Day 6: Geothermal Fun

Words by Andy | Photos by Chris

Day 6: Geothermal Fun

Waking up with a lake view is something I could easily get used to. It felt like time to gear down a bit today, so we started with a walk into town for breakfast and a spot of shopping. We’re starting to think we might need extra luggage at this rate, but maybe there will be fewer retail opportunities on the South Island?

There’s quite a bit close by in Taupō, so we jumped into the car and headed ten minutes up the road to Huka Falls, stopping at a lookout along the way to get a view of Taupō from the rise.

What initially feels like a drive into the suburbs soon changes pace with forest opening up either side. Cyclone damage is apparent amongst the trees, some completely uprooted, others snapped like twigs, but thankfully more survived than were destroyed.


The familiar rush of water can be heard from the car park, and as you walk towards the trails, the bridge you cross straddles the turbulent rapids of the Waikato River, which drains Lake Taupō. The current is so strong it has swallowed the craft of people who have tried to ride the rapids. There’s a local jet boat operator that speeds right up to the choppy waters where the rapids fall into the next section of the river which provided a few minutes entertainment as the rapidly flowing water continues carving its path along through its rock faced channel, gushing from behind some boulders, hinting at unseen water courses behind the visible wall.

Up the road a little bit further we found Craters of the Moon Geothermal Walk which is an easy boardwalk through a steaming valley, with some large craters that were active between the 1950’s and 1980’s. The increased geothermal activity was due to the installation of the nearby geothermal power plant, which increase activity tenfold, compared to the 1940’s. Although the eruptions have now stopped, geothermal activity is still about five times higher than the 1940’s level.

As you wander along the boardwalk you pass fields of steam vents, with wisps of vapour all around. The first surprise along the way is stepping onto a viewing platform that overlooks a large crater, steam wafting up all the way round its rim. We noticed we were feeling pretty warm along the route, and as it turns out, it’s because of the changing underground temperature which can range from anywhere between forty to ninety eight degrees. The giveaway is the plant life, if any is present. As the ground temperature drops, the size of growth increases from moss through to small ground covers and bushes, depending on how much heat their root systems can tolerate.

Another crater further along the track featured an array of colours including purple, green, red and yellow, depending on which metals are present beneath the surface. There’s no great smell of sulphur at this site and consequently, less presence of yellow in the rocky landscape. The third crater along the way has the bubbling sound we’ve come to recognise at geothermal sites, where the mud boils below the surface of an otherwise innocent looking scene of ferns and plants. Towards the end of the trail is a raised platform to the most active steam vent on site. Standing next to it, you might think you’re on the tarmac listening to a jet engine as the steam billows out.


All that bubbling and hissing put us in the mood for a dip in a thermal pool, so we headed off to Wairakei Terraces & Thermal Health Spa. Mamma Mia, we could have stayed there well past our welcome. As it was we must have soaked in those pools for about three hours. There are three pools in the complex, fed by a geyser. The bottom pool has two sections. To the right, hot water cascades down rocks and into the pool. The pool temperature is about thirty nine degrees. The second half of the pool is a little bit cooler having flowed through, passing under a little footbridge. Sitting above the cooler half of the pool is the cold pool. Cold being about thirty-two degrees in this case. This is where we spent most of our time, but above the cold pool is the hot pool, averaging about forty-two degrees. This is fed via the terraces that run from the geyser and cool it down before hitting the pool. Staff regularly check the temperature of the pools and regulate the temperature by adding or removing rocks along the terraced water course.

The water contains loads of minerals and is alkaline, so no burning skin which is always nice. The minerals are nourishing for the skin, and they recommend not showering for at least four hours after a soak, to allow the minerals to absorb. My skin feels pretty smooth, and I’m still very relaxed several hours after, so it must have done its job ready for our next big day of road tripping.

Tomorrow we head to Wellington!

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