Spas and Sulphur: The Moonscape of Rotorua

At the heart of the moonscape that makes up New Zealand's central North Island is a geothermal wonderland, the phenomenon that is Rotorua.

Spas and Sulphur: The Moonscape of Rotorua

Nature Facts

Where: Central North Island, New Zealand
Top Sights: Amazing geysirs, bubbling mud pools & volcanic lakes
Famed For: Amazing spa retreats
Watch Out For: Rotten egg sulphur pong!

Where it’s at

At the heart of the moonscape that makes up New Zealand’s central North Island is a geothermal wonderland. The whole of New Zealand is on a fault-line, which is what causes the line of mountains all along the length of the two islands, it is also the cause of the active volcano on the North Island, Mount Ruapehu,and creates the phenomenon that is Rotorua.

Beware the pong

As soon as you arrive, and probably shortly before, you are greeted by one of Rotorua’s most distinctive features, it’s smell. As a site of geothermal activity, the sulphur production is enormous, and you won’t escape the smell (similar to that of bad eggs) the whole time you’re here. There are however quite considerable compensations.

Natural wonderland

For visual entertainment quite unlike anything you’ve seen before, visit one of the four main thermal areas in the region; Whakarewarewa, Waimagu, Hell’s Gate and Waiotapu.Waiotapu, just outside Rotorua, is said to be the most colourful, here you will find numerousgeysers, bubbling mud pools and steaming volcanic lakes, set within attractive forested land. The most impressive feature is the twenty-metre high Lady Knox Geyser, which is set off daily by the addition of soap powder, this causes a disruption of the surface tension of the water within the geyser, and allows pressure and heat to be released, the result is an eruption for a few hours each day.

The other great bonus of this thermal phenomenon, are the natural hot spa pools. Almost every hotel, from the poshest to the shabbiest, will have a spa pool, but for an especially grand experience try a day at the Polynesian Spa, with 35 different pools, massage and skin-care therapy sessions, or the Lake Spa Retreat which offers similar indulgences. Tours can offer you visits to a number of the geothermal sites in the Rotorua area, and often include a visit to one of the area’s luxurious spas.

Māori meeting house in Rotorua, by Pulv - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Māori meeting house in Rotorua, by Pulv – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Rotorua is one of the most popular tourist destinations in New Zealand, which means sites may be crowded in high season , but has the advantage that accommodation and places to eat are plentiful, and transport options are various. One of the areas other great draws is the active Maori community, and one of the few where you can visit a meetinghouse and view their traditional practices.


An account of what you can expect from a visit to Rotorua

The site for this, the most popular of the area’s thermal parks.

By Guilia Vincenzi

main image: A panoramic view of Rotorua taken at the top of Mt Ngongotaha, December 2015, by E.oneroa – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

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