Our Rotorua tour wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the captivating Orakei Korako Geothermal Park & Cave. Here, we will witness the most active geysers of any geothermal park, the steaming hot springs, bubbling mud pools, and some of the world’s most magnificent silica terraces with stunning colors.
The name “Orakei Korako” translates to “The Place of Adorning,” Just a 25-minute drive from Lake Taupo and 45 minutes from Rotorua, it promises a unique adventure. Nestled between Taupo and Rotorua on the banks of the Waikato River (Lake Ohakuri), The Hidden Valley of Orakei Korako Cave and Thermal Park offers breathtaking beauty and awe-inspiring subterranean power away from the usual tourist routes.
We arrived early and were the first to enter this mystical place. Immediately, the mist and the strong sulfur aroma enveloped us, hinting at the extraordinary experience awaited. It was evident that something extraordinary was waiting to be explored.
The visitor center and café are just minutes from the parking area.
1. Preparing for a Safe and Enjoyable Visit
The staff gave us a comprehensive briefing before crossing the tranquil Lake Ohakuri into the geothermal park. Here’s a summary of what to expect
Things to Know:
- Restrooms are unavailable in the park, so use them before entering.
- The park is 2-3 degrees warmer, so stay hydrated and bring drinking water.
- There are some stairs on the walk, which may challenge some visitors.
- Always stay on the walkway and viewing platform.
- Always stay on the designated pathways.
- Four first aid stations with kits and VHF radios are accessible in the park.
- Wear covered shoes and breathable, long-sleeved clothing for comfort and safety.
- In the unlikely event of an emergency, the park is divided into 3 zones indicated by colored arrows. Follow loudspeaker instructions to reach the safest assembly point.
- Evacuation information is displayed throughout the park.
Watch the video we shot at Orakei Korako (at the end of this article) 👇👇.
2. Exploring the Dynamic Wonders of Orakei Korako
The visit to Orakei Korako is a self-guided tour, with boats operating on-demand rather than on a fixed timetable. After a short wait at the Mudcake Cafe, we took a short ferry ride to reach the geothermal wonderland.
As we stepped onto the walkway, a strong mist greeted us, and we had to stay on the walkway as bubbling mud pools surrounded us can be dangerous.
Orakei Korako is renowned for having the most active geysers among all geothermal parks in New Zealand. The area boasts up to 23 natural geysers that play freely, creating a constantly changing landscape.
The walkway spans just under 2.5 km, and it took us around 1.5 hours to complete the journey. Once we finished our exploration, all we had to do was press the buzzer, and the ferry promptly came to take us back.
3.. Geothermal Formations at Orakei Korako
Below is a list of noteworthy landscapes we encountered during our memorable time at Orakei Korako.
a. The Emerald Terrace:
The first remarkable geothermal formation encountered at Orakei Korako is the Emerald Terrace. This sinter terrace’s wet surface showcases a stunning array of colorful microbial mats. These mats comprise numerous tiny microbes or microscopic single-celled organisms that flourish in the warm water flowing over the sinter terrace.
The dominant feature on the Emerald Terrace is the presence of orange “bubble mats.” These living microbes create orange-colored microbial mats when the water temperature ranges from 35-59°C. The large bubbles observed on the terrace result from gas accumulation due to oxygen trapped in the mat during microbial photosynthesis.
b. Diamond Geyser
The Diamond Geyser is a highly active and geothermal feature. It erupts frequently, shooting water up to an impressive 9 meters into the air. The eruptions occur in short, explosive bursts lasting a few minutes to several hours.
At the peak of the sinter slope surrounding the geyser, there is a clear, boiling pool with a diameter of less than 1 meter.
c. Cascade Terrace and Terracettes
The Cascade Terrace showcases the stunning beauty of a silