Wai-O-Tapu instantly captivated me. The name means sacred waters, yet legends and science explain it all. Surreal, rising steam enhances nature’s dreamlike palette of colours.
Check out the photos below, and you will know that Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland is a must-see if you are visiting the geothermal Rotorua region of New Zealand.
Volcanic activity in the area dates back about 160,000 years. Visitors safely walk on boardwalks and paths through the Wai-O-Tapu Wonderland, passing collapsed craters, boiling pools of mud or water, colourful mineral deposits, a forest, and steaming fumaroles.
First, let New Zealand inspire you …
Let’s explore Wai-O-Tapu
Try to visualize yourself taking a self-guided tour and looking out over the water and seeing sites like the Champagne Pool and the craters.
The advantage of doing it on this page is only that you avoid the distinctive smell of sulphur. If you haven’t experienced it, imagine rotten eggs.
On our last visit, we opted for a self-guided tour. There are three walking trail options, each taking you farther into the park. Walk 1 is wheelchair accessible and allows you to see nearly everything photographed on this page. Options include:
- The main trail (Walk 1) is 1.5 km (.9 miles) and takes about 30 minutes to complete.
- Adding Walk 2 increases the distance to 2 km (1.2 miles) and the total time to 40 minutes.
- The entire park (Walks 1, 2, & 3) is a 3 km (1.8 miles) walk that takes approximately 75 minutes. Therefore, arriving when the park opens allows enough time to complete the full trail and see Lady Knox Geyser (more information on this is below).
The largest spring in the geothermal Rotorua region, the Champagne Pool is undoubtedly the most photographed spot at Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland.
It’s 700 years old and formed by a hydrothermal eruption. Measuring 65 metres in diameter and 62 metres deep, it has a surface temperature of 74°C (165°F). Gold, silver, mercury, sulphur, arsenic, thallium, and antimony are among the minerals contained in the Champagne Pool.
The Artist Palette at Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland
The vivid colours at Wai-O-Tapu are all naturally created by a mix of various mineral deposits. Some of the key colours and their corresponding minerals include:
- Green → Colloidal sulphur and ferrous salts
- Orange → Antimony
- Purple → Manganese oxide
- White → Silica
- Yellow-primrose → Sulphur
- Red-brown → Iron oxide
- Black → Sulphur and carbon
*This image was shot on an Olympus TG-5 (the predecessor to the Olympus TG-6), a tough, compact camera that is waterproof, shockproof, freezeproof, and fits in my pocket. I was testing it out on our visit to Rotorua and found it to be a wonderful travel companion.
Unless otherwise noted, all other images on the page were shot with my Olympus OMD EM5 – still my favourite camera for manual creativity.)
Next, our self-guided tour brought us to the Inferno Crater. At the angry bottom of the crater is rapidly boiling mud.
The self-guided tour is easy to follow as the sites are labelled and numbered (small red sign next to the name) to correspond with the self-guided map.
Another of the surreal views, the Devil’s Bath colours are created as the excess water of the Champagne Pool mixes with sulphur and ferrous salts.
While it was a fluorescent green colour when we saw it, it changes throughout the day and is affected by cloud cover and reflected light.
More craters at Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland
Most of these craters have formed as extremely hot water created acidic steam that dissolved the ground above as it rose. The smells are not always pleasant, but the views make up for it.
Wai-O-Tapu isn’t only geothermal
The Wai-O-Tapu stream is part of nature’s drainage system and eventually flows to the Waikato River and ultimately out into the Tasman Sea.
Parts of the trail were through the trees.
Regardless, it is one of the more unique things to do in New Zealand.
Lady Knox geyser
Important Note for planning:
It is a short drive between Lady Knox Geyser and Wai-O-Tapu’s Visitor Centre, and each has its own carpark. You will want to allow enough time to park your car and get seated before 10.15 am when the geyser erupts daily.
One of only 10 remaining active geysers in New Zealand, Lady Knox Geyser fascinates visitors every morning at about 10.15 am.
