New Zealand p.s. – Rotorua: Waimangu Volcanic Valley

After visiting Wai-O-Tapu and the wildlife park, we wanted to check out one more geothermal system before leaving New Zealand. Waimangu Volcanic Valley is the newest geothermal area in the world, created in 1886. It is the only system that was formed as a direct result of a volcanic eruption; the eruption of Mt. Tarawera devastated plant and bird life in the area as well as the famous Pink and White Terraces, which were a major attraction for the area. It’s the largest volcanic eruption in New Zealand’s history.

Frying pan lake is one of the largest hot water springs in the world.

Today the Waimangu Valley offers visitors a beautiful natural area with craters, lakes and steaming thermal pools. We were drawn to it for the hiking. Visitors can easily spend four hours exploring the different trails and relaxing in a much less crowded environment than Wai-O-Tapu. We also took the boat cruise, which is interesting but could easily be missed if visitors are short on time.

This formation is part of the Birds Nest Terrace.

A shuttle bus operates throughout the park and we used it to maximise our time. We only had a few hours to explore so we walked along the main route to the first stop. Here lies the option to continue on a steep trail to the Inferno, Raupo Pond and Black craters. We dashed quickly up the stairs to have a look at Inferno Crater, which is a steaming pool viewed from a lookout. Because we’d already booked ourselves onto the boat cruise we had to forgo the rest of the trail and take the main path to catch a bus to the lake.

Colourful geothermal terraces adorn the park.

The boat cruise lasts about 45 minutes and takes visitors around Lakes Rotomahana and Rotomakirikiri. The main attractions are the former sites of the famous Pink and White Terraces (original pictures of these terraces before their destruction can be seen here). These were flattened after the eruption and now only some steaming fumeroles and geysers remain. It is hard to believe that anything ever stood on this lake to attract tourists. The thermal areas in Rotorua are a stark contrast to the rest of the country. Where the rest of New Zealand offers vibrant waterfalls, lakes, rivers and glaciers, the thermal areas look almost dead (Wai-O-Tapu in particular). While Waimangu has some beautiful natural park areas, the steaming pools remind you that this is a volcanic site – the water is undrinkable and loaded with minerals. While birdwatching is popular and some rare and unusual plants have adapted to live here, it isn’t what I would call a lively area for living things. That said, Waimangu is a gorgeous natural park and I highly recommend setting aside a full day to explore its wonders.

This is all that remains of the famous White and Pink Terraces after the eruption of 1886.

Getting there: Waimangu Volcanic Valley is is located 14 kms south of Rotorua off State Highway 5. Shuttles are available from town. We recommend either Grumpy’s Limo or Thermal Land Shuttle.

Smell rating: 3/5

For more on New Zealand, a great place to start is our New Zealand Roundup.

Want to see something else from Rotorua? Check out the other posts in our series:
Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland

Animals of New Zealand

Bungas’s Beer of the Week: Rotorua 

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