All I knew when planning this destination was the name “champagne pool.” I had seen pictures and in fact, only Googled that phrase when trying to figure out how to get there. When I saw the name of the actual place I thought that it was going to be a cheesy tourist destination, when in fact, it was an incredible geo-destination.
Getting there: It’s located between Rotarua and Taupo, so wherever you stay it’s a quick drive. If you won’t have a car, call ahead to hostels to see how much shuttles will be to/from. You can probably also hitchhike, but if you want to see the geyser, you’ll have to leave on time.
When to go: Time-of-day-wise it depends on if you want to see the geyser; the geyser goes at 10:15 am every day and the geyser is NOT located by the ticket office, so you’ll want to give yourself enough time to go down to the ticket office, get a ticket, go back up to the geyser and find your spot. I arrived to the main office at 9:30, back to the geyser at 9:45 and had a front row seat (reminder, I went in winter). Time-of-year-wise it doesn’t seem to matter in terms of what you’ll see, but I went in May (winter) and there were NO crowds. While I’m generally surprised by how few people are in New Zealand in general, I asked around and was told that the winter is really slow and the place is packed in the summer. If you go in summer, be sure to account for the increased traffic in your timing.
Cost: A ticket to the geyser and park is $32.50 NZD; ask your accommodation as they may have a discount coupon (mine did); I paid $29.20 NZD ($21.90 USD). They said you need this ticket for the park, but there aren’t any people checking tickets to get into the park, so I remain unclear if you need tickets for the park, or just the geyser.
Planning notes: You are visiting a geo-thermal destination; just because the geo is thermal, doesn’t mean the air is. It was SUPER cold in the morning, and warmed up throughout the day. If you’re going in the winter, make sure to bring warm enough clothes. If you’re going during the summer, make sure to bring water, sunscreen, etc. You will be exposed to the sun for the majority of your time there. I spent 4 hours (including the initial waiting time for the geyser); there are three different walk lengths in the park, the longest of which estimated at 75 minutes (and it had major payoff at the furthest point).
What’s there: Wai-O-Tapu is located on active volcanic ground and is a vast geo-thermal reserve. As I mentioned, all I originally knew of was the champagne pool, but there’s so much more.
There are three main sections:
- Lady Knox Geyser: The geyser goes at 10:15 each day and is located separate from the park; you drive (or hike) up to it and will get an explanation of its history and see it set off. It goes for upwards of an hour, but most people left after 20-30 minutes.
- The park: The park has 3 walking tracks, the longest of which is estimated at 75 minutes. I say if you’re there, go all in. Seriously, you’re welcome.
- Mud pools: These are as sexy as their name implies; it’s a quick pull-off the road on your way in or out of the area, and doesn’t require a ticket.
- Wai-o-Tapu means sacred waters
- The entire area is part of a Scenic Reserve administered by the Department of Conservation and is covered in thermal activity (largest are of surface activity in the Taupo Volcanic Zone)
- It covers 18 square km, though you won’t get to see all of that
- The area’s volcanic activity dates back 160,000 years