Hells Gate Thermal Reserve - Hells Gate Wai Ora Sp
Hells Gate: Rotorua's fiercest thermal area and largest active mud volcano, NZ's largest boiling whirlpool, largest hot water fall in southern hemisphere, naturally hot mineral foot pools, water & steam vent geyser, hot spraying pools, tame birds.
Unique opportunity to touch and feel the earth's power. Touch the beautifully soft hot water of our medicinal sulphur lake and finest geothermal mud used in masks and cosmetics. View thermal heated rocks and steam vents. Bathe in our glorious mud spa com
Tamaki Maori Village
This was a fantastic cultural experience for both of us. We were collected by our tour bus driver who informed us about our evening and taught us "Kia Ora" (Maori for Welcome), it sounded very exciting. On arrival at the village we were greeted by a traditional Maori welcome, followed by Maori's in traditional dress singing around different camp sites showing us how life was in a Maori Village 150 years ago. We were then taken into a Welcoming House for our entertainment, which was great, they performed the Harka which is a traditonal war cry for the Maori's,followed by a traditonal Hungi (which is a way of cooking food in the ground with hot stones). The food was great.
The bus trip back was also very entertaining. Worth the money $85 per head. You should wear comfortable shoes and warm clothes to accomadate the outdoor performances.
Hike Summit of Mount Tarawera Volcano
Mount Tarawera is an impressive dormant volcano near Rotorua. On 10 June 1886 it erupted with tremendous force and killed 153 people. The entire volcano is on Maori land and is considered sacred because of the people who were buried there as a result of the eruption. As such, the mountain is private property and cannot be explored alone, but only through the single official tour company.
My wife and I took a standard tour package one afternoon. We travelled to and up the mountain by 4WD minibus, which proved to be essential as the dirt road to the summit was in terrible condition. Once at the base of the volcano crater, we hiked along the crater edge to the very summit, at 1111 meters in elevation. From there we hiked down into the deepest part of the crater itself and then back out again. The mountain and crater are spectacular and offer some of the best views you can imagine, but the hike was actually quite strenuous. You also have the option to take a less strenuous hike if you don't think you are up for the hard one. And if you really want to go all out, you can have a helicopter pick you up at the summit and fly you around the crater.
Great experience overall, but again like so much else in NZ it was very expensive at NZ$110 per person!
Te Puia + "Whaka": The Divided Attractions
On my first NZ trips Te Puia and Whakarewarewa at the city limits of Rotorua were still one attraction for which you had to pay one entry fee. At the end of the 1990s there was an argument and the geothermal site was divided, even "Whaka" itself, and since 1998 you have two tourist attractions side by side. So it is up to you to make a choice as nearly the same things are offered, geothermal wonders and Maori culture.
Although we have been there with nearly no other tourists around it can happen that the thermal reserves are totally overcrowded with busloads of tourists. If you do not mind this and have limited time it still is a good place for getting an impression. However, the geothermally much more spectacular and colourful places are Waiotapu and Orakei Korako.
Whakarewarewa (the wh is pronounced as f) is only a third of its original size and features bubbling mud holes, hot pools, steaming and sulphor stinking flats, as well as Maori carvings, a meeting house and stage where you can twice daily enjoy a culture show. It is now known as The Thermal Village which really has kept its original village feeling. You can explore the place on your own or join a guided tour, and I clearly prefer it to Te Puia - and it is cheaper ;-)
However, the main attraction of "Whaka", the very active Pohutu geyser, is now on the other side of the fence and belongs to Te Puia. But it can still be seen from the "Whaka" area, and it erupts several times a day and does not need to be fed by soap to erupt like the famous Lady Knox Geyser at Waiotapu.
Te Puia did not only get Pohutu but also the other two thirds of the original Whakarewarewa. Officially it is The New Zealand Maori Arts & Crafts Institute. You can watch Maori artists carve and wave houses, canoes, weapons, jewellery and clothes and also buy the very expensive products. They also have a Kiwi House with two or so kiwis, and offer guided tours and cultural perfomances with song and dance, including a hangi which is the traditional Maori meal from the earth oven.
One of the best parts in the Whakawerawera Thermal Park is the huge geyser jet of water and steam that goes off, each hour almost on the hour (aided, I've heard, by adding some washing powder into the crevasse to froth things up a bit more!)