Wai-O-Tapu: A tourist trap worth stepping in

April 14, 2015

When traveling (or living) in New Zealand, a country whose largest export is tourism, it can be daunting to sift through all of the stuff there is to do. JUMP OFF THIS! ZIP DOWN THAT! FISH OVER HERE! Tramp, bike, fly, swing, and soar over there! (And now we’ve just summed up Queenstown.) There is a lot of tourism in New Zealand that, from me, elicits major eye roll.

That being said, when we were up on the North Island last week, we did three major touristy things. And because I did some homework, they were all freaking awesome!

1.) The Tongariro Crossing. Do it. But do it right. Read how here.

2.) The Waitomo Glowworm Cave. All kinds of touristy. But just one of a kind. Read about it here (with our secret free add-ons), next week.

3.) Which brings me to this post: Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland


Wai-O-Tapu is an area of extreme geothermal activity. It is located just outside of Rotorua, along the diagonal country-wide rift known as the Taupo Volcanic Zone. This zone is home to hundreds of volcanoes, craters, hot pools and streams, mud holes, and geothermal wonders.

Wai-O-Tapu, being particularly active, has a whole host of colorful, bubbling, steaming, and stinky attractions, all within a 5k radius. Wai-O-Tapu in Maori means “Sacred Waters”.


How could this not be sacred?

Now, this place will cost you $32.50/adult ($11/child) for admission… but before you balk… it was rated by users on Trip Advisor as “One of 20 surreal places you need to see to believe”. But don’t take their word for it… Take mine!

Wai-O-Tapu is indeed, surreal. I had seen so many photos of it before we went that I was afraid I would be jaded and it wouldn’t be as cool. Thankfully, I was wrong.

IMG_1154 IMG_1149 IMG_1185

Once past the touristy entrance, you are mercifully left to your own devices. There’s about 5-6 kilometers of meandering trails that wind around several varied geothermal wonders (like the “champagne pool” just above- Wai-O-Tapu’s crown jewel). Guests may take their time exploring the area, which is divided into three main loops. For those who are less active or less able, there’s plenty to see on the first loop. The second and third offer more varied attractions and some beautiful views, but the Champagne Pool (above) and the Artist’s Palate (below) are both on the main loop.

IMG_1129 IMG_1147

Things To Know

This area is highly active in it’s geothermal nature, so when they say the ground is hot, they mean 100 degrees Celsius, or higher! Flip flops/sandals are not recommended for walking the tracks- even though they’re quite flat.

IMG_1163 IMG_1152

This attraction is great for anyone. The main walk is almost dead flat. The extra loops have some stairs, but they are sturdy and not too long. There’s plenty of benches to sit and rest, and take in the scenery. No one in the family should miss out on this place!

IMG_1159 IMG_1121

It’s great for nerd-ing out. Get your learn on. There’s an information board at almost every feature, as well as a pamphlet to carry around for reference. Or if you would prefer not to learn things (you know who you are) it’s a photographer’s dream. So don’t forget the camera!

IMG_1191 IMG_1174Lots of camera-worthy stops. Also, don’t forget to take it all in without the lens, and file it in your internal register of awesome.

IMG_1134 IMG_1132

One’s perspective can change as quickly as the wind blows…

IMG_1183 IMG_1180

The champagne pool is 230 feet deep, and 260 degrees Celsius (500 F) at it’s core. Orpiment and stibnite (no, I didn’t make those up) are the main elements responsible for the orange rim around the dark green gem of a pool. As I mentioned, this is undoubtedly Wai-O-Tapu’s crown jewel.

There’s a geyser that “erupts” every day spot on at 10:15am. The website suggests that you arrive at 9:30 to get a good spot to view this from. I have mixed feelings about manipulating the awesome-ness of an otherwise natural geyser to blow every 24 hours on the dot for tourist maximization, but I don’t think this is a reason to write off Wai-O-Tapu all together. (And for some of you, I suppose it’s a reason to go! Get there early!) Perhaps it goes without saying, but we skipped this feature.

IMG_1165 IMG_1166Lastly, in the area there are also a lot of cool free geothermal activities. Kerosene Creek which I wrote about before, Kuirau Park in Rotorua, and the free mud pool just out side of Wai-O-Tapu will get you started. This is a phenomenal area unlike anywhere else in the world, so I suggest a few days to take it all in.


Free bubbling mud outside of Wai-O-Tapu

So you heard it here first: not all tourist traps are bad. Just make sure to get off the beaten track too, okay??


You Might Also Like


  • Reply scottsm777Scott Sumner-Moore April 21, 2015 at 4:56 pm

    Hi Kristin! Please don’t ever let Scott (or yourself!!!) do a ride as seemingly dangerous as this one: http://www.liftable.com/andreadcombs/ridge/

    The scenery kind of reminds me of some of your NZ adventures — rocky crags and beautiful ocean vistas….

    Hope all continues to be well with you two.

    –Scott S-M

    • Reply kristen.fellers@gmail.com April 21, 2015 at 5:51 pm

      Thats an amazing video isn’t it? Don’t you worry, even combined we don’t have the skill that Danny Mac has in one little finger, so we won’t be doing that 🙂

  • Reply Susan Sinclair October 24, 2017 at 10:21 am

    I love this and your 10 Step Guide to Hiking (and Not Dying) on the Tongariro Crossing. That last reminded me of signs I saw posted in Haworth UK – “How not to die on the moors.” Your remarks, wherever you are, are remarks that I would like to think I would make. I have copied many of your beautiful photographs to my computer as inspiration . Coming to New Zealand from Boston MA in late November 2017 and will be following your trail. Thanks for sharing your experience.

  • Come on, you must want to tell me something!