Some time ago I started writing about New Zealand, and the sites I had the opportunity to visit during my road trip there. One of the most well-known geothermal sites is the renowned Wai O Ta Pu. I’ll tell you all about it later. In the meantime, here is all the information I can give you for budget travel to New Zealand.
Wai O Ta Pu was nice to visit, but I must say that there were a lot of people. While we were there, we heard about another site that is not as well known, not as touristic and also cheaper. We were convinced to try it out. This site is called Orakei Korako. I was really looking forward to visiting it.
In this article, I give you my opinion of why Orakei Korako is worth a visit. There is also some practical information at the end of the article as always. Enjoy the walk!
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As usual, I will give you a brief geography and geology overview of the area. The site is one of the most active geothermal areas in the country, located north of Taupo. Orakai Korako, also known as the “Hidden Valley”, is located on the banks of the Waikato River, which makes up Lake Ohakuri.
The lake in question is an artificial lake that was created in 1961, and flooded a large part of the geothermal site including many known geysers in the area. The area remains the largest area in terms of numbers of geysers in the whole country, well ahead of Wai O Ta Pu. The site is particularly well known for its truly impressive silica terraces that were formed during a major earthquake in 131 AD.
We arrived at about 7:45 am at the site, before the opening. I would really advise everyone to do the same. That way you are able to avoid the bulk of the tourists and still get nice light for your pictures. The earl start was worth it for us; as there were only three cars.
First of all, you need to know that the site is actually on the other side of the river. It is thus necessary to take a boat, which is included in the price of the ticket. It’s pretty cool in the early morning to have to cross a very small river by boat. One minute later, you are on the other side. The beautiful morning light made the place dazzle, it looked great!
Once you set foot on the other side, the entrance is quite spectacular. We walked down a small wooden path with a large silica terrace (“Emerald Terrace”) on the left. Boiling water flows on the terrace, flowing downstream into the river. Smoke comes out of the area; the atmosphere in the early morning is superb.
As you continue, you come face to face with a huge screen of smoke. Mind-boggling colors appear in front of your eyes, an orange and white river of color. It is really very beautiful. When turning around, the sight of the terrace we just passed going onto the river is also splendid.
The road took us to the well-known “Map of Africa”, which is the map of Africa that can be seen between the algae in the boiling water. There was smoke everywhere and we were the only ones there, it was great! We continued along the road to the “Rainbow terrace”, the terrace that was raised by a big earthquake. At its foot, there are several swimming pools, as I like to call them. They are certainly smaller than those of Yellowstone National Park, which I had the opportunity to see afterwards. For my first time (or almost), to look at ponds like these it is already very nice.
The track continues on a small path with wooden planks surrounded by beautiful vegetation. At the end, you can see the “Ruatapu Cave”, the well-known cave of the site. The water is beautiful, transparent; it would almost make you want to swim in it. The water is at a temperature of 44°, so you might not want to go for that swim.
We keep going along the trail to the mud ponds at the end of the circuit. Even if I already had an idea of what they look like from having seen some in Iceland, it’s always nice to see them again. Not far from there, you will find beautiful turquoise blue pools again. On the way down, there is a magnificent view of the whole site and the river.
The visit can last from 1 to 2 hours in the morning if you take the time to see everything and to rest a little. We stopped quite a bit to see the geysers in activity on the site. There were small stealthy eruptions, but no big ones. Never mind, hopefully we will see that next time.
It’s sometimes hard to put into words afterwards what you felt at the time. In the end, I don’t feel like the whole thing has given me a lot to dream about yet at the time it was a really beautiful experience. Made even better because we were alone or almost alone. Compared to Wai O Tapu, which is literally packed with tourists, it was a breath of fresh air.
The site is certainly much smaller, which makes it much quieter, more “cosy”. To sum up, personally, we had a very good time there. We ended the beautiful walk with a meal on the lawn in front of the site in the sun, like many other families. It was a great moment.
Here are the things to remember about the site. More info and pictures on their official website.
The entrance fee is not cheap and you will have to pay NZL$39 per adult and NZL$15 per child (6-16 years old). This is the case with most of the sites in New Zealand. The price does include the boat transfer though. They don’t especially recommend booking in advance.
The place is open from 8am to 4.30pm every day, except in winter when it closes at 4pm. As mentioned at the beginning of the article, I would advise you to come early to get beautiful light and also less people (although we haven’t seen many tourists anyway).
The natural park is located almost halfway between the city of Taupo and the city of Rotorua. If you are on a road trip in New Zealand, no worries, just drive. It will take 45 minutes to drive from Rotorua, and 30 minutes from Taupo. Just be careful not to miss the junction (it is indicated anyway).
The site is located in the middle of nowhere so it’s better if you stay nearby. In my opinion, the closest would be to visit the site in the early morning and to have booked in advance a room in the surroundings, the closest town being the beautiful town of Taupo, on the edge of the lake of the same name.
Here are three personal recommendations in the area around the site.
Taking your time, I would say to allow a few hours for the visit or even the whole morning if you are eating there. You can then go for a walk on the shores of Lake Taupo or take a stroll in the town, which is rather nice in itself. Otherwise, you can also enjoy returning to Rotorua for another activity.
That’s it for the little walk in Orakei Korako, I hope you enjoyed it. As for me, I really liked it and I would recommend it almost more than Wai O Ta Pu , as it’s a big tourist attraction, even if the site is nice.
If you’re traveling to New Zealand and around the North Island, it’s a must for nature lovers in my opinion. During your trip, do you plan on going to see the renowned Cape Reinga, the northern tip of the North Island?
Have a nice walk,