There is a plethora of geothermal attractions in the Taupo-Rotorua area. So much so in fact that the road between them is know as the thermal Explorer highway . There are a range of options that can be tailored to suit most budgets. I’d recommend researching each before you go and work out what you want to see and go from there. There is everything from beautiful pools of varying colours, to bubbling mud, geysers, rising steam, and of course hot pools.
There are plenty of free options when exploring this area. Some, you need a little insider/local know how to find, and others are now so well known to tourists and locals you only need to follow the crowd! Listed below are just the ones we visited – some searching on google or similar will find you even more places to explore.
Wairakei Thermal Power Station – Taupo
You can actually drive through the power station, alongside steaming pipes which rise like arches over the roadways. Driving to the top gives an impressive view with an information board describing the mass of twisting pipelines. The arch like structures you drive through on the way up are built for more than just letting cars pass through – ingeniously they also let the steam expand, a necessary part of the energy harnessing process. The power station is marked on the tourist maps as a “photospot” but we were the only tourists there at the time.
Otumuheke Stream – Taupo
This is also on the tourist map, and is a favourite with everyone – expect to find it very crowded! It is easily walkable from Taupo if you don’t have a car, but a large car park facilitates those who do. You could also walk to Huka falls and beyond to Aratiatia Rapids if you wished. If you do go down to the pools, leave your valuables behind and tidy up after yourselves – no one likes to see rubbish left by previous occupants! It would be a lovely place for a picnic though, and there are large grass areas on the way down to play a bit of ball/frisbee on.
The Hot Cold Pool / Kerosene Creek – Geothermal Highway
These two hot pools are something of a locals favourite, and supposedly were once a fiercely guarded secret. Kerosene Creek is now signposted from the main road (although other bloggers report these signs are often mischievously removed), although when we went very busy! The Hot Cold pool is in a similar region to Kerosene Creek but has the added benefit of having a confluence, with a hot stream meeting a cooler one – allowing you to pick the right temperature by varying your position between the streams! There are more – but part of the fun is finding your own! We visited one at nighttime and were rewarded by thousands of glow worms lighting our way as we walked up the river!
Wairakei Natural Thermal Valley – Taupo – Cheap!
This is a small operation that almost feels like it is operating out of someone’s (rather large) backyard. It is a relatively cheap way of seeing some thermal features up close, although thermal activity is restricted by the nearby Wairakei Power Station. Some features seem to have been reclaimed by nature and others have fairly tenuous link to their namesakes! It’s a pleasant way to spend an hour or so though, and we had fun trying to see who get the highest result on the laser temperature gauge.
Te Puia – Rotorua – Pricey!
Te Puia is one of the bigger attractions in the area, and with this comes a bigger price tag. However, they do offer a nighttime cultural experience with a Hangi which we chose to add on to a day pass. We arrived late afternoon and got on the last guided tour of the day – which turned out to be a personal tour when no one else arrived! When you visit Te Puia, you are not just paying to see the geothermal attractions, but also their cultural schools, mock village and kiwi house.
Te Puia is home to the New Zealand Maori arts and crafts institute, where students study apprenticeships in either wood carving or weaving under master craftspersons. Competition for places is high, and strict rules mean entrants must be of Maori descent to enrol. Visiting during the daytime allows you to see these highly skilled persons at work and view their beautiful creations.
The recreated Maori village illustrates what life would have been like a few hundred years ago. There is also a waka (Maori war canoe) with exquisite carving. If you are really interested in Maori Culture, consider visiting the next door living village (both companies are owned by the same tribe). You will still be able to see the famous Pohutu Geyser (from a different angle) and may gain a better understanding into the lives of Maori today.
Sadly, when we poked our heads into the kiwi house, the girl was hiding so we weren’t able to cross that from our bucket list! During the day, the kiwi house is kept dark, to emulate nighttime. If you are doing the evening experience, make sure you go before they close at 6pm. After this the house is artificially lit to create “daytime”, during which the nocturnal bird sleeps!
The evening entertainment starts with a traditional Maori welcome on the lawns in front of their wharenui or meeting house. You are then ushered inside accompanied by traditional Maori singing. Inside, the cultural performances begin, and audience participation is encouraged. For the ladies there is the chance to learn a poi dance and for the men a haka.
Near the end of the performances, the smell of the hangi begins to waft through the door. When seated entrees of bread, dips and mussels are brought to the table. Then, after much anticipation you are called table by table to sample the fantastic feast laid out for you. The hangi is presented buffet style, and you are free to eat (read “devour”) as much as you please. There are three tables overflowing with food. The first, has a variety of seafoods from mussels to the New Zealand’s “tuna” (freshwater eel). The second, a variety of meats and accompanying side dishes. Finally, the last, table – pudding! It was all wonderful – make sure you go hungry!
There are several geysers in Te Puia, some which are dormant, and others only mildly active. The reliable crowd pleasing geysers are the Prince of Wales’ feathers and Pohutu which erupt once or twice an hour. Behind these geysers is a large pool, in which you can sometimes see young children from the neighbouring “living village” taking a dip! Also on show are several pools of bubbling, leaping mud – which makes for some very hypnotic watching. If you book onto either experience you will get a chance to see the geothermal attractions.