Gorgeous Geysers, Smelly Sulphur and Crazy Colours at Rotorua


Crazy colours and geysers at Rotorua

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.

Lauren at Rotorua

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.

Frying pan lake, Rotorua

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.

Frying pan lake, Rotorua

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.

Crazy colours at Rotorua

Crazy colours and geysers at Rotorua

We soon reached another one of my highlights, the insanely blue Inferno Crater. Isn’t this colour ridiculous?

Blue lake at Rotorua

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.

Crazy colours at Rotorua

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.

Crater on Rotorua boat cruise

The main attraction on the boat cruise was Fumarole Bay, where we spent most of our time slowly drifting past erupting geysers.

Geyser on Rotorua boat cruise

Geyser on Rotorua boat cruise

Geyser on Rotorua boat cruise

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!

14 Comments

  1. Chris
    May 1, 2013
    Reply

    Totally missed this on my way through the north island – whacking it on the to do list for my return :)

  2. Yvette
    May 1, 2013
    Reply

    The one time I went to Rotorua was after a whitewater kayaking trip nearby with a group from Auckland (all that geothermal activity= warm water when you fall in yay) and some guys asked me if I wanted to go to the spa. Answer was yes, and that’s all I’ve seen in Rotorua (but then I’ve been to Yellowstone and saw the original geysir in Iceland).

    Enjoying your posts as it was over 5 years since I lived in NZ- need to get back but I keep getting sidetracked by all the other places in between. :)

  3. Laura
    May 1, 2013
    Reply

    This place looks amazing! New Zealand has never ranked highly in my places to visit but, well, it might now!

  4. May 1, 2013
    Reply

    Did you drive a couple of minutes up the road and see the bubbling mud pools? They are FREE and I thought they were one of the best!

  5. May 2, 2013
    Reply

    The top photo looks hot! and I am not talking about the geothermal activity :)
    Beautiful photos, Lauren! Colors are unbelievable!

  6. May 2, 2013
    Reply

    Awesome and colorful photos! Spectacular landscape! If it doesn’t take much of traveling NZ, I will go there asap…..

  7. Adam&Amanda
    May 2, 2013
    Reply

    Amazing post, your pictures are stunning!!

  8. Gina
    May 2, 2013
    Reply

    WOW, gorgeous pics … I love volcanoes and now I want to see this one in person! You look lovely and in the right place at the right time in your life, beautiful friend!

    Big smooch and hugs,

    Gina

  9. Amanda
    May 2, 2013
    Reply

    Rotorua is indeed smelly, but SO worth it in my opinion! There are very few places I know of where you can see crazy stuff like this so easily!

  10. May 8, 2013
    Reply

    Why did the boys not want to go there? This looks awesome! Reminds me of the film Dantes Peak for a strange reason.

    • May 8, 2013
      Reply

      Because they’d already visited before and knew how much it smelt :-)

  11. Angela
    June 2, 2013
    Reply

    That blue crater looks incredible! Who cares if it’s a bit smelly right!

  12. July 16, 2013
    Reply

    That’s so pretty!! I’m going to have to go back because we never did that during our short stay in Rotarua. Also, never take those boys to Beppu in Japan. The smell in Rotorua is nothing compared to the park there.

  13. July 24, 2013
    Reply

    I never made it to Rotarua but in Abel Tasman National Park today :)

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