Exploring a Hidden Valley of Geothermal Wonders at Orakei Korako

When you step our of your hostel and the smell of sulfur licks your face, you know you’re in Rotorua! The city is a geothermal hotbed. When walking or driving around the city, it’s easy to catch sights of steam billowing from some unknown source behind buildings. We even notice steam rising from some of the city’s drains. The day has finally come for us to start exploring some of the geothermal wonders of the Rotorua-Taupo Volcanic Zone, and we’re heading for the most remote and off-the-beaten-track geothermal park there is, Orakei Korako!

A geothermal wonderland under the rain

Like we said, that smell of sulfur licks our face, as well as heavy drops of rain, as we leave the Planet Backpackers and hit the road towards Taupo. The windscreen wipers wipe faster than they ever have in rain that surpasses the heaviness of what we experience in Fiordland National Park, which is said to be one of the wettest places in the world. We’re not sure how this rain is going to effect our experience around a geothermal park, but at least the geothermal park might keep us warm?

Getting off the beaten track

Orakei Korako is also known as The Hidden Valley, and we can definitely see why as we drive almost an hour from Rotorua into more bush-clad areas and 14km down a road off the main highway. It’s very obvious when we approach the geothermal park revealed across the mighty Waikato River. The largest silica terraces we have ever seen divide the wild native forest around it and pump out steam seen so vividly against the cold rain. It’s a magical sight even before we have got there!

The place looks amazing even before we have got there! The place looks amazing even before we have got there!
Walking among a colourful display of geothermal activity Walking among a colourful display of geothermal activity
Getting a new perspective over the geothermal valley Getting a new perspective over the geothermal valley
Danger, danger! Hot stuff ahead! Danger, danger! Hot stuff ahead!

A pre-geothermal park eel feeding

We park up and head on over to reception which just happens to have a cafe. In that case, we’ll wait a while with a hot beverage in hand and see if the rain decides to die down anytime soon. Not only do we have the awesome view of the large terraces dividing the forest from across the water, but the cafe staff also give us an eel-feeding show. They throw food out of the window of the riverside cafe, attracting tens of wriggling eels out of their hiding holes.

A JOURNEY across the water to the terraces

Well, the rain seems to have slowed down a tiny bit, so we hop on the shuttle boat which transports visitors across the Waikato River to the geothermal park every five minutes on demand. As soon as we land at the jetty on the other side, the rain comes down hard again, so we conclude that we can’t beat it. Not that it matters as our legs are instantly kept warm from the steam rising beneath the boardwalk. Our senses are overcome by the unusual landscape, so that we don’t care about the rain anymore. Tiny streams of red and yellow streaks make their way toward the river, walls of geysers spurt out hot water in regular intervals, birds dive down to catch the insects bathing in the hot water. There is so much going on!

The first lookout over the geothermal wonders

Lookouts, geysers, forest, terraces and all sorts of colours!

We follow a well-formed and signposted series of tracks and boardwalks around the geothermal area, taking us across terraces and up to lookouts giving us a whole new perspective of what we just walked across. From above, we can see all sorts of colourful patterns in the terraces of white, yellow and red. We’re also amazed by how abundant the vegetation is around the geothermal area, thinking that surely such a volcanic zone would kill off all the trees. Yet, we see heaps of native birds flying from tree fern to tree fern which have been all the more greener from the rain.

The next terrace we walk across then get a view of is called “The Artist’s Palette” to show an inky-coloured terrace dotted with clear blue bubbling hot springs and more lines of red and yellow.

The Ruatapu Cave and mesmerising bubbling mud

We now follow signposts to Ruatapu Cave, taking us down some steps engulfed in forest leading to a lookout over a huge cave with a pool of blue water at the bottom. The area is so vast, it creates another “wow” moment for us. From there, we link back to the main track which is taking us on a loop back to the jetty via some bubbling mud pools. The first pool is a watery pool of perfectly-shaped bubbles, then we move onto a thick mud pool which is heaps more mesmerising. The viscosity of the mud brings along a glooping sound with each bubble formed and popped. We stand here for way too long just staring at the hypnotic bubbling mud, as well as all the rings created after the bubble has popped.

Peering into the depths of the Ruatapu Cave Peering into the depths of the Ruatapu Cave
Hypnotic bubbling mud Hypnotic bubbling mud
Hanging out at the Soda Fountain Hanging out at the Soda Fountain

From geothermal to bush walk

We manage to break the spell the mud pools have cast on us, and continue in the thick of the bush walk where every surface is covered in green from the mossy floor to the koru spirals growing out of the side of trees.

soda Fountain

Our last geothermal feature is a clear bubbling spring called the Soda Fountain creating tiny white stream. It’s right next to the track creating the best photo opportunities. Then the loop finally brings us back to the jetty. Of course, there are heaps more geothermal features seen on this geothermal journey, but this blog post would never end if we continued like this!

Bubbling mud cake

We catch the boat back to the cafe, where we treat ourselves to a hot mud cake each before hitting the road back to Rotorua. Our conversation is filled with praises for the weird and wonderful natural wonders of Orakei Korako. From the first sight of the geothermal park in the most stunning setting to actually walking in the midst of the geothermal activity, it is so worth going off the beaten track for experiences like this.

Back to Rotorua!

Back in Rotorua, we have a hot shower and feel what it’s like to be dry again before tomorrow, we are going to be getting wet again in a giant hamster ball, filled with us and a bit of water, then chucked down a hill! Then we’re going to be checking out some more thermal hot pools. Join us then!

Laura and Robin

In awe of the Ruatapu Cave!
In awe of the Ruatapu Cave! Spherical Image - RICOH THETA

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See you tomorrow!

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