Best places to see natural wonders in New Zealand’s North Island.
Active volcanoes, boiling mud pools, exploding geysers and endless geothermal pools seemed to be everywhere in the North Island. Formed over millions of years and shaped by tectonic activity underneath the earth’s surface, the landscape is otherworldly and majestic. Only steam and periodic shooting geysers give any sense to the mysteries hidden below. Nature has such a strong presence in these places; it’s hard to deny the existence of a higher being creating it all. Personally, I have never felt God’s presence more than being in places like New Zealand and Iceland, another awe-inspiring land.
Besides nature, the second highly visible aspect of the area is the influence of the Māori, the indigenous people of New Zealand. All of the sites listed here are run by local tribes, and they’re very proud of their heritage, so it naturally comes out during any guided tour. I found it to be the perfect introduction to their culture, food and thinking.
Staying near the Taupo Volcanic Zone, a highly active volcanic area, three of these geothermal sites are close to Rotorua; the fourth being two hours away in Waitomo. The perfect base for exploring, Rotorua is both convenient and picturesque. Our Airbnb in Rotorua is one of my favorite experiences to date–with rolling hills and cows grazing in our backyard!
Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland
The most colorful of all the geothermal parks, Wai-O-Tapu is home to bubbly mud pools, steaming fumaroles, geysers and collapsed craters. Perhaps the most famous, the Champagne Pool is a green and orange colored pool named for its high concentration of carbon dioxide, creating constant bubbles like champagne.
There is a wooden path that leads you around the sites, with walks that vary in time and distance (1.5, 2 and 3 kilometers).
Reason to go: See colorful and surreal pools.
For the full write-up and more photos, visit Wai-O-Tapu Geothermal Wonderland.
This geothermal park is best known for her mud pools! If you’ve never experienced this, I highly recommend it. Who needs the spa when you can have the most relaxing natural spa experience while playing in the mud? Said to relieve muscle aches, detoxify the body and balance PH levels, mud baths have been used by the Māori people for centuries to solve various ailments. Regardless of whether this is true, my skin felt super soft and my body was incredibly warm afterward.
Prior to the mud bath, we took a guided tour around the site that was formed about 10,000 years ago after a series of geothermal eruptions– resulting in gases and fluids escaping from the earth. Unique to Hell’s Gate, the heat source for the various pools are only 1.5–2kms underneath the surface, compared to 10+kms for other thermal reserves.
There is a clearly marked wooden path that meanders through the park, along with a unique bush walk and waterfall! The guided tours occur daily at 9.30am and 1.30pm and are approximately 1.5 hours long. I highly recommend taking the tour before doing the mud bath, so you can see where they get the mud from as well as learning about different types of mud and their effects on the body.
Reason to go: Relax in a mud bath.
For the full write-up, visit Hell’s Gate Mud Bath.
I learned most about the Māori culture during this visit to Te Puia. Comprised of multiple activities including watching the largest active geyser in the Southern Hemisphere erupt, learning about Māori carving and weaving at the New Zealand Māori Arts & Crafts Institute, seeing the endangered kiwi bird and experiencing a traditional Māori cultural performance with a hāngi (earth oven) meal afterward.
Our guide was a member of the tribe and lived right behind the site. He kept emphasizing he was welcoming us into his home and genuinely wanted us to learn about his culture, telling us stories about his upbringing and explaining traditions during the welcoming ceremony. I especially loved our meal that was cooked underground. The meat and vegetables were incredibly tender with a nice earthiness from the steaming cooking process.
Reason to go: Learn about Māori culture through food, dance and the arts.
To learn more, visit Te Puia.
Waitomo Glowworm Caves and Black Water Rafting
Loving anything that glows, when I heard New Zealand had glowworms, I knew I had to experience it for myself. The caves in Waitomo are most famous for them, with tours from walking through a cave full of stalagmites and stalactites, taking a boat ride while gazing up at a ceiling full of glowworms, to going on a tubing adventure in an underground river.
No matter which route you pick, you’ll be able to see a lot of sparkling glowworms and learn about caves. My favorite way to experience the cave was our 3-hour trek through rushing cave water and jumping backwards off mini waterfalls in a tube! If you’re up for an adventure, I highly recommend the Black Water Rafting adventure.
Reason to go: See glowworms in a cave.
For the full write-up, visit Waitomo Glowworm Caves and Black Water Rafting.
Thanks to Wai-O-Tapu, Hell’s Gate, Te Puia and Waitomo Glowworm Caves for sharing your mesmerizing natural wonders. Last photo courtesy of Waitomo Glowworm Caves. All opinions and photos, except as marked, are my own.