Walking down the windy path, I could see the vibrant colors slowly appear along the horizon. The fog was thick, but every so often the wind would pick up and I could make out bright yellow, fluorescent green, orange and emerald in this big pool of water, not surprisingly called the Artist’s Palette.
Home to many bubbly mud pools, steaming fumaroles, geysers and collapsed craters, Wai-O-Tapu has the largest geothermal activity surface area of all the parks in the Taupo Volcanic Zone near Rotorua. Associated with a volcanic eruption that occurred about 160,000 years ago, the streams underneath the ground reach up to 300°C. For some reason, we got lucky and didn’t experience the rotten egg smell that normally permeates the park. The unique aroma comes from hydrogen sulphide being transported from the earth to the surface, escaping as steam.In total there are 25 listed sites to see along the 3km wooden path that winds through the park. Most sites are collapsed craters created from acidic steam rising from underground, dissolving the ground above, causing huge holes to form. They’re generally up to 50 meters in diameter and 20 meters deep.
Besides the famous colorful pools, the landscape itself is surreal. It feels like you’ve stepped onto another planet or prehistoric times. I kept wondering when a dinosaur would come running along the path!
My favorite site in the entire park was the Champagne Pool because of its incredible orange and turquoise colors. Due to a high concentration of carbon dioxide in the pool, the water constantly bubbles like a glass of champagne! Unfortunately, the surface temperature stays at around 74°C / 165°F and it’s also highly acidic, so a swim is not possible.
Because of the thick fog and wind, it was difficult to get a good shot with the colors and without my lens fogging up. I’d cover my lens with my scarf, then quickly take a shot when the wind blew the other direction. After repeating this a few times (and looking slightly crazy, I’m sure), I finally got some decent shots showcasing the various mineral elements. In case you’re wondering, the orange comes from antimony and the green from ferrous salts and sulphur. Wandering through the park was extremely relaxing and peaceful. With only one footpath to take while being surrounded by this otherworldly landscape, it allowed for many quiet moments of stillness. I felt invited by mother nature to slow down and literally, enjoy the view. It reminded me of another time in my life when the environment was very different but my senses were also on overload.
When I first started working in NYC, I would take a different path to work every day. I was scared I’d get too comfortable and forget to wander. After a month of this and being late to work a few times, I had to satiate my curiosity in other ways. Then, as life got busy and the magic of a new city lingered away, I had to consciously remind myself not to get complacent with the everyday.
Traveling to places like New Zealand and this magical, vibrant natural wonderland reminded me of those days when I first moved to NYC and everything was new all the time. How do you keep your sense of wonder? I hope you’re able to stay curious whether you’re in a everyday routine or traveling through the most magical places in the world. Stay wanderful!
Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland
201 Waiotapu Loop Road
RD 3, Rotorua 3073
Thanks to Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland for sharing your mesmerizing natural wonderland. All opinions and photos are my own.