A Hike Into the Volcanic Crater of Mt Tarawera

Today, we are going to run into the heart of a volcanic crater! Simple!

Rotorua is, of course, famous for its geothermal activity which we have already discovered at Orakei Korako and Kuirau Park. But monster of the hot stuff has to be Mt Tarawera. This beast of a volcano is famous for a huge eruption that occurred in 1887 that created the world’s youngest geothermal valley, the Waimangu Valley, while destroying a much-loved geothermal attraction back in the day called the Pink and White Terraces. With Kaitiaki Adventures, we’re likely to be the only ones to walk on the volcano today.

The adventure begins when we we hop on the Kaitiaki Adventures’ bus, which picks us up from the Rotorua i-SITE. We meet our guides, Kayla and Lindsay, and hit the road for a 25-minute drive out to the Mt Tarawera Road. Meanwhile, Kayla goes through the plan for the 4-5-hour trip including a hike around the crater of the volcano.

The Mt Tarawera Road: Where “bumpy road” is an understatement

The bus slows right down as we approach the road up the mountain. The Kaitiaki team haven’t been able to run trips up this gnarly-looking road for the past week due to the relentless rain, so what we find up here will be news to all of us! Lindsay warns that things might get a bumpy so we need to watch our heads, shoulders, knees and toes, etc. When the bus starts rocking from side to side, going into huge potholes and emerging from the other side, and squeezing past landslips, we see that “bumpy” is an understatement! We have driven and been driven on some crazy roads during our 365 Days: 365 Activites, from what was once considered one of the world’s most dangerous roads at the Skippers Canyon in Queenstown to taking a road that wasn’t even a road up d’Urville Island, and none of them have felt as crazy as this road!

This is just a tame part of the road... This is just a tame part of the road...
Awesome lake and volcano views on the drive up Awesome lake and volcano views on the drive up
Walking in a land of so many colours! Walking in a land of so many colours!
After the scramble up the mountain After the scramble up the mountain

Pines to views to wild native forest

We make our way up from pine forest to wild and jungle-like native forest, stopping at a viewpoint along the way for Kayla to point out snow-capped volcanoes inland. After about 30 minutes, we reach that alpine level where the vegetation is reduced to shrubbery, revealing an awesome volcanic landscape ahead of us. Various red volcanic peaks lie not too high above us now. We can now also capture a view looking out to the east coast and even New Zealand’s most active volcano, White Island. Only about a week ago, we were walking around the crater of that volcano!

It’s the end of the line for the bus. To be honest, we are impressed it got this far! But with no road to the summit, we will have to rely on our own two feet.

The mountain-crisp air of Mt Tarawera

Getting out of the bus, we feel that crisp mountain air and we suddenly feel much more immersed in the scenery. There is so much to see from all angles, but before we start walking to the summit of Mt Tarawera, Kayla says a prayer in the te reo Maori language. The land here is private land owned by the local iwi (Maori tribe), so if you can even get up here, you need permission to be here. Luckily for us, Kaitiaki Adventures can provide us both.

Kayla leads the way while Lindsay parks the bus in a mysterious but no doubt convenient spot for later. We are making our way to our first look into the volcanic crater.

Stopping to take in the view on the way to the summit

Standing on the edge of a volcanic crater

A bench marks the spot where we stop and peer into the depths of this huge crater decorated with red and black volcanic rock. Everywhere looks so photogenic, with the views looking out to the coast in the same shot as a deep red crater… And it’s only going to get more grand.

Snapping up the scenery all the way to the summit

We start walking to our next “benchmark”, which is only about 10 minutes away giving us a great excuse to rest regularly, for Kayla to explain more about the fascinating history of this volcano, and giving us more time to embrace the landscape and take more photos! Lindsay catches us up and both Kayla and Lindsay help everyone take photos in this amazing place.

There are a couple of more benchmarks to go before we reach the summit, where we follow clear paths made up of loose and jagged volcanic rock. We even have a section to tackle with our hands as we scramble to a higher level, until, finally, we reach the summit of Mt Tarawera!

Charging into the volcano! Charging into the volcano!
Looks like Robin has just done a scree run Looks like Robin has just done a scree run
Mt Tarawera team! Mt Tarawera team!

Panoramic views of a land shaped by volcanoes

The exposed mountaintop has the most incredible panoramic views, we don’t know where to begin looking first! We have Lake Rotorua, Lake Rotoiti, Lake Tarawera and Lake Okataina in the north, all huge volcanic craters themselves. Then we look south just making out the like of Mt Ruapehu, Mt Tongariro and Mt Ngauruhoe – the more famous volcanoes of New Zealand (but we’re betting there are a lot more people on them right now). Finally, our eyes cast to the Pacific Ocean with White Island fronted by Whale Island fronted by the distinct volcanic cone of Mt Putauaki.

A scree run into the crater

When everyone has had time to revel in the scenery, it’s time to start making our way down in perhaps the most fun way we have ever made our way down a mountain. On this steady path of relatively loose volcanic rock, we start practicing our technique for the “Scree Run” in preparation for entering the crater!

This is it… Time to run into the crater of a volcano. We lead the group with Lindsay, who also leads by example by having a spring in his step with every stride down the mountain. With our heels digging into the scree with each soft impact, we gather momentum and fly down the mountain. Wahoo! Once we get to the bottom, we look up to watch the others. While some are racing down, others gather too much momentum and take a tumble, rolling down the hill. There are no causalities, making it totally acceptable to be entertained by this!

One last hurrah on Mt Tarawera

After emptying our shoes of half the scree slope, we make our final and toughest ascent out of the crater, but getting to that final viewpoint makes it all worth worth it. Not we look across the volcanic crater from another edge which gives it the grandest scale in size of them all.

We get one last group photo before hopping back in the bus for the crazy ride back down. Everyone cheers once we make it to sealed road and civilisation once again. We survived!

With that, we are being driven back to the centre of Rotorua, where Robin has prepared a picnic to have in the Government Gardens before heading back to our hostel tonight to write about our amazing volcanic experience today!

Join us tomorrow, where we will be immersing in the Maori culture at Tamaki Maori Village!

Laura and Robin

That's a pretty mind-blowing crater right there!
That's a pretty mind-blowing crater right there! Spherical Image - RICOH THETA

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