New Zealand has an otherworldly topography that dreams are made of. Many people head to the South Island for stunning scenery, yet there is plenty to be explored in New Zealand's North Island. You may have heard of Taupo, known for its giant lake about the size of Singapore that was formed by a volcanic eruption in years gone by.
You may know Taupo for being a great base to stay at to explore the ski villages of Mount Ruapehu. You may even know of Taupo for its distinct rotten egg smell which is due to the sulphur hot springs in the area - for those yet to visit, don't worry, it isn't as strong as its neighbour Rotorua so it does not take long to become accustomed to the smell. However, if you don't know Taupo, it's about time you did. Let me put it on the map for you. Taupo is located in the middle of New Zealand's north island, approximately 3.5 hours from Auckland and 4.5 hours from Wellington. The region is a hive of geothermal activity and a great place to explore for those who love the great outdoors. A wonder unique to New Zealand, and in particular the Taupo region, are the geothermal hot pools. Wairakei Terraces Natural Thermal Pools are, in my opinion, the most scenic hot pools in Taupo, and well worth a visit to the region in their own right.
Lake Taupo on a cloudy day. Taken from a kayak in the middle of the lake.
Located less than 10 minutes from Taupo, you'll want to set a few hours aside to bathe in the milky blue silica waters of Wairakei Terraces. Maori have used the healing properties of silica waters for many years, long ago bathing in thermal pools here for their curative and beauty properties.
Travellers learnt of these thermal pools in the early 19th century and would traverse terrain via horse, foot and canoe, and later by train, just to experience the healing powers of these waters.
Lake Taupo with snow capped mountains in the distance.
Wairakei Terraces are a tribute to the Pink and White Terraces that used to naturally exist here but were destroyed by the Mt Tarawera volcanic eruption. These terraces were known as the 'true eighth wonder of the world' and were the largest silica terraces in the world until the eruption.
My first experience of Wairakei was pre-empted by an oversimplified explanation claiming the pools were 'a heated outdoor spa'. This didn't prepare me for the ethereal beauty of Wairakei Terraces.
The milky blue pools of Wairakei Terraces are fit for royalty. In fact, the whole scene looks like it has been crafted by a set crew in Hollywood. Steam rises from the baby blue waters as each pool rises in temperature, each level you climb. There are three pools for bathing. You'll find a waterfall in the lower pool, footbridges you can swim under and luscious green gardens cocooning this oasis.
Wairakei Terraces today, have been guided by man with man-made foundations providing the base for silica enriched heated water to flow down. This water is pumped through a man-made geyser in a nearby geothermal power plant. Nature, however, has formed the rest, as cascading silica steps in pink, blue and white have taken shape and formation over the years.
Soaking in the healing waters provides a feeling of serenity and peace I have scarcely found elsewhere, allowing you to detach and detox from the world and become blissfully unaware of the happenings around you. Bathing in these waters, it's not hard to imagine what used to exist here and you'll find yourself daydreaming of years gone by. There truly is something wonderfully healing about Wairakei Terraces and you'll find your aches, pains and worries melting away in the geothermal pools. Don't worry if you find yourself visiting on an overcast or even rainy day. Personally, I prefer the hot pools in the rain as the feeling of cool raindrops while you are submerged in steamy water only heightens the magical experience.
Bathing in Wairakei. Stunning no matter the weather.
Maximise the opportunity to sink into total relaxation with a massage and facial onsite. You can find pricing and hours of operation on their website here. The pools are generally open from 8:30am-8:30pm in winter and further extended until 9pm in summer.
Entrance to the pools is through a building where you pay for entry, $25 per adult for bathing. The bathing pools are adults only. You can also explore the Wairakei Terraces Walkway, something I am yet to try as I often lose track of time in the pools. The walkway incorporates Maori and geothermal history and provides a glimpse into what was once naturally found here. You can do the walkway for $15 an adult and $7.50 per child. There is parking onsite. Taxis and Ubers can get you here relatively cheaply from town.
I recommend bringing a bottle of water to keep close to the pool, so you can maintain hydration. Also, don't forget, swimmers, towel, spare dry clothes and your camera. Even pack a few snacks if you'll be here a while.