Experience the Taupō Volcanic Zone

Steaming and bubbling, the Taupō Volcanic Zone on New Zealand’s North Island is a huge region that takes in Mount Ruapehu and Mount Ngauruhoe in its southwest, through Taupō and Rotorua to Whakaari (White Island). About 26,500 years ago, the colossal Oruanui eruption covered the North Island in ash and left a crater that today is partially filled by Lake Taupō.

Today, the land tends to be less explosive, so base yourself in either Taupō or Rotorua, hire a rental car and explore the geothermal fields, towns, and mountainous landscapes. Here’s a few of the highlights to see when you’re exploring the Taupō Volcanic Zone. 

Discover the Best of Rotorua 

One of the most distinctive characteristics of this beautiful city is its smell. Don’t worry, you get used to it fairly quickly. Surrounded by forests and lakes, Rotorua is the perfect destination for nature lovers.

Leave your rental car in the Rotorua Mountain Bike car park and hire a bike to check out the trails in the Whakarewarewa Forest. Whether you’re a beginner or have ridden a mountain bike before, there are trails through this redwood forest to suit. The Forest Loop is 33 kilometres of easy riding through the forest that, at different points, reveals views of the three lakes – Rotorua, Tikitapu and Rotokakahi – below.  

Afterwards, retire to the Polynesian Spa, where you can soak in 28 different hot pools fed by two natural springs. The water from Priest Springs soothes aching muscles, while those from Rachel Springs nourish the skin. 

If you want to have a unique geothermal experience, head in your rental car to Te Puia, a hidden thermal valley, at the end of the day. Here, a Māori guide will meet you, guide you by torchlight through the landmarks and tell you stories that have been passed down for generations. Look out for carvings along the way and listen for the call of the kiwi. You’ll have dessert by a cooking pool, check out the mud pools, then it’s on to the main event: Pōhutu, the largest geyser in the southern hemisphere. 

The Geysers of Orakei Korako 

About an hour’s drive south of Rotorua in the Hidden Valley is Orakei Korako, one of the largest and most impressive geothermal fields in New Zealand. Below the ground, the water temperature exceeds 175ºC then rises through faults in the rock and hits the surface, where it’s sometimes still at boiling point. 

There are 23 natural geysers in the thermal park – one of which regularly shoots water nine metres into the air – as well as hot springs and bubbling mud pools. But perhaps the most beautiful site here are the silica terraces that appear as different colours thanks to heat-loving microbes. The first one you’ll see is the Emerald Terrace, which has different coloured microbial mats. 

There’s also Ruatapu Cave, which descends about 36 metres into the volcanic tuff. At the base of the cave is a pool of hot acidic water, called the Pool of Mirrors.   

You can see all these features after taking a short ferry ride across Lake Ohakuri and following the trail on a self-guided tour. It takes about an hour to walk right around, but many people spend a couple of hours watching the earth come alive. 


Take Off to Taupō 

About another half hour from Orakei Korako is the city of Taupō, set on the edge of the lake and another a playground for adventurers. But before you get there, turn off to check out New Zealand’s most visited attraction. Stand on the foot bridge over Huka Falls and witness the power of the water as it blasts over the edge into a pool 11 metres below. 

If you
thought,you’d left the geothermal attractions behind at Orakei Koroko you’d be wrong. It only appeared in the 1950s, but now there are bubbling mud pools and steam vents at
Craters of the Moon that leave the lunar-like landscape covered in clouds of steam. Arrive early to avoid the crowds. There’s also Wairakei Terraces, where you can take a self-guided walk among the silica formations before heading to the adults-only thermal pools at the base of the terraces for a long, hot soak overlooking the native bush.

If you come to Taupō, of course you must explore the lake. There are several ways to do this: kayaking, sailing or on a cruise. Be sure to leave enough time in your itinerary to take in the Ngatoroirangi Mine Bay Māori rock carvings. It took carver Matahi Whakataka-Brightwell and his team of helpers four summers to complete the spectacular designs over the water, the largest of which is 10 metres tall. You can book a boat tour or kayaking excursion to see them. 

There’s also the chance to get your adrenaline racing when you join Rapids Jet for a high-speed jet boat ride through the narrowest canyon on the Waikato River and on to the waves of Nga Awapurua Rapids. The boat will spin, stop suddenly, and ride the rapids. It’s sure to get wet and wild. 

When you’re ready to explore the Taupō Volcanic Zone, hire a rental car before you head off.