If you wondering (like I was) how nature can be so precise, it’s simple. It has assistance.
First, a short presentation including safety information and the amusing story of the first eruption in the 1800s. It involved laundry and butt-naked prisoners running for cover.
Simulating the laundry event, the presenter adds a biodegradable soap to the geyser that breaks down the water barriers allowing the bubbling water to rise and shoot out the top.
Hitting heights of up to 20m, it’s a sight not to miss.
The geyser is named for Lady Constance Knox, the daughter of the 15th governor of New Zealand, Uchter Knox.
There is also a Wai-O-Tapu geyser on walk 3. Its eruption schedule is less predictable, erupting every 2 to 36 hours. It did not erupt while we were there.
Tips for visiting Lady Knox geyser
- Note that while Lady Knox is part of the Wai-O-Tapu thermal park, it is in a separate location with a different car park.
- We arrived at Wai-O-Tapu thermal park at 8:30 am when it opened and were at the geyser in time to park the car and get a seat before 10.15.
- Depending on wind direction, if you sit in the front row when Lady Knox Geyser erupts, you may get wet.
- See video footage of the Lady Knox geyser.
Geothermal Rotorua Tours
If you prefer a tour to a self-guided exploration, here are a few we recommend, some also include other Rotorua geothermal areas:
|Wai-O-Tapu Entry & Transfers||Rotorua||Wai-O-Tapu|
Hotel transfers from Rotorua
|Flexible Rotorua Tour||Rotorua||Waimangu|
Options of: Wai-O-Tapu, Hobbiton, Whakarewarewa Living Maori Village
|3.5 to 9 hrs|
|Auckland Day Trip to Rotorua||Auckland||Wai-O-Tapu|
What you need to know before visiting Wai-O-Tapu
- Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland is at 201 Waiotapu Loop Road, Rotorua, 31 km.
- It’s a 30-minute drive from downtown Rotorua, located in the western Bay of Plenty.
- The park opens every day at 8:30 am and closes at 4:30 pm. The most crowded time of day is just after Lady Knox geyser has erupted. Therefore, visiting before the eruption will encounter smaller crowds.
- There is NO SMOKING allowed in the park, as some of the minerals are quite flammable.
- While it seems obvious, I remind you not to touch the water or mud. Much of it is boiling, and it will burn you. If you don’t believe me, or any of the warning signs, there is a first-aid office in the visitor’s centre.
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- Flights: we use Expedia for the best and cheapest flight options.
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- Cars (gas or electric): we use RentalCars to search for deals and dealer ratings.
- Campervans or Motorhomes: we use Campstar where Albom Adventures readers get a 3% discount
- Activity discounts: we check Bookme.com for discounts of up to 70% on activities.
- Private guides: we love the private guides at Tours by Locals
- Travel Insurance: our go-to is World Nomads*.
Check out our travel resources page for more companies that we use when you travel.
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What is your favourite thing about Wai-O-Tapu?
More about Rotorua you might enjoy …
- What to Do in Rotorua New Zealand: A First Timer’s Guide
- Waimangu Volcanic Valley: World’s Youngest Geothermal System
- Free Things to do in Rotorua
- Enjoy an Auckland to Wellington Drive with These Stops
- 15 Most Beautiful Places to Visit in New Zealand to Inspire You
Disclaimer: We worked with Destination Rotorua, the local tourism board. We were provided with complimentary entrances, tours, and sample items to assist in the writing of this review. The opinions expressed here are strictly our own.
I wish I had one of those hot pools in my backyard! With my back I deserve one for sure! Great pics to say the least. Thanks for sharing and have a great day!
Nature is incredible and beautiful. These remind me of Yellowstone National Park.
Worth a Thousand Words
Oh WOW! That’s amazing!
an amazing serie of pictures. All of them are wonderful, and these landscapes too;
Lady Knox Geyser would be my favourite spot. Lovely images!
