The Wai-O-Tapu thermal pools are amaaaaazing! These must be Rotorua’s best hot springs! This gorgeous walk is on New Zealand’s North Island, near Rotorua (so less than an hours drive from Taupo.)
After seeing the Maori carvings near lake Taupo, we had plans to stay by Okoroire hot springs that evening…but we still had a whole afternoon to fill. Our friends were busy sampling Kiwi wines, but Marc and I fancied a bit of a walk. We looked around the tourist information center in Taupo for ideas. I had heard of Wai-O-Tapu from an awesome blog friend, Melanie from Wandering Darlings. So, once Marc saw brochures for it and liked the idea, we decided to head straight there! I am so, so glad we did!
Wai-O-Tapu thermal pool map
The walk around Wai-O-Tapu thermal wonderland:
Total distance: 3-6 km
There is an easy walk all around the Wai-O-Tapu thermal pools. It is actually three walks, but once you have paid the entrance fee, you might as well do all three! I realise that as the author of a blog about walking, you might not believe me when I say that this is an easy walk. But I promise! There are plenty of benches all around the walk, so even if you do find it tiring, there are plenty of places to rest. I didn’t time our wander, but I *think* it took us around 3 hours to explore the whole park. We were *much* slower than most other tourists, but you will probably want at least an hour or two.
Having said that, the only toilets are right at the start of the walk, so if you have a weak bladder, use the facilities before you start exploring!
What to bring:
- It’s pretty warm near thermal pools, even on a rainy day! Bring water.
- There is some shade, but there are lots of exposed areas too. The Kiwi sun is strooong so bring sunscreen.
- The paths are very good, but I was still glad of my walking boots
- Bring a camera! It is way too pretty to not take a few (or a few hundred!) photos
- The entrance to the Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland costs $32.50, so bring money too!
My Virtual Tour of the Wai-O-Tapu thermal pools:
I am going to give you a virtual tour of the Wai-O-Tapu thermal pools, so even if you can’t make it to New Zealand you can see how awesome it is! This is just a taster of how amazing the park is, so if you can visit the North Island, add this to your list of cool things to do!
The sulfur smell will hit you as soon as you enter the park! If you’d like an authentic feeling to your virtual tour, grab some eggs before you start reading. If you can bear it, slightly rotten eggs would be best!
The route starts by circling around some pretty impressive craters. The largest was around 50 meters with sulfur-smelling steam bellowing out. Some of the craters had boiling water or mud at the bottom of them. Some were covered in bright yellow sulfur. These craters were created pretty recently (in geological terms anyway!) in the last few hundred years. The steam rising from the ground is acidic, so it slowly dissolves the surrounding rocks until the floor collapses to make craters.
Devils Ink Pots:
Some of our favourite craters were the ones that were filled with bubbling mud. The colour is due to crude oil and graphite.
You can see the patterns from the bubbling mud in this pool next to Marc. I don’t think these would be good for a mud bath!
The Artists Palette:
Now for the most impressive view of the day! The Artists Palette. This giant thermal pool is simply stunning! There are a huge variety of colours spread over the pool. Apparently they alter as the water level and wind direction changes. That little greeny-blue pool at the edge of the palette is called the opal pool.
About the colours
I’ve noticed most brochures and instagram posts about Wai-O-Tapu really ramp up the saturation on their photos. I thought the thermal pools were spectacular in real life, so I didn’t add filters to make them look more impressive. Or, maybe if you visit on a sunny day the colours will be even brighter and more impressive!?
Anyway, if you are interested in what causes all these stunning (and natural) colours, I took notes!
The water is heated by magma left over from old eruptions. This heats a network of streams to extreme temperatures below ground (up to 300°C!) This allows the water to absorb minerals from the surrounding volcanic rocks. Cool eh?
Here are my notes about the rainbow (from signs at the park and the map they provided)
- Red-brown: Iron oxide
- Orange: Antimony (a pretty sparkly mineral) or Arsenic
- Yellow: Sulfur or Arsenic
- Green: Colloidal sulfur or ferrous salts
- Blue: It just said alkali-chloride
- Purple: Manganese (we didn’t see any purple areas though!)
- White: Silica
- Black: Sulfur and carbon
- Grey: Carbon
There are a few little side walks off through the trees where you can see the Artist’s palette from different views. I was a bit sad to see some dead trees, until I saw what amazing colours they were too! The crazy colours are from an algae called trentepohlia.
