Sights and Smells of Wai O Tapu

We were warned at least half a dozen times before arriving in the area of Rotorua, New Zealand. Even so, as soon as I opened the car door my nose wrinkled and I instinctively brought my hand to my face and covered my nostrils. I can easily class Wai O Tapu as the smelliest place I have ever been. Unless of course, you enjoy the smell of Sulphur and rotten eggs. Though I found the scent less than pleasant, our visit was very interesting and I was very glad that we went.

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Wai O Tapu calls itself a “thermal wonderland” because it encompasses some of the best geothermal activity in New Zealand. There is a geyser on the property as well as a mud pool and a host of other elements- hot steam that rises from the ground, brightly colored water that looks positively unreal, and flora and fauna to fill in the gaps. The park is organized into three different loop trails for guests to follow at their own pace, and by combining all three loops we were able to see every inch of the park.

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The translation of the Maori name Wai O Tapu is “sacred waters”, and the water was one of the most fascinating things here. It looked like something out of a science fiction film, maybe something a person drinks before they become a superhero. The central pools, where we began our journey, were made up of what looked like different colored puddles of water- green, yellow, orange, blue… and the colors didn’t bleed into each other or mix into a tie dye sort of pattern. They just stayed put in their own little shapes as clouds of steam rolled gently over them. I wish I knew more about the science behind it all, but that subject is definitely not my forte.

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We were not able to see the geyser since in only erupts in the morning, but we did get a good look at pretty much everything else. The volcanically formed landscape is so unique, truly a neat thing to see even if you don’t understand exactly how it came to be. The best of the boiling mud pools are actually located outside of the gates with their own parking area. We stopped there on our way out after we had seen everything else and it is definitely a worthwhile stop.

It took us about thirty minutes to drive from our hotel in Rotorua to Wai O Tapu, and we spent a little over an hour completing all the trails on the loop. Rather than get caught up trying to memorize all the technical details of what we were seeing, instead we just focused on the experience of seeing something so unique. And after a little bit of time there, we actually got used to the stinky smell!

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