Beautiful Rhonda. We had a quick 1 day layover in Rotorua so simply smelled the sulfur in town LOL. Neat effect. Being a huge basketball fan, I recall Steven Adams saying when he first made the NBA how “his hometown smelled like farts.” I looked it up; sure enough, he is from Rotorua. So much to do around town too. Charming little place.
One day isn’t enough time. (Neither was three days), there is so much to see and do . . . and smell.
I’m totally reminded of Yellowstone National Park. I could almost smell the sulfur while looking at the pictures. =)
I have many happy memories of this place and your great photos bring them back to mind, Rhonda!
Wow, such beautiful and surreal scenery! I’d love to see it in person sometime. Your photos are amazing! Love the colors!
Wow, this really reminded me of Yellowstone but there is so much variety and beautiful spots here! Yet another thing to add to my New Zealand must-do list! Thanks for the detailed guide to visiting too! Stunning!
This is something I’ve only seen in Yellowstone National Park. Actually I believe that Geothermal Rotorua and Yellowstone are quite similar. Lady Knox Geyser is really impressive. It seems the tours are quite long, so if we want to visit this area we should probably allocate a couple of days, right?
There is plenty to do in Rotorua, I would allocate at least two full days, depending on how long you stay in New Zealand. You can see all of Wai-O-Tapu in two hours. Get there when it opens at 8.30.
This palette of colors is impressive! Love your pictures! Wai-O-Tapu goes to my New Zealand travel bucket list! Thanks for the inspiration.
So very otherwordly looking! The only place I’ve ever experienced like this would be Yellowstone with it’s geysers and hot pots. Devil’s Bath’s color really makes it stand out in your beautiful photos.
Lyn aka The Travelling Lindfields
We have been to Wai-O-Tapu twice and, like you, got some stunning photos. The Champagne Pool is perfect for photography.
The Champagne Pool would be my favorite, though your photos portray a lot of amazing places to visit! Thanks for sharing!
Keri | Ladies What Travel
It’s smelly there, but I loved Rotorua!
I loved this place!! Looks like you had a tad better weather than I had 😀 Did not love Lady Knox though, not after experiencing a real geyser in Iceland.
Lady Knox is a real geyser, they only add the surfactant to “stir the pot” for visitors. Without it, timing is irregular.
NZ just keeps inching up my ‘NEED to travel here’ list. Have been loving your posts on it. I am really a sucker for thermal pools and it looks like they are a plenty in NZ!
Wow what a beautiful place! Certainly reminds me of Yellowstone National Park! Old Faithful erupts about ever 30-45 minutes so we were lucky to see that shoot water into the air! I like how you’ve also included the colors and what they mean!
Marie Moody aka XmasDolly
Each & everyone of these pictures are phenomenal. WOW! I would love to be right there and see that geyser spouting off. Totally awesome! Thank you so much for sharing your absolutely beautiful breath-taking photos. You truly have an eye for a great picture!!!
Stunning views and amazing creation by the maker. I want to come over for a tour!!!
Andrea B. Agillon
Your shots are great! I went there with my sister in 2014 and all the images and emotions through all those are still vivid in my mind. We walked on our own at our own pace and that is really awesome. The only thing we didn’t go to is the Lady Geyzer as it is on a different part of the walk. I even saw some birds on the maybe hot areas and also a group of Filipinos also on a tour, that was lovely!
Wow….those are amazing scenes, and so varied!
This was by far the best “attraction” that we visited in Rotorua. The scenery on the walk through Wai-O-Tapu was spectacular, and the Champagne Pool with it’s boardwalk were so unique and colorful as well.
I would love to go back there. It’s been 30 years, still waiting for that elusive winning lottery ticket…
That is indeed a wonderland. I remember smells from the Sulpher Springs and mudpots at Lasseen Volcanic Park in California. Thank you for the sights from Wai-O-Tapu. Great pictures! And what a wonderful area. Totally my kind of place.
I haven’t been to that park in California, but I am sure the smell is similar.
Handmade Jewelry Haven
I guess there is no place to take a nice salt bath at that temp!! Whoa!
