The North Island of New Zealand is known for its rich history and culture, agriculture (think rolling green hills dotted with sheep), and geothermal wonders.
On my most recent trip to New Zealand, I focused on the fascinating geothermal region located in and around Rotorua. This area was named the Bay of Plenty by European settlers, thanks to its abundance of trees, fruit, fish, and all the necessities for a rich and bountiful life. The settlers weren’t the only ones who found the land useful. The Maori people have lived in the Bay of Plenty for centuries, using the hot pools for cooking and bathing and the sulfuric pools for medicinal purposes. This incredible region has so many interesting things to see and do, it’s a favorite for our travelers! Here are a few of my favorite ways to experience the Bay of Plenty!
1. Geothermal Parks
You can easily see the region’s unique highlights at geothermal parks such as Wai-O-Tapu and Waimangu near Rotorua. Both parks offer a variety of walks, and Waimangu also has a boat cruise. I found the signs provide a good explanation as to what you are seeing and how it got there.
The parks can be done at your own pace, so they’re great for a relaxed day (or, in my case, battling jet lag with some fresh air). Pro tip: If you are looking for the bright, colorful pools and sulphuric activity, heard to Wai-O-Tapu. If you enjoy hiking and learning about the topography in a more spread out area, Waimangu is your cup of tea.
Bright green lake at Wai-O-Tapu geothermal park
2. Geothermal Hot Pools
Had several days on the go and getting a little tired? Head to Polynesian Spa and take a relaxing dip in one of the mineral hot pools heated to 93-109°F, then head for the ice cold plunge pool to rejuvenate. Fair warning, it’s not for the fainthearted! After one dip, I was wide awake and my jet lag had disappeared.
The basic ticket gives you access to public, outdoor hot pools. For total relaxation, I would splurge for the Deluxe Private Pool, where you’ll get a fabulous view over Lake Rotorua, plus a visit to the therapeutic Priest Spring, which has a very soft feel to the water and relieves aches and pains.
3. Te Puia
Te Puia is a Maori cultural park with geothermal attractions, recreations of ancient Maori sites, and popular experiences like a Maori haka performance. If you enjoy culture and history, this is the experience for you! Join a tour with a Maori guide who was raised in the area and learn about what it’s like to grow up swimming in the natural springs, how the area has changed, and what the locals are doing to preserve nature and tradition despite new and needed developments.
If your timing is lucky, you’ll see the Pohutu geyser erupt and perhaps even enjoy a meal cooked with the heat of the hot spring. You’ll have your chance to spot endangered Kiwi birds in the Kiwi House—I got to see 2 of them searching out their meal! Then, visit the onsite school teaching traditional Maori arts like wood carving, stone carving, and weaving to a new generation. On my visit, the school had only been open for 10 weeks. Wow! I watched the artists shaping greenstone and saw a large wood carving in the works. The artists’ talent is impeccable, and seeing the ancient handicrafts still being made today is rare for many cultures around the world. The school really brought the whole experience to life.
Maori cultural interactions at Te Puia. Image: Tourism New Zealand
4. Explore White Island
I had the opportunity to fly with Volcanic Air in a heli to New Zealand’s active volcano, White Island. From the air, I got a look at Hells Gate and the kiwi fruit farms and logging sites before flying over Whale Island (an area whales used to frequent). The flight is amazing, but it’s the island landing and time spent walking around the volcano’s surface that is truly an eye-opening experience. The island has a sulfur mining history, basically no vegetation, and a pea green lake with plumes of gas escaping. I kept thinking I was on the set of The Martian. This experience definitely made my all-time-favorite list!
Aerial view of White Island from the helicopter
White Island looks and feels like another planet!
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