One of the major reasons so many tourists stop by in Rotorua is to visit the thermal parks and geysers in the surrounding countryside. With so many bubbling mud pits, fluorescent pools and sporadic eruptions from steam vents, the decision of whether or not to stop by is a no brainer. Perhaps a more challenging choice is which thermal attraction to visit. For most, it’s a choice between Wai-O-Tapu or Waimangu.
Both of these thermal parks take a few hours to explore, but they’re so fascinating you could easily spend a day in each.
One option is to hop on a day tour to both using HeadFirst Travel‘s Geyser Link Shuttle. If you have to choose between the two, Wai-O-Tapu is easy tour with a wide range of thermal sights. Waimangu covers a large area of land and offers panoramic views far away from the crowds if you’re prepared to hike a fair few km.
On your way to the Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland, your Geyser Link bus will stop off at a few other spots, including a stunning misty lake, some bubbling mud and the well-known Lady Knox Geyser. Your driver will provide commentary along the way and answer all your questions.
Lady Knox is stimulated artificially using a harmless substance similar to soap suds to make sure it goes off when the tourists are gathered. It shoots into the sky to a height of up to 20 metres and bubbles away for quite some time, so you’re sure to snap a few decent photos.
You will then have the chance to stroll around the park by yourself following a colour-coded map with distance markers and numbered points of interest. Highlights include a boardwalk crossing of ‘The Terrace’ and the Champagne Pool.
As part of the Geyser Link Shuttle day trip, you also get to spend just over 3 hours in Waimangu, hiking footpaths through the forest and, if you’re feeling more adventurous, up over the hills for panoramic views of the active landscape below.
There are three different bus stops en route, so you can decide how far you want to walk. It’s possible to see a decent amount just strolling 1.5 km through the first section of the park. To see all of the footpaths, it’s still only around 5 km, so you have plenty of time to read the information leaflet about each of the points of interest and take hundreds of photos of the scenery.
Along the way, you’ll also find plaques telling you all about the local bird and plant species, as well as information on the history and geography of the region.
WHY NOT BOTH?
If you have a day to spare, I’d definitely recommend seeing both parks. They’re peaceful and beautiful places to stroll at a leisurely pace, and the colours and formations are out of this world. If you don’t know how many thermal wonders you can handle, though, you can see either as a half-day trip, take a cruise in Waimangu or visit Hobbiton in the afternoon following Wai-O-Tapu. The Geyser Link Shuttle does pick ups and drop offs from accommodation in Taupo as well as Rotorua.
GETTING TO ROTORUA
If you have a car, it’s a fairly easy drive to Rotorua from nearby Waitomo or Taupo in just a few hours. Intercity Buses provide services to Rotorua from the following popular destinations (rough times in brackets): Taupo (1 hour); Hamilton (1.5 hours); Auckland (3.5 hours); Gisborne (4.5 hours); or Wellington (8 hours +). Further transfers are available from these locations. Use the tool below to search for a specific journey, or click through to their website to find out about their wide selection of day trips and flexipasses.
WHERE TO STAY
We stayed at Rotorua Downtown Backpackers, which is very close to the iSITE tourism centre and main bus terminal. There are parking spaces at the front, cooking facilities and a communal area with a mean selection of DVDs. The staff go out of their way to offer advice and can arrange virtually any trip or discount combo in the area.
I was a guest of HeadFirst Travel. They did not request that I write a favourable review and all of the opinions expressed here are my own.