Waimangu Volcanic Valley

waimangu volcanic valley

Waimangu Volcanic Valley is the youngest geothermal system in the world. Tourists were flocking to the area before it was even formed, to see the Pink and White Terraces. Then, in 1886, Mount Tarawera erupted. Over a hundred people died, the Pink and White Terraces were destroyed, and Waimangu was born.

pink and white terraces

A painting of the Pink and White Terraces

Pronounced with a silent ‘g’, Waimangu means ‘black water’. It was named for a geyser – the largest in the world at the time – whose water was dark with mud and debris. Unfortunately, this geyser was only active from 1900 to 1904, but it saw many tourists during that time. Four people died in 1903, when the geyser took them by surprise, and another two in 1917, when an eruption destroyed a nearby accommodation house.

The ruins of the accommodation house weren’t pulled down until 1970.

As far as I know, no tourists have died since, though various eruptions continue to shape and reshape the valley.

waimangu volcanic valley

It’s quite expensive to visit Waimangu. My fiancé and I only did the self-guided walk and that was $42 each! It included a shuttle ride from the bottom of the track back up to the café/gift shop, but still… If you add the Lake Rotomahana boat cruise, it’s another $43 each. Lake Rotomahana is where the Pink and White Terraces were. There are a few bubbling hot springs and geysers along the shore that are inaccessible except by boat.

It turned out my fiancé and I couldn’t have done the cruise if we’d wanted to, as the boat’s engine had just given up the ghost. We got chatting to an employee about it as we were waiting for the shuttle. Apparently – and I apologise if I’m remembering this wrong – the boat had an ex-1950s double-decker bus engine, and, well, try finding a replacement one of those in New Zealand!

So, the walk. Upon leaving the visitor centre, we were confronted with this rather nice view…

waimangu volcanic valley

… and it only got better from there. As we followed the gravel path down the valley, towards Lake Rotomahana, a smorgasbord of geothermal delights presented themselves. First came a lake half smothered with pinkish red algae so thick it looked like a rubber mat.

waimangu volcanic valley lake red algae

Then came a lake that appeared to shiver in the sunlight, but was actually bubbling with heat. Wisps of steam eddied over its surface like spirits performing a dance.

waimangu volcanic valley cathedral rocks

Then there was the stream, steaming away in full technicolour.

waimangu volcanic valley

There were lots of other interesting geothermal features on the way to the lake, but the stream is what stood out to me.

waimangu volcanic valley

It takes about two hours to get down to the lake, which is why it’s nice to be able to take the shuttle back. There’s a total of three shuttle stops along the walk, so you don’t have to do the full track. The best stuff’s in the first two-thirds, not counting the beautiful lake views. Take sturdy shoes, sun protection and a drink bottle.

waimangu volcanic valley

So, I suppose the question is should you visit Waimangu Volcanic Valley over the many other geothermal sightseeing attractions available in and around Rotorua? If you’re short on time and/or money, no: there are places with more spectacular geothermal features than this. If you’ve already visited a few of those other places and are looking for something different, yes: it’s a lovely walk.

Hamurana Springs

Hamurana Springs, Rotorua, New Zealand

You know what’s great about my parents living in Tauranga? It’s less than an hour’s drive from Rotorua. Now I’m not saying there’s nothing to do in Tauranga – far from it, but Rotorua is a tourist mecca.

There are so many fantastic things to do in Rotorua that I’m not even going to bother listing them here. (See my Top 10 Things to Do in Rotorua and my How to Do Rotorua on the Cheap if you’re interested.)

Last weekend, I visited my parents for Mother’s Day. (For some reason, Mother’s Day in New Zealand coincides with Mother’s Day in the US; not the UK.) Given the year my mum’s had, I thought I’d better turn up in person.

I wanted to take her somewhere a bit different, so Rotorua was the obvious choice. But where in Rotorua? We couldn’t go to any hot pools, as she’s just had surgery on her leg. This also ruled out doing anything adventurous, or anything that would involve a lot of walking or standing around.

If you have any familiarity with Rotorua, you’ll know that doesn’t leave a lot of options.

Hamurana Springs, Rotorua

Hamurana Springs to the rescue.

The walk around Hamurana Springs is short, easy and surprisingly beautiful. Before we’d even got to the springs, I was marvelling at the giant redwood trees bordering the path. It was perfect for my mum, who’s being given another dose of radiation even as I write this.

Redwoods at Hamurana Springs, Rotorua

When you get to the first spring, there are two viewing platforms, one high up and one at the water. You don’t expect it to be quite so clear, but it’s magical. It’s the deepest spring in the North Island – about fifteen metres, though it doesn’t look it.

You’re not allowed to swim in the springs anymore, but many people bring their drink bottles to fill up. I realised that this is the vision many foreigners have of New Zealand, of pure, sparkling streams we can drink from at will. Yeah. Sure.

You may notice something in the water that seems to glow: it’s a painted stone. There are a few such stones placed in various spots around the springs. Trying to find them all is a lovely little addition to an already lovely walk.

Hamurana Springs

I couldn’t get over the way the water rippled, and the way the light reflected upon it. When the sun came out, the water turned the most gorgeous shade of blue. I hadn’t seen anything like it since the glacial streams of the South Island. I couldn’t resist dipping my hand in.

Ripples at Hamurana

The second spring is called Dancing Sands. In order to see why, you have to spend a few moments getting your eye in. As the water rushes up through the sand, it creates a myriad of miniature cyclones that dance upon the streambed. They look like swirls of fairy dust.

Of course, the truly magical part of Hamurana Springs is the colour of the water. It’s not just blue. Beneath the surface lies luscious, emerald foliage. In places, it looks almost deliberate, like the hedges of an underwater maze. Ephemeral sapphires await the daring adventurer.

Foliage at Hamurana

This wonderful walk is completely free, and only fifteen minutes from the centre of Rotorua. You have no excuse not to go!

EDIT: They started charging an $18 per adult entry fee. Yeah. It sucks and people aren’t happy.