Waimangu Volcanic Valley (New Zealand) in New Zealand draws visitors from all corners of the earth. Photographers come for the colours, tourists for the uniqueness, hikers for nature, and scientists to study the world’s youngest geothermal system.
It’s a virtually untouched, ever-changing landscape that was created in just four hours in 1886. The eruption of Mt Tarawera created this valley (also called the Tarawera Rift), enlarged Lake Rotomahana, and destroyed the famous Pink and White Terraces. At the same time, leaving nature a clean slate to rebuild.
As American expats who have been living in and exploring NZ for over 20 years, we see things from both a local’s perspective and from that of a visitor. Therefore, we understand what it’s like to come here and have things be similar, but not always exactly what we are used to. We share the information on this page from this perspective.
Formation of the Waimangu Volcanic Valley – ‘How the World Began’
June 10, 1886 started out as a normal day in the central North Island of New Zealand. Visitors arrived in what is now the Waimangu Volcanic Valley to see the famous Pink and White Terraces. Suddenly, and without warning, Mount Tarawera exploded in what became the largest recorded of New Zealand volcanic eruptions.
In just four hours, everything changed and 120 people died. With the landscape wiped out and the 17-kilometre long Waimangu Volcanic Rift formed, nature had a blank canvas to regenerate a new ecosystem. Today, scientists (and everyone) who visits get a window into how the world began.
Waimangu is a peaceful place. A space so big that walking through we rarely saw anyone else. We found the general manager’s comment to be true, “Look ahead and behind, the park is yours.”
Be inspired . . .
Our Self-Guided Walk Thru the Waimangu Volcanic Valley
Understanding the history makes the experience stronger, so be sure to follow the Waimangu Volcanic Valley Map and guide that is provided when you enter.
First, a panoramic view of the Waimangu Thermal Valley after we began our walk from the visitor’s centre.
This is Southern Crater at the end of the rift. The pink algae shifts with the wind.
On April 1, 1917, a portion of Echo Crater erupted resulting in the formation of Frying Pan Lake, which is now the world’s largest hot spring.
Point of 1973 Trinity Terrace eruption that lasted only 15 minutes, yet sprayed mud over 100 metres away.
Cathedral Rocks are estimated to be at least 60,000 years old and are on Echo Crater and Frying Pan Lake.
- Psilotum Nudum is an ancient fern. Its spores are amongst the rare flora that was scattered by the Mt Tarawera eruption.
- Silica terraces were formed by a boiling spring of mineral-rich water in 1975.
Notice the large white cross on the lowest point of the crater rim. It marks the site from where four tourists were washed to their death in 1903 when the Waimangu geyser erupted without warning.
- Bird’s Nest Terrace is a colourful example of algae that stick to silica deposits from the springs.
- Clam Shell Spring holds a bacteria that scientists believe to be similar to the first life on earth.
- Beautiful Inferno Crater Lake looks inviting, but you don’t want to swim in it as it’s highly acidic with a pH of 3.7.
⇒ Check for discounts on Waimangu entry only tickets or check below for tickets that include a Lake Rotomahana cruise.
Pink and White Terraces
This photo predates the Mount Tarawera eruption which left the Pink and White Terraces under the enlarged Lake Rotomahana.
Photo Credit: The British Library. No known copyright.
Sailing on Lake Rotomahana, An Active Volcanic Crater
One option available at Waimangu Valley is to explore from Lake Rotomahana via boat. The continuous commentary was fascinating and our captain was available to answer questions. He did point out when we over the Pink and White terraces, now only remnants, fully submerged under 60 metres of water.
Images from our time on the boat
Below find images of
- The boat we took out on Lake Rotomahana
- Lake Rotomahana
- We sailed into Star Hill Crater, another crater lake formed when the Tarawera volcano erupted.
- A second image of Lake Rotomahana
Where is the Waimangu Volcanic Valley?
Located just south of Rotorua, Waimangu on the centre of New Zealand’s North Island. It is best accessed with a car or a tour.
Practical Information on Visiting the Waimangu Volcanic Valley
Get tickets in advance.
- Entrance to the Visitor Centre for the Waimangu Volcanic Valley is about 25 km south of Rotorua in the Central North Island of New Zealand. It is a must-see on the North Island.
- Be sure to pick up a Waimangu Volcanic Valley Map at the visitor’s centre before you set out on your walk, or download a map here.
- The main walking trail is about 4km and leads from the visitor centre to Lake Rotomahana.
- If you don’t want to walk all or any of the trail, there is a shuttle bus to the lake that makes several pick up stops along the way.
- Allow at least two hours if you only want to walk, at least 3.5 if you are planning to include the 45-minute boat trip.
- There are several walking options as well as a shuttle bus between selected points. We opted to walk from the entrance the 1.5 km to Bus Stop 1 and then take the shuttle bus to the boat dock.
- The boat takes only 35 people six times per day, so it is recommended to book in advance.
A visit to Waimangu Volcanic Valley is one of several surreal experiences available when in Rotorua New Zealand. Waimangu is one of my two favourite geothermal attractions. There are also a few free geothermal options.
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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.