New Zealand Road Trip Adventures: Rotorua & Waikite Thermal Pools
It was hard to leave the Coromandel Peninsula when we had barely scratched the surface but we had so much ground we wanted to cover on the North and South Island in just two weeks so we packed up and headed south. Our next stop was Roturua, also known as Sulphur City due to the overwhelming smell of egg from all of the geothermal activity in the region. Honestly, I didn’t think the smell was nearly as bad as some people made it out to be, but maybe its worse in certain areas or certain times of the year? But yes, there definitely is a particular odor and I see how the city got its nickname. The city sits on a lake of the same name and it is the cultural center of the North Island for the indigenous Maori people. It is also a huge draw to witness the mystical geothermal activity and geysers as well as soak in the mud baths and thermal pools that are said to have healing qualities. It really is a must-see if you are in the North Island and we couldn’t not pay it a visit.
We found an excellent campsite where we were able to park just feet from the lake with black swans swimming about in front of us. The best part was was the stunning sunrise over the lake the next morning. Not usually one to wake up before the sun, sleeping in a van it was kind of hard not to. And once I caught a glimpse of the sun peeking over the mountains, I shot out of bed and grabbed the camera. It was so peaceful and beautiful. A pretty epic moment on the trip!
It was a good thing we were up early because our plan for the day was to head to the Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland for a chance to see some of this fascinating geothermal activity up close and personal. Each day there is a geyser that erupts at 10:15 am so we didn’t want to miss that. How does it erupt at the same time every day you ask? Well, they force it to. Kind of takes the fun out of it I suppose but still was cool to see. It was $35 NZD/person to get in the door which seemed a little steep, but it was truly a once in a lifetime experience to get up close and personal with nature at its best.
The reserve is built on an active volcanic area with multiple tracks taking you anywhere from 30 min to 70 minutes to complete (not including stops for photos). We were given a pamphlet when we entered that gave details about the different pools and formations and how they came to be.
It really was fascinating and I’m glad I talked Charlie into this small splurge to get to see it up close. Some of the colors were just stunning and so unreal. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves – and no we didn’t edit any colors in the photos!!
If you’re going to make the trip, we recommend getting there early (before the geyser) and fit in as much as you can beforehand. If you head to the geyser, return to the park and start through the exit to avoid crowds and having people in your photos. Otherwise, just skip the geyser altogether 😉
They have mud pools at the park you can pay to use, but we heard about some thermal pools we were keen to check out. The Polynesian Spa is probably the most popular in the area, but we were told the Waikite Valley Thermal Pools were also exceptionally nice, surrounded by beautiful mountains and farmland, less crowded and a lot less expensive! This was right up our alley.
What topped it off for us is we learned they had a campground and so if you camped there you could access the pools for free. After our morning of exploring the geothermal wonderland, we headed straight for the Waikite Valley Thermal Pools and spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing in the pools bouncing around from one temperature to the next. It was absolute bliss and we can’t recommend it enough.
The next morning it was time to pack up again and head to our next destination…Taupo!