Geothermal Fantasyland: Rotorua

Rotorua New Zealand -, as destructive as they are, sure make things pretty. Geysers, steaming fumaroles, bubbling mud pots, and rainbow colored pools…this is the work of eruptions and earthquakes and what makes the Rotorua surrounds out-this-world. This New Zealand town is in the Taupo Volcanic region of the North Island, one of the most volatile places in the Pacific Ring of Fire, and our first stop on our five-day road trip from Auckland to Wellington. You smell the sulfur-ridden Rotorua for miles…but if you hold your nose this place will take your breath away.


Rotorua MuseumThe hot springs and bubbling mud pools of Rotorua brought European settlers flocking to this caldera in the late 1800s and still do. This old bath house is now a museum and the heart of town. We wandered around its gardens, lawn bowling fields, private spas –historic and new– and the massive lake beyond.


Rotorua LakeLake Rotorua’s high sulfur content gives it a beautiful milky-blue hue and an undulating, crusty shore. Steam spews from different holes in the ground and makes mud puddles bubble like chocolate milk under a kid’s straw.


Mud pits of RotoruaWhere there is steam in Rotorua, there is something awesome. We followed the plumes of smoke in search of more geothermic entertainment. Gurgle! Burp! Explode! The cosmic shapes coming out of this gassy pool kept us in awe for a half hour.


Blue and Green Lakes is the Whakarewarewa ForestThe city of Rotorua is lovely and its surrounds are even better. The Blue and Green Lakes are just 15 minutes out of the city and incredible destination for hiking, swimming, and water sports. From this view you see the Blue Lake but turn your head and you see the Green Lake…as a pair their distinct colors are twice as impressive.


The Radiata Pines and volcanosJust beyond the Blue and Green Lakes is the Whakarewarewa Forest, the first exotic forest in New Zealand. It was planted in 1901 as an experiment to see what timber could grow in the “newest country in the world.” The Radiata Pines and the California Redwoods thrived, leaving an amazing forest of big trees, but what struck us most was the forest’s ponds with their freaky sheen and psychedelic colors from the volcanic minerals.


Frying Pan LakeIt is rare that Mike and I leave each other’s side but there was so much to do in Rotorua that we had to divide and conquer. I spent the afternoon at the Waiotapu Thermal Wonderland while he went to the youngest geothermal ecosystem in the world, Waimangu. In 1886 a volcano erupted and left Rotorua void of all life, but in just a matter of years the lakes filled in, hot springs appeared, and trees grew healthier than ever. It’s still a volatile place and that is exactly what makes it so impressive—look close to see those clouds creeping out of the mountain crevices and the steam hovering over “Frying Pan” lake.


Colors of RotoruaWaiotapu is called a “Thermal Wonderland,” which sounds cheesey, but when you see it…you will get it. Neon green, copper, to sherbet-colored pools boiling at temps north of 300-degrees fill collapsed craters and make this a natural amusement park. Unlike Wainamgu, where you can hike the mountains, in the Waiotapu park you stick to the 30-75 minutes of foot paths because the earth’s thin crust and flammable nature is not stable for traipsing about. This is Artist’s Palette pond, a name that describes itself.


Kerosene CreekIn my time wandering the paths of Waitapu, I got chatting with a British couple that happened to be traveling around the world for a year! Helena and Rob were moving in the opposite direction and had just arrived from South America where we started, so we had plenty of stories to swap. They heard about some natural hot (but not too hot) springs up the road, so we took a little hike and a relaxing evening soak together. (FYI: We are still friends and recently stayed with Rob and Helena at their place in London!).


Farms of New ZealandThe road trip continues from steamy Rotorua through the surreal landscape toward Lake Taupo and Tongariro National Park, home of Lord of the Ring’s “Mount Doom” and quite possibly the world’s best day hike. Stay tuned!


Rotorua Travel photos
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13 thoughts on “Geothermal Fantasyland: Rotorua

  1. You’re right. These geysers and bubbling pools look so pretty! Unfortunately we didn’t make it to Rotorua on our quick visit to New Zealand. Maybe we’ll just have to return for a dip in one of those hot pools :-).

    1. What a crazy landscape! Definitely go back to Rotorua for a dip! Kerosene Springs was an easy hike to free lovely hot pools, highly recommend them, or there are some fancy spas right on Lake Rotorua that would be fantastic too.

  2. New Zealand is such a magical place! The hot pool looks so relaxing and rejuvenating, and the scenery isn’t too bad either 🙂

    1. Magical exactly the word. So beautiful you just have to pinch yourself sometimes. Rotorua was very fantastic…to sit with your back under a hot waterfall…doesn’t get much more relaxing than that.

  3. Oh My, this post is getting us all excited about our upcoming visit to NZ, just can’t wait. Will stay tuned for more hints and tips from you guys! 🙂 x

    1. Get excited is right! You will adore NZ and yes, stay tuned…we have so many more goodies to share on this great country!

  4. I’ve been to NZ several times, but still haven’t made it to Rotorua. I’ve bookmarked this page so that I remember to add it to our next itinerary there! Great photos!

    1. Love that you bookmarked this page…you should definitely get to Rotorua! We have about 6-8 more posts on other NZ gems, we’d love to have you along for the ride and hear what you think!

  5. I learned about Rotorua from one of my professors in England and she showed us pictures of the town. More so of the interpretation of the landmarks. I never knew it was a thermal wonderland.

    1. That’s cool you learned about Rotorua in school. The buildings and colonial to Mauri history are totally interesting but the geothermal side of things totally blew us away. Glad we could show you something new, Rashaad!

  6. Our Bucket list is getting bigger and bigger… One more place we have to visit! 😉
    Amazing pictures and post!

    1. Well if you go to Rotorua…you might as well add Tongariro Alpine Crossing (the best hike in the world!) to your list…it’s right down the road

  7. Wow look at all that steam! Never seen anything like that before. Thanks for sharing! 😀

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