Exploring Wai-O-Tapu Geothermal Wonderland

Sculpted out of volcanic activity and thousands of years in the making, Wai-O-Tapu is considered to be New Zealand’s most colourful and diverse geothermal sightseeing attraction, and has been names as one of the 20 most surreal places in the world by TripAdvisor.

The thermal wonderland is incredible, a truly unique place in the middle of New Zealand’s North Island that is unlike anywhere you have been before. It’s kind of like you’re walking across a number of different planets all in a row, with so many different types of volcanic activity happening in the same place.

Wai-O-Tapu is absolutely a can’t miss on any itinerary to the North Island. Here’s everything you need to know to plan your visit.

wai-o-tapu geothermal wonderland

What to see at Wai-O-Tapu

There are so many different geothermal features to explore around the park, each one more unique and interesting than the last. Some of the can’t miss things to see include –

The Lady Knox Geyer erupts every day at 10:15am to heights of 10 to 20 metres into the sky. The eruption is a crazy release of pressure, powerfully shooting out of the earth.

The Geothermal Park itself is sculpted from volcanic activity that has been taking place for thousands of years. The park is one of New Zealand’s most colourful and diverse geothermal sightseeing attractions.

For everything you see above the ground at Wai-O-Tapu, there are a more extensive system working underground. Stretching to over 18 square kilometres, it’s thought to be one of the largest in New Zealand.

Before you leave make sure you check out the Mud Pool. Still bubbling today, this is the largest mud pool in New Zealand that was once the site of a huge mud volcano. It was destroyed through erosion in the 1920s.

There are heaps of different walks around the park which take from 30 to 75 minutes each. They each offer their own unique volcanic vistas and a look into a different kind of geothermal activity. Follow the boardwalks around the park and try to check out as many of the walks around the park as you can.

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Getting to Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland

Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland lies on the Thermal Explorer Highway that takes you between Rotorua and Taup.

From Rotorua you need to travel along the Thermal Explorer Highway (SH 5) for about 20 minutes south towards Taupo until you reach the Wai-O-Tapu Tavern and then turn left.

From Taupo travel north along the Thermal Explorer Highway (SH 5) twards Rotorua for about 40 minutes. A sign for the Thermal Wonderland will indicate when you need to turn right.

Book your rental car for New Zealand here

There is heaps of free parking on site at Wai-O-Tapu at the site of the Lady Knox Geyser.

If you haven’t rented a car in New Zealand you can also organise a return shuttle from Rotorua from any of the following companies –

  • Geyser Link Shuttle – Ph: 0800 000 4321
  • Thermal Land Shuttle – Ph: 0800 984 287
  • Intercity Bus – Ph: (07) 348 0366

Alternatively, check out all the day tours that can organise a trip out to Wai-O-Tapu for you.

wai-o-tapu thermal wonderland

When to visit Wai-O-Tapu

Due to the unique natural of Wai-O-Tapu, it’s a great place to visit all year round. Everything is so different and unique within the park, it’s not really somewhere you need to visit in a certain type of weather. It’s literally a year round attraction.

One of the most famous attractions at Wai-O-Tapu is the Lady Knox Geyser, which puts on a show each day at 10:15am. This geyser only goes off once a day, so plan your visit around it if you’re coming to see it. Aim to get to the geyser site by about 9:30am to secure yourself a good seat for the show, as it is packed out every single day.

Visiting Lake Taupo in New Zealand

Wai-O-Tapu is open every single day of the year, including Christmas Day and all public holidays. The wonderland is open from 8:30am to 5pm each day, staying open until 6pm from November to March. Last entry is one hour and 15 minutes before the closing time, so make sure you don’t cut it too close.

The recommended exploring time at Wai-O-Tapu is at least 3 hours. There are lots of different walks around the park, winding you around the parks top attractions and sites, and there are lots of different things to stop and look at along the way.

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wai-o-tapu geothermal wonderland

Admission to Wai-O-Tapu

Admission to Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Park and Lady Knox Geyer costs $32.50 NZD per adult with discounts for children and families.

Tickets are able to be purchased either online or from the visitors centre on site.

Please note, Wai-O-Tapu is now a cashless attraction. You will need to buy your tickets with either a credit or debit card when you arrive as cash will not be accepted.

Book your tickets to Wai-O-Tapu here to skip the lines

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Important info for your visit to Wai-O-Tapu

One important thing to note about Wai-O-Tapu is actually the smell of it. Geothermal areas have a very distinct smell that is unlike anything we had ever smelt before. It can take a minute or so to get used to, so don’t be alarmed when you get out of your car.

It’s important to note that there are no toilet facilities in the main thermal park. The only toilet at the park is at the Visitors Centre. Once you get in there are start walking deeper into the park it’s going to be super annoying to come all the way back to the centre so make sure you go to the bathroom before you set out on your day.

Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland || 201 Waiotapu Loop Road, RD 3, Rotorua || Ph: +64 7 3666 333

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Emma is a travel writer, photographer and blogger, chasing the sun around Australia. Travelling in her recently renovated vintage Viscount caravan, along with her husband Thom and daughter Macey, she's sharing the very best experiences from around her beloved sunburnt country.

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