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On Walkabout In: The Waimangu Volcanic Valley

New Zealand’s north island is filled with many volcanic and geothermal wonders especially around the holiday mecca of Rotorua. The best place in the Rotorua area to experience the volcanic and geothermal wonders of the area is to take a walk through the Waimangu Volcanic Valley:

Picture from Waimangu Volcanic Valley

The valley is located about 20 minutes south of Rotorua and very easy to get to. The valley seen above is the only volcanic valley wholly formed during recent historic times (written history). The valley was formed after the 1886 eruption of Mt. Tarawera that devastated the surrounding countryside depicted in the below Moari artwork:

Picture from Waimangu Volcanic Valley

The volcanic blast killed all animal and plant life in the area to include an estimated 120 people. It was the greatest natural disaster and the largest volcanic eruption in New Zealand’s history. After the eruption survivors discovered a greatly altered landscape. The eruption had created new lakes and opened a 10 mile rift valley into the Earth which is today’s Waimangu Volcanic Valley:

Within the valley a number of new geysers and volcanic springs & lakes were discovered and within a few years the valley became a park. Today the valley is one of the more popular tourists attractions in the Rotorua area and allows visitors to walk the length of the rift valley. The walk is a one way walk that begins at the visitor’s center and ends on the shore of Lake Rotomahana where you have the option of taking a boat tour or simply taking the shuttle bus back to the visitor’s center. It costs $25 dollars to walk through the valley and another $30 dollars for the boat tour.

The trail constructed through the valley is of high quality and surrounded with dense vegetation that only began to grow back 30 years after the initial volcanic eruption:

Picture from Waimangu Volcanic Valley

Just a short walk from the visitor’s center is this pool that is dyed red with algae that thrives in the mineral rich water:

Picture from Waimangu Volcanic Valley

Further down the trail the foliage opens up and provides a magnificent view of Echo Crater:

Picture from Waimangu Volcanic Valley

This crater was formed after the 1886 eruption of Mt. Tarawera. Here is what the crater looked like after the eruption:

Picture from Waimangu Volcanic Valley

The water that bubbles to the surface from this crater is rain water that seeps through the volcanic rock in the area and is pushed up to the surface due to the heat pressure below the surface. As the trail descends towards the crater the heat of the water is quite evident with the pool literally boiling over with heat:

Picture from Waimangu Volcanic Valley

Picture from Waimangu Volcanic Valley

Picture from Waimangu Volcanic Valley

The pool in the crater isn’t the only thing boiling with heat, the sides of the crater as well are boiling hot with steam:

Picture from Waimangu Volcanic Valley

The scene is spectacular to say the least. I have never seen anything like this before and was very impressed. The boiling water pushed up to the surface in the pool flows over the crater’s walls and becomes a creek heading down hill towards Lake Rotomahana:

Picture from Waimangu Volcanic Valley

Picture from Waimangu Volcanic Valley

Across the creek bed other holes of hot bubbling water can be seen flowing to the surface:

Picture from Waimangu Volcanic Valley

Just past Echo Crater a large cross on a hillside to the right of the trail can be seen:

Picture from Waimangu Volcanic Valley

The cross is in memory of four tourists killed in 1903 while visiting the park. Between 1901-1904 the world’s largest geyser, the Waimangu Geyser was located just below the cross. The tour guide told the tourists where to remain where they were before the geyser erupted but the four tourists did not listen and secretly climbed the hill to get a better view of the geyser when it erupted. The erupting geyser was larger than expected and the scolding hot water killed all four of the tourists. The moral of the story is, listen to your tour guide.

The Waimangu Geyser no longer erupts due to a landslide in 1904 that covered the geyser preventing it from erupting. As my wife continued down the trail side creeks of bubbling water of various colors could be seen entering the main creek flowing through the valley:

Picture from Waimangu Volcanic Valley

Picture from Waimangu Volcanic Valley

Truly an incredible sight. Eventually the trail forks to where visitors can either keep following the easier trail following the creek or the harder trail that steeply climbs to the ridgeline on the left side of the valley.

The steeper hike is well worth the extra effort because of scenes like this at the Inferno Crater:

Picture from Waimangu Volcanic Valley

The pool of water in this bubbling volcanic crater is extremely unique because the water level in the crater rises and falls depending on the geothermal activity below the crater. Below this pool there is actually a geyser that blows more water into the pool causing the water level to rise and overflow the crater’s walls forming creeks that flow down the valley’s side and into the main stream in the middle of the valley.

When the geyser is not active the water in the pool bubbles away as steam and thus drops in water level. The water level will drop so much that the stream running down its side will stop because the water will no longer be high enough to flow over the crater’s side. The stream will restart the next time the geyser below the pool erupts causing the water level to rise again. This change in water levels also causes the pool to take on many different colors.

The Inferno Crater isn’t the only pool of bubbling hot water that can be seen from the valley’s ridgeline:

Picture from Waimangu Volcanic Valley

Once past the volcanic pools the trail begins to steeply climb to the summit of the valley through some extremely thick foliage:

Picture from Waimangu Volcanic Valley

Picture from Waimangu Volcanic Valley

At various places along the trail, the path is surrounded by many beautiful and colorful flowers:

Picture from Waimangu Volcanic Valley

Picture from Waimangu Volcanic Valley

From the summit of the valley is a spectacular view of the valley looking towards Lake Rotomahana with Mt. Tarawera in the background:

Picture from Waimangu Volcanic Valley

You can really appreciate the dramatic change in this area when you compare what this same view looked like following the eruption of Mt. Tarawera over a hundred years ago:

Picture from Waimangu Volcanic Valley

The summit also provides views of Rainbow Mountain located to the south of the valley:

Picture from Waimangu Volcanic Valley

From the summit the trail then begins to make a steep descent to the valley’s floor through more thick foliage:

Picture from Waimangu Volcanic Valley

Before long my wife and I were back on the main trail on our way towards the valley’s end at Lake Rotomahana.

Next Posting: The Final Descent of the Waimangu Volcanic Valley

Prior Posting: The Steaming Waters of Kerosene Creek

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