Thanks for sharing!!
There are spas in Rotorua, but this is not one of them.
I bet it smells awful! It looks wonderful though! The colors are so pretty!
It doesn’t smell anywhere near as bad as you might think.
I love all the names of the pools – and how many of them are Devil related!! Good safety point about not touching the water, I was wondering if it was possible, but obviously not. The The Artist’s Palette sounds like it would be my favourite, with Mother Nature so colourful!
I am sure the bubbling and boiling was the reason for the “devil” names. And, when you visit, don’t be tempted to touch the water.
Amazing Rhonda – just wonderful photos – I’d love to visit and if I ever get down under will go and see … love your descriptions too … thank you – cheers Hilary
Hilary, you will love it. It is a truly amazing place.
I adore this post! New Zealand is somewhere I’d love to visit one day, and this thermal wonderland is truly a wonderland! I know the smells aren’t pleasant (I remember it from Iceland), but they’re incredible to look at. It reminds you of the power of nature!
The smells in most of the park aren’t that unpleasant, just the bubbling mud odor gets to me a bit.
This is so great! I came here like three years ago and really loved it. When I visited it was pouring with rain but it was still beautiful. Definitely a must see if you are on the north island.
I would imagine it would be very much the same in the rain, only less smelly.
I love these kinds of places. The earth doing noisy work. Beautiful shots.
Have a fabulous day and week, Rhonda. ♥
Thanks Sandee, and yes this place was a bit of noisy work.
This is so gorgeous! I’m currently editing a guest post on my blog about Wai-O-Tapu and I’ve been blown away by all the natural beauty! These photos are amazing!
Cool. I look forward to reading it.
Another amazing place to see while visiting New Zealand. It reminded me of Yellowstone in a different environment. There’s a place in North Sumatra, Indonesia that has geo thermal, too but without the geyser. It’s on a small area though.
I haven’t been to Yellowstone since I was a child, but I have heard that it and Wai-O-Tapu are quite similar.
Christina | From Under a Palm Tree
This place looks seriously incredible! I have always wanted to visit New Zealand. Two of my best friends lived there for a year traveling and it just seems like the most amazing place. This seems like a really cool place to visit in New Zealand too. I love all the colors and it’s cool how they’re all from different natural things! Very cool.
I also found the colours and sources to be really cool.
These are beautiful photos! Nature is truly amazing – and the fact that there is life in these hot waters is even more astounding. Was the park crowded when you were there?
We got there early when the park opened, so it wasn’t very crowded. I was surprised at how many people were at the geyser. I am guessing they all started at the geyser and then went back to the park.
This is so cool. I have heard many good things about New Zealand as a great destination
Thanks Molly. I love New Zealand.
Charlie | The Barefoot Angel
Wow – this places looks positively prehistoric! And all the different natural colours are just magical! Thank you for all the beautiful photos! Charlie xo
It is 160000 years old, so it is prehistoric.
Stunning photos Rhonda very interesting too one of your best set of pics yet 🙂
Have a tanfastic week 🙂
New Zealand has been on my list foreverrrrrr because everyone raves about the nature there – and I can totally see why. Those photos are absolutely spectacular – the colors are insane! It’s truly amazing the art that nature creates. I’m definitely adding this spot to my bucket list.
I agree, the colours at Waiotapu are insane, and different from anywhere I have been before.
Wow! Such amazing natural wonders! I would love to go there and see these areas. Fantastic photos!
Thanks Marie, and yes nature is so amazing.
Stunning shots. I’d love to visit!
Thanks Fi. Rotorua is a must see in New Zealand.
Great photos of a very interesting place. After all these years I can still imagine the sulfurous smells. The walking trails look so easy to walk and so safe.
LOL – yes the sulphur smell can be quite strong in spots. It’s odd, after being there for about 30 minutes I didn’t notice it any longer.
Another exotic place I’d love to visit!
Exotic may be the perfect descriptor for Rotorua.