Crossing the thermal pools:
There is a boardwalk that crosses right over the Artist Palette. So you can walk above the Wai-O-Tapu thermal pools! The whole area is lovely and warm from the hot water below. Marc even managed to snap a good jump shot! Then we kept walking on to the famous champagne pool.
The Champagne Pool
This is the pool on the front cover of lots of the brochures. The center of the pool is a pretty turquoise with bright reddy-brown edges. There is lots of gold and silver in there…but I don’t think it would be very easy to retrieve it!
It is also hot! According to the signs it is 62m deep, so the super heated water comes from pretty deep. At the surface it is 74°C and full of bubbles of carbon dioxide. While we were there it let off a constant stream of steam. We endured a natural sauna as I tried to take photos!
After visiting the Champagne pool you get a pleasant walk through the bush. Although it is still warm and still has a whiff of sulfur. This leads to a lookout point that shows the primrose terrace and the rest of the park that you are about to hike around.
The Primrose Terrace
You can see over the whole area and down to the primrose terrace. Water flows down from the champagne pool and as the water evaporates it leaves silica behind in a gentle slope. Next you get to follow some steps down to see the area below the primrose terrace where the warm, mineral rich water flows down towards Ngakoro lake.
The whole valley is volcanic, so even though this area does not have quite as many rainbow colours as the pools above, there are plenty of sulfur deposits and bubbling pools to see. Even the sides of the cliffs were pretty brightly coloured!
The Frying Pan Flat
The next part of the walk goes past another large flat eruption crater. It is littered with bubbling hot springs, and I guess that means there are plenty of insects. I didn’t actually see many insects, but there were a couple of pied stilts wading through the water catching and munching all of those bugs.
The path then winds around past other volcanic sides like an ‘Oyster Pool.’ It’s a natural sulfurous pool that is surrounded by a ledge that looks like an oyster. Behind the Oyster Pool was a whole cave decorated with sulfur crystals. These form because the top of the cave gives a nice shelter for the sulfuric gases as they cool and solidify into crystals.
This whole area is very unstable, so you have to stay on the boardwalk at all times. It does have pretty impressive views though! Wai-O-Tapu thermal pools are not all bright colours, but they are all interesting.
Lake Ngakoro Waterfall:
I think this might be the first hot waterfall I’ve ever encountered! The water flows down, first from the champagne pool right at the top of the hill, then it trickles down the primrose terrace to be collected in the streams and ponds in the Frying Pan Flat and the area around it. Finally, most of the water is funneled through a narrow point to create a gushing, steaming, hot waterfall! The water then flows into the bright green Ngakoro lake below.
The rain stopped for a second and we were lucky to see Ngakoro lake with a slither of blue sky! The Ngakoro lake is not part of the walk, but you can see some lovely views of it from the end of the bush walk.
Most other visitors came to peek at the lake, took a photo and then rushed off again. We were distracted so just stayed for a while enjoying the sounds of all the local birdies. Once we stayed still for a bit, the birds came over to see what we were up to, so we got to see them up close. I think the little dude on the right is a Fantail. I’m not sure about the other fella though.
Eventually we realised that we should head back before the Wai-O-Tapu thermal wonderland closed! We followed the paths back around past the frying pan flat and through the bush walk, finishing back at the pretty champagne pool. It was still steaming.
We thought that was the end, but there were a few more huge craters to see! There was a huge inferno crater, with mud bubbling at the bottom. There was also a birds nest crater, where clever birdies (swallows and mynahs) nest in holes in the cave, and use the geothermal heat to help incubate their eggs!
The walk finishes with a crazily bright yellow pool called the Devil’s bath. I was not expecting any more thermal pools, let alone such a bright photogenic one, so I got excited all over again!
I’m not convinced it’s be a good idea to take a bath in this water either though. You can see that tree did not do well from a dip in those sulfuric waters!
So, if you are unsure if you like the idea of a stroll around the Wai-O-Tapu thermal pools, I hope this gives you a taste of what to expect. The walk was easy, but it was still one of my favorite sights in New Zealand. If you are interested in volcanoes or geology, then you HAVE to explore here!
What do you think? Is this the kind of sightseeing hike you’d like too? Click on the following link if you need other ideas for Kiwi Adventures.