If you’ve seen the Lord Of The Rings movies you’ve seen a glimpse what a beautiful country New Zealand is, with its awesome fjords, its stunning coast line, its dense forests and its Mountains of Mordor. What you didn’t see is that, after those long horse rides and rough battles, the citizens of Middle Earth are able to spend time touring geothermal sites and relaxing in hot springs. Here are our four favorite:
Waiotapu is Maori for “sacred waters” but we think this place should have been named whatever the Maori translation is for “incredibly photogenic place.” Your camera will get a workout at the high color contrast thermal pools of Waiotapu. The Champagne Pool (see photo above) is the most famous of the geothermic sites here, with it’s bright orange rim of arsenic deposits that frame the pool’s namesake green bubbles (photo below). At Waiotapu you’ll also find the yellowish Artists Palate pool, several sulfur green pools and a mud pool. And if that weren’t enough, there’s the Lady Knox Geyser that erupts, predictably, at 10:15 every morning.
Not far from the North Island town of Rotorua and from the Waiotapu area (see above) is the world’s largest geothermal system. The Waimangu volcanic valley was formed by a series of recent volcano eruptions (recent in geologic terms at least—most happened in the last 200 years) making this of one New Zealand’s top sites for the scientifically curious as well as for those who just want to see something cool.
From The Waiotapu visitor’s center you have the choice of either taking a free shuttle bus or making a gentle 3.6km (2.2 mile) walk into the park. The walk takes you past many of the most spectacular Waimangu sites including the Frying Pan steaming cauldron, the Inferno Crater (our favorite) and assorted mud pols, hot springs and cathedral rock formations. At the far end of Waimangu is Lake Rotomahana, the flooded crater from the 1886 eruption of Mt. Tarawera. There’s a boat trip around the lake that affords amazing view of Waimangu’s steaming cliffs.
Among visitors to Waimangu there’s something of a debate about whether it is best to take the walking tour or do the boat tour. Allow us to settle this argument: Do both! You’ll miss out rushing in and out of the park; Waimangu is well worth some extra time. The ideal Waimangu itinerary is to start with the walk from the visitor center, then take the boat tour, then take the free shuttle bus back to the car park. It all takes around 3 1/2 hours, so you’ll need to arrive at Waimangu by 1pm (preferably earlier).
Where to stay: The Treetops (a cool place which almost deserves a post itself)
If touring around Middle Earth has worn you down, and relaxation is what you seek, then Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools & Spa has your salvation. Here you can soak in a variety of different naturally heated pools. There are four outdoor rock pools that are interconnected by thermal springs. There three natural sulfur pools. There’s a pool you can enter via water slide. But coolest of all might be the Rainbow pool—thermal water spouts under this pool create a sort of natural whirlpool and in the evening the pool is lit by multi-colored fiber optics. The pool are open, and warm, year round. The Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools is a good day trip but makes for an even better place to spend a night or two.
Hot Water Beach
Bring some sort of shoveling tool with you to Hot Water Beach because here, for two hours on either side of the tide, visitors can dig their own spa. First dig a you-sized hole and then let it fill up with naturally warm water as the ocean tide creeps in. The water is warm because an underground thermal river runs beneath the beach. This river’s mouth is close to the low tide line. And so, while the ocean itself is cold, the water that gets washed up to Hot Water Beach is warm. And as if that’s not cool enough, from your self-dug spa will have a majestic view of the ocean and dramatic cliffs on two sides.
Where to stay: Pacific Harbour Lodge
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