Exploring Rotorua’s Thermal Wonders: Geysers, Mud Pots and Volcanic Springs


There is probably no country on our planet that can compare with New Zealand in the number of amazing, exotic and one-of-a-kind natural phenomena and objects collected on its relatively small territory.

Volcanoes and geysers, caves and waterfalls, fjords and glaciers, rare reptiles and birds, unique trees and flowers – it is difficult to even list all the natural wonders with which this small state, located in the “far south”, amazes the traveler.

But the most important miracle of New Zealand is the famous Rotorua Valley, which every visitor of New Zealand considers his duty to visit. And the New Zealanders themselves do not ignore this amazing nook of nature with their attention.

Rotorua Valley

Rotorua is located in the center of New Zealand’s North Island on the Volcanic Plateau. The Maori, the longtime inhabitants of this island, named the valley Takiwa-Waiariki, meaning “Land of Hot Water”. Even on the streets of Rotorua, the center of this geothermal region, you can see jets of white steam spurting from the cracks in the sidewalks. Hundreds of hot and cold springs can be found around the town and on the shores of the lake of the same name.

The Maoris who lived here were not a timid people. They built their village of Whakarewarewa in the heart of this unusual area, among the whistling jets of steam, gurgling hot springs, the roar of geysers and the roar of mud pots. And they tried to make better use of the natural features of Rotorua: huts were built on sites with warm soil warmed from below, they built pools where they bathed in hot water all year round, and even cooked fish, immersing it in a kind of “avoska” directly into the natural boiling water.

And nowadays the hotels built here have pools filled with thermal waters, and heating in the hotels is provided by the heat of the earth’s bowels.

But the main attraction of Rotorua is its famous geysers. There are dozens of them here, and the jets, beating at four or five meters in height, envelope in clouds of steam and the shore of Lake Rotorua, and the outskirts of the village, where red wooden statues of Maori gods with fierce faces and sticking out their tongues are lined up in a row along the only street.

The most powerful geyser – Pohutu – throws a jet of boiling water thirty meters upwards. The water eruption lasts for an hour or even longer. Sometimes several geysers strike simultaneously, and sometimes they “work” alternately, as if trying to surpass each other by the power of jets and the unusual shape of the fountain.

White siliceous deposits decorating the holes of natural fountains have yellow shades formed from dissolved hydrogen sulfide in the water. Unfortunately, not all of this not too fragrant gas is deposited in the form of sulphuric secretions, and in the air of Rotorua even on the approach to the lake you can feel its specific “aroma”.

The Poirenga River, which flows into Lake Rotorua, is fed by cold and hot springs. In some places the jets of springs do not have time to mix and when you put your hands in the water, you feel both warm and cold at the same time. Hot springs come from the bottom of the lake. And on the island of Mokoya, located in the middle of the lake, the most famous and popular among tourists is the Hinemoa hot spring, bathing in which is an obligatory ritual for visitors to Rotorua.

The locals also bathe in Hinemoa. For them, it is an ancient sacred rite that brings health and strength to warriors. Māori believe that every lake or hot spring in Rotorua is home to a taniwa-igarara, a dragon-like fairytale creature that guards its hot home from evil spirits. According to Maori legend, the moon itself disappears from the firmament once a month to bathe in the magical underground lake Aewa, which feeds the geysers. After bathing in its living water. The moon gains strength and sets off on a new journey across the sky. That is why the residents of Vakarevareva willingly bathe in the waters of hot springs, which have such healing power.

About ten kilometers southeast of this kingdom of geysers in the crater of an extinct volcano are hidden the famous Vaimangu Lakes – two reservoirs of blue and green colors. The coloration of water in them is explained by the different composition of rocks through which the springs that feed the lakes flow. Multicolored water is complemented here by brightly colored rocks of the crater, to which iron oxides in some places gave a red tint, and sulfur deposits – yellow.

For many centuries Vaimanga was adorned with marvelous Pink and White Terraces, which occupied an area of more than five hectares and surpassed even the world-famous Pamukkale terraces in Turkey by the beauty of their openwork cascades of lime tuff, deposited from hot springs.

Travelers were especially impressed by the White Terraces, which resembled a giant marble staircase covered with openwork carvings. Alas, in 1886, a catastrophic eruption of the nearby Tarawera volcano overnight destroyed this rare masterpiece, created by thermal springs over many thousands of years.

That year, on June 10, powerful tremors awakened residents in the area. A strong explosion split the top of Tarawera, and thick clouds of smoke and steam, illuminated by flashes of lightning, rose ten kilometers above the mountain. The flaming debris separated from the pillar of fire and fell into the lake with a rumble and splash. Soon it turned into a kind of hell, where a horrible mixture of mud and steam swirled. The evergreen forests on the slopes of Tarawera were destroyed, as were the fields and gardens of the surrounding area. Two Maori villages were completely inundated by the mud flow, and a hail of volcanic bombs rained down on the neighboring town of Wairoa, killing sixteen of its inhabitants.

The terraces were buried under a thick layer of volcanic ash and pieces of lava from the volcano’s crater. However, the hot springs themselves were not permanently blocked by the volcano. In 1900, a colossal fountain of hot water, the likes of which had never been seen in New Zealand, struck Waimangu from the ground. At the time, the Waimangu geyser was the most powerful in the world and threw a powerful jet of water mixed with steam, rocks and sand to a height of four hundred and fifty meters!

It would rage and roar for hours, then shut up, but thirty hours later it would again spew out a fountain of boiling water. It was not easy to calculate the time when the next water eruption would begin, and several inquisitive gawkers paid with their lives for trying to study the silent giant.

For four years, the giant geyser raged in the valley, shocking eyewitnesses with the fantastic size of its fountain. Then the Waimangu jet began to weaken, and in 1908 the geyser ceased to exist.

Another thermal area lies half a hundred kilometers south of Rotorua, near the largest New Zealand Lake Taupo. Here, in the Wairakei Valley, there is a famous “steam cave” Karapiti, from which with enormous force bursts out clubs of steam, announcing the surroundings with an intimidating roar. The world’s first geothermal power station was built here in 1958, using underground water to generate electricity.

Lake Taupo itself is amazingly picturesque. The depth of this huge body of water, located in the heart of the Volcanic Plateau, reaches a hundred meters. To the south, the lake is overlooked by a mighty volcanic massif that includes three of the country’s four active volcanoes: Ruapehu, Tongariro and Ngauruhoe.