With a plate boundary running just offshore and a pathway of fault lines like footprints tramping across the land, a visit to North Island is always going to be about tectonics. That means there are more hot springs than you can strip off for, but when it comes to geysers, there’s a clear winner.
The Rotorua Geothermal Attractions
Pohutu Geyser, located in Te Whakarewarewa Thermal Valley near Rotorua, is the ultimate drama queen. She erupts around twenty times each day, sending a jet of scalding hot water thirty metres into the air. Sometimes the show lasts just a few minutes, at others, significantly more. During my visit, the eruption lasted a magnificent half an hour and I sat, transfixed, unable to turn away. You’ll be glad of the seats cut into the geothermally heated rocks as your camera shutter clicks at this awesome display from Mother Nature.
Most people choose to visit Pohutu from the Te Puia New Zealand Maori Arts and Crafts Institute and combine their viewing with a Maori show. A pūtatara, or conch, signals the start of the proceedings, followed by a toa, or warrior, challenging waiting visitors – a test to see whether they come in peace. If you pass the test, you’ll be allowed inside the marae, with its elaborate carvings, to watch a haka. It’s every bit as captivating as the geyser outside.
Visiting Pohutu Geyser as part of a Te Puia combo package is certainly the easiest way to see it, but you’ll have to pay and, in season, it will also be the most crowded. To see an eruption for free, though admittedly at a greater distance, you can follow a walking trail through the Whakarewarewa Forest; there are plenty of lookouts from which you can appreciate the area’s beauty. If you ride, choose the Radio Hut Lookout Trail which affords spectacular vistas across the thermal valley.
If Pohutu’s display has left you wanting more, then you‘ll be pleased to know that she’s not the only geyser in the area. Wai-O-Tapu trumpets that Trip Advisor has named it one of the twenty most surreal places on the planet, and you can find out for yourself by taking one of three self-guided walks. Explore the naturally colourful hot springs at Champagne Pool and watch the plopping of the area’s mud pools as you wander round volcanic craters and sinter terraces. The main attraction is the Lady Knox Geyser, erupting to twenty metres. She’s not as prolific as Pohutu, however, so time your visit for the morning when staff members activate her at 10.15am each day.
Hell’s Gate Geothermal Park and Mud Bath Spa
A short drive out of Rotorua on a road hugging the lake shore, you’ll find Hell’s Gate Geothermal Park and Mud Bath Spa at Tikitere. Treasured by the local Maori for over 700 years, it’s the only Maori-owned thermal park in the country. Explore the pool where Maori Princess Hurutini lost her life and take to the waters that have been guarded for centuries by warrior Kaitaki. And don’t miss the sight of the Kakahi Falls, the Southern Hemisphere’s largest hot waterfall.