New Zealand consists of active volcanos: it is constantly boiling and steaming underneath the pretty surface. In the middle of the North Island is especially active volcanic area Taupo Volcanic Zone. The largest city in the area is Rotorua, which is an interesting travel destination with redwoods, spas and geothermal parks. There are several places around Rotorua where one can go goggle boiling water and bubbling mud. Some are very expensive, some free. Some are better than others.
Geothermal Park Orakei Korako is 45 minutes drive away from Rotorua. Lonely Planet has praised it as “the best thermal area left in New Zealand”. Adult ticket costs 36.00AUD. Ferry takes the visitors from the visitor centre to the other side of the river where steaming water runs down the rocks. I can feel the heat radiating from the ground. Tough algae enjoys the heat of the rocs decorating them with the shades of orange and green.
The route through the park takes one to two hours. It visits hot springs, mud pools and the Ruatapu/Aladdin’s Cave – one of two existing caves that have been found from a geothermal field. There are up to 23 active geysers, but I do not see any of them erupting. Along the way, wee info boards provide information on the plants that surround geothermal spots. The ferns and trees provide shade and an escape from the volcanic smells. Look out points give a beautiful view over the colourful rocky fields and lush vegetation. There are some twenty others in the park while we explore it, no crowds or lines.
A circle of arching pillars by the road on the edge of Rotorua marks the entrance of Te Puia where the visitor can spend all day and all his money. Te Puia combines geothermal wonders and maori culture: national art and craft schools teach and practice traditional wood and stone carving and weaving there. The centre offers a selection of experience packages which include dinners and maori shows. The basic ticket to the area costs 52.00AUD. That gives access to geothermal field and Kiwi house. One can also have a look at the maori style buildings, waka boat and see art students performing.
When Pōhutu, the largest active geyser in the southern hemisphere, erupts it spits out white water up to 10 meters. Sometimes it can reach 30 meters but even 10 is impressive. Droplets around it sparkle and the water hisses and fizzes. People lean on the railing taking pictures while a miniature train hauls more tourists to admire the geyser. The ground is hot. Are my shoes melting?
The geyser is great but the Kiwi house is a big disappointment. Dark room with red lights is separated into two: one for the people and one for two Kiwi birds. Night and day are reversed in the room to allow people to see the nocturnal bird. However, the glass is dirty and reflects the room so that it is extremely difficult to see through the glass. When you add in the people who come in with flash lights and crying babies, there is no point even trying. I have to go there twice to see the butt of the Kiwi waddle in a corner.
If spending around 50AUD for a ticket to see a few hot springs feels ridiculous, you can head to Kuirau Park. This park is located in the centre of Rotorua and it is completely free. It is a little outdoor area with mud pools, hot springs and a crater lake. In other words: much of the same stuff as the others. Just on a smaller scale. In addition, there are free thermal foot baths for tired feet. There are also picnic tables and benches if you need a rest (or a breather, like they say here) or want to have a picnic lunch. The park is a green grassy park but the paths are paved and the springs and pools have fences around them so the park is safe and easy to get around.
Wether it costs or not, it is not guaranteed that you’ll see everything that is promised. Some geysers erupt every hour, some once a day and some prefer sleeping. They are rarely pedant and can not be forced to erupt when the tourists ask for it. Geothermal activity depends on the rainfall and during the summer the geysers tend to be smaller and mud pools dryer. But they are still pretty great.