Rotorua is New Zealand’s hot spot when it comes to geothermal activity (pun intended!) and people flock from near and far to enjoy its hot springs and bubbling beauty.
Situated on the North Island, Rotorua is a town set on its namesake lake and is well-known for being a cultural centre for the indigenous Māori people. The heart of this cultural centre, Te Puia, is situated in the Whakarewarewa valley and features geysers and thermal mud pools, created by the area’s natural geothermal activity. (The Pohutu geyser erupts many times each day.)
This town is also home to the New Zealand Māori Arts and Crafts Institute, which is a must-see for visitors who want to learn about the history behind the stunning artwork and pieces created by the Māori people.
When it comes to experiencing the geothermal activity, many people pay to visit the well-known attraction that is Wai-O-Tapu: an enclosed park containing different sites of volcanic action. Here you can see features such as the Lady Knox Geyser, Champagne Pool and Artist’s Palette – read more about our day trip here.
What people don’t realise, however, is that you don’t have to spend money to witness the geothermal activity as it’s quite literally all around you in this part of the country! Here’s a selection of spots that we highly recommend visiting and, what’s more, are completely FREE!
Approx 12kms from Wai-O-Tapu you can find Kerosene Creek, a hot pool surrounded by stunning scenery of lush, native bush. This site is free and very few people are aware of it, which makes for an authentic geothermal experience to say the least! Hot water from the natural spring meets the cold water of the creek, resulting in pleasantly warm water and perfect bathing conditions. Here you can relax to the sound of the 2m waterfall, and often enjoy a hot pool all to yourself in different parts of the rocks that have been piled up by bathers. (Though I think we’ve just given the secret away…!)
Located in the northern end of Rotorua exists Kuirau Park, an informal hive of geothermal activity. The park gets its name from an ancient legend that says a beautiful young woman named Kuirau was bathing in the lake here, when a taniwha (legendary creature) dragged her below the water’s surface. The gods were so angered by this that they made the lake boil so the creature would be destroyed for good. And so the myth of the ‘lost woman’ lives on, adding charm and storytelling to this unique location.
Kuirau Park has a reputation for being a wholly relaxed location for an enjoyable wander. With a children’s playground and paddling pool, and bbq facilities, this is a great space for all ages. The foot pools vary from hot to cold, with one in particular offering lovely views of the park while you paddle 🙂
Sulphur point and sulphur flats is the perfect bay to explore if you are staying in central Rotorua. The walkway starts at the lake front (heading right as you look towards the lake) along the clearly marked track. Along the walk towards the Rotorua Museum you will pass a lot of geothermal activity and mud pools! The walk will take around 30 minutes and totally worth the effort!
Just a 10 minute walk from downtown Rotorua is the Māori village of Ohinemutu. This spot is home to the Ngāti Whakaue tribe, a sub-tribe of the Te Arawa waka (canoe) who journeyed from the Pacific homeland of Hawaiiki to New Zealand at approx 1350AD. The tribe chose this area for its lakeside situation and abundant geothermal activity – perfect for heating, bathing and cooking.
The Ngāti Whakaue are very friendly and welcome visitors to walk around the village (at no charge) and see the unique method of cooking over boiling hot water vents, along with the outdoor bathing sheds. When visiting it’s imperative to stick to the path at all times so as not to exploit the home of this tribe.
These are just a few examples of the natural geothermal activity that Rotorua boasts, and if you’re lucky you might just stumble across your own little haven of activity off the beaten track. Either way, when it comes to enjoying New Zealand for all its natural beauty, then experiencing this volcanic activity is an absolute NZ must do!
Top Tip: If you need to find somewhere to stay when you visit then we highly recommend booking your accommodation in advance, it’s important not to under estimate how busy NZ gets between September and March each year. We suggest checking out BookaBach (private homes often not found on AirBnB) or this link to find out instant availability of the motels/hotels/guest houses in the area.