to the carparks
But if you don't want to drive, you can find group tours that include a visit to Wai-o-tapu departing from Rotorua - Check out options & Book
Visiting Wai-O-Tapu - Tips
- For price, opening times and facilities check out the Wai-O-Tapu website
- Cashless site! All credit-cards accepted - You can purchase an entry ticket on their website or on Viator in your own currency
- Opening Hours - Summer 8:30 am to 6pm / Winter 8:30 am to 5pm
- The geyser Lady Knox show starts at 10:15am.
- Plan 1 to 2 hours depending on which walking loops you choose
- The paths are well maintained. The main loop is easy, the others do have stairs
- Toilets near the entrance
- Café with light meals at the visitor center
- Outside of the park you can already observe some mud pools and a geyser called lady Knox that they trigger artificially every day at 10:15am (see dedicated section further down)
- Drones are not allowed inside Wai-o-tapu unless pre-approved by the direction
Planning to rent a car in New Zealand? Check out the local company Snap Rentals
I selected it myself and paid my rental in full. My experience:
- They were very nice and responsive, they pick you up and drop you off at the airport
- The car I rented was in perfect condition
- In addition, they have all-inclusive insurance packages with AAA roadside assistance, which means I didn't have to worry (I think it's worth the price)
Where to stay near Wai-O-Tapu
Being only 30min from Rotorua and 40 from Taupo, both towns are good options to spend a couple of nights. There is a lot to see in the region.
But there are also accommodations off the business of the towns, that are closer to the park:
- LUXURY - Astelia Lodge is in a picturesque locations with spacious rooms and a tasty breakfast - Check out photos and availabilities
- FARMSTAY - Or stay at the old post office overlooking the farms and admire the stars at night - Check out photos and availabilities
- LAKE VIEW - or stay a little bit further in Ngamihi lodge for incredible views of Lake Tarawera - Check out photos and availabilities
- or check out the best rated accommodations in Rotorua
- or the best rated accommodations in Taupo
Walking paths of Wai-O-Tapu geothermal park - Map
What to see - Wai-O-Tapu Map
Below is the map of the park displayed at the entrance.
As you can see there are 3 loops you can take -
- The first loop includes Champagne pool and artist's palette. It takes 30min - I think it is the most interesting one.
- If you add loop 2 that takes you along the Primrose Terrace, the whole tour will take 40minutes
- And if you choose to combine all 3 loops all the way to Lake Ngakoro, it will take you 1h30
Those timing are not sufficient if you take thousands of pictures like me though 🙂
Safety on the Wai-O-Tapu walking paths
The trails are well maintained.
The first loop is easy. However if you head to loop 2 and 3 you will have some stairs.
For your safety, please stick to the walkways and stay behind the barriers. Make sure your kids don't run around. This is a volcanic area!
Thermal pools can reach over 100°C (210°F) and what look likes solid ground may only be a thin crust.
And wear sturdy and closed footwear.
Wai-O-Tapu geyser & mud pools - Lady Knox
Outside of the geothermal park, you can observe other features: some fun mud pools and the Lady Knox Geyser.
Wai-O-Tapu Mud pools
Located North of the Visitor center (4min drive on te Wai-O-Tapu loop Road), you can walk around some mud pools with intense activity.
They explose quite high. I have seen many mud-pools but those were the ones which exploded the highest.
Wai-O-Tapu Geyser: Lady Knox
There is another carpark near the Lady Knox Geyser. It is a 2 min drive (or 15min walk) from the Visitor center.
And the geyser viewing area is a short walk from the parking. They have set up benches for everyone to see.
Naturally the geyser would explode everyday but not regularly at the same hour. So they help trigger the event with a natural something, so that everyone can enjoy the phenomenon everyday at 10:15 am. So don't be late!
If you have not purchased your Wai-O-Tapu ticket online, then you have to go to the visitor center first as you need your ticket to see the Lady Knox Geyser.
Wai-O-Tapu Artist's Palette
One of the first colorful features you will see as you walk around the geothermal valley is the Artist's palette (point 5).
It is a large open area with a very thin crust creating a cream terrace. Water from the Champagne pool overflows on it.
The different stains of colors are due to mineral deposits: the groundwater is superheated by old magma. It dissolves minerals from rocks underground and deposits them at the surface when it evaporates.
Colors to be found are (I think):
- Yellow = Sulphur
- Red = Iron oxides
- Orange = Antinomy (Stibium)
- Pink / Purple = Manganese / Permanganate
The Champagne Pool - Wai-O-Tapu thermal valley's famous feature
The highlight of Wai-o-tapu geothermal wonderland is the champagne pool and it is not hard to understand why.
It is a large pool of steaming water : 65m in diameter and around 62m in depth.
And along its round edge a deposit of deep orange color has built up.
It formed 700 to 900 years old as a result of an hydrothermal eruption. So it is quite young!
I admired it for a long time and I think I took almost 100 pictures of it. I know, I am crazy...
Why is it called Champagne Pool?
Because it produce abondant carbon dioxide, like bubbles out of Champagne.
How hot is the Champagne pool?
At the depth of 62m the estimation is of 260°C (500°F). And at the surface, the temperature maintains between 73°C and 75°C (167°F)
Why is the Champagne pool orange?
The beauty of the pool lies in the orange deposit contrasting with the grey silica.
It is due to metalloid compound which precipitate as the gas enter the atmosphere, mostly Opiment and Stibnite (according to wikipedia)
Walking along the Primrose Terrace
Loop 2 will let you walk all along the Primrose terrace.
It is made my silica deposits moved by water overflowing from the Champagne pool.
It is so delicate, it looks like lace, don't you think?
Other geothermal features of the Wai-O-Tapu Wonderland
Wai-O-Tapu has many other geothermal features apart from the champagne pool. Some are bright yellow or fluorescent green while other are grayish but with interesting shapes. My favorites were the very colorful ones.
Lake Ngakoro waterfall
At the further end of Loop 3, you reach Lake Ngakoro. Its color is a variation of green depending on the light.
At its end is a 2m high waterfall of extremely hot water.
The Devil's Bath
Another one of my favorite (I think on loop 1), is the Devil's bath. This color is just unbelievable: neon green.
It sits in a depression that must have been created by an eruption.
The yellow-green comes from deposits of sulphurs floating on top.
And many others...
Wai-O-Tapu or Te Puia Geyser - Rotorua
If you want to see a geyser, you have mostly the choice of Wai-O-Tapu or Te Puia.
The choice is difficult:
- On one end, I really prefer the Pohotu geyser in Te Puia which sprouts consistently. The terrace under it is stunning.
- On the other end, I love all the other features of Wai-O-Tapu with the colors...
Sorry I am not helping more with the decision... I opted to do them all - you can can read my article about the geothermal parks in Rotorua
Want to see more of NEW ZEALAND?
Very unique place, don’t you think?
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Thanks Claire for sharing your Wai-o-Tapo article and photos. I’m visiting tomorrow and hope to capture some photos as nice as yours.
Claire, the Travel Planning Geek says