Disclaimer: I received a complimentary walk and boat cruise of Waimangu Volcanic Valley through my partnership with the New Zealand tourism board. All opinions expressed in this article are my own.
“Ughhh… seriously, Lauren? You really want to go there?”
Dave groaned loudly from the bed below mine, sounding like it was the last thing he wanted to do.
“You know it’s really, really smelly, right?”
“Yes! I do!” I insisted. “It just… it looks so pretty and colourful and awesome and… just, yes!”
I could tell the boys didn’t really share my enthusiasm for spending a few days in Rotorua. The notoriously smelly city in the North Island of New Zealand is built on top of a geothermal hotspot and it is this hotspot that has led to Rotorua acquiring the nickname of Sulphur City. While this means you’ll likely spend your entire time in the city having your nostrils assaulted by the pungent smell of rotten eggs, it also means that Rotorua has some pretty incredible sights.
It was this geothermal activity, visible in pockets scattered all over the city, that had me rather desperate to visit. In and around Rotorua, you can find bubbling mud pools, a near-constant stream of steam erupting from geysers, thermal lakes, massive craters, hissing steam from the vents at the side of the road and some of the craziest colours I’ve ever seen.
Dave had both been to Rotorua before, he’d experienced the smells, seen the bizarre scenery and wasn’t too keen to return.
Seeing that I was being forced into all kinds of hiking activities during my time in New Zealand, I wouldn’t allow him to say no to a visit to Rotorua.
And that was how I ended up at Waimangu Volcanic Valley, my half-broken camera in hand, fingers gripped firmly over my nose.
The volcanic rift at Waimangu was formed back in 1886 when Mount Terawera erupted, destroying villages within a 6 kilometre radius and spewing ash as far south as Christchurch! This was New Zealand’s largest ever volcanic eruption with over 2 cubic kilometres of rock and ash thrown into the air — more than when Mount St. Helens erupted in 1980.
The awesome-sounding pink and white terraces were destroyed, a 17 kilometre rift was created, nearby Lake Rotomahana grew to twenty times its original size and the crazy-ass Waimangu Geyser was formed — a geyser that shot out rocks and steam to heights of 1,500 feet! Waimangu geyser only lasted four years, which is a shame because it sounds badass.
Seeing that I was the one that was dragging Dave through Smellyville, I decided to try and make the experience as fun as possible for them. Mostly by reading out facts from the brochure we were given in an upper-class British accent.
I’m sure they loved it.
We began our walk at Frying Pan Lake, the largest hot spring in the world, which vaguely resembled an enormous frying pan. This was one of the highlights from my time at Waimangu, the steam drifting eerily over the surface of the lake giving the impression of boiling water.
The steam isn’t created from the boiling itself but from a combination of carbon dioxide and hydrogen sulphide, giving a wild, other-worldly look. And a very dodgy smell.
We continued on past the lake, strolling alongside vibrant yellow, red and orange surfaces, steaming pools and bubbling geysers. This really was an alien-looking landscape and had me feeling like I was on another planet.
We soon reached another one of my highlights, the insanely blue Inferno Crater. Isn’t this colour ridiculous?
After a bit of a hike over Mount Hazard, which thankfully did not live up to its name, we arrived at the marble terraces. The terraces are made of silica and have a constant flow of near-boiling water streaming over them in shallow waves.
With our walk around the park now finished, we jumped on a 45 minute boat cruise to see some of the geysers not usually accessible on foot. The cruise was relaxing and peaceful and we got to see the massive crater in Mount Terawera.
The main attraction on the boat cruise was Fumarole Bay, where we spent most of our time slowly drifting past erupting geysers.
I loved spending half a day exploring Waimangu Volcanic Valley.
It was one of the most bizarre landscapes I’ve ever seen, showcasing what felt like every colour of the visible light spectrum. Despite joking about the smells, I found them to be barely noticeable when compared to the stench we experienced when staying in downtown Rotorua.
The walk itself wasn’t particularly challenging — there was a short climb up Mount Hazard half-way through the trail, which I didn’t have a problem with. We finished the walk in around 90 minutes and the boat cruise took a further 45 minutes.
If you’re heading to Rotorua then be sure to add Waimangu Volcanic Valley to your list of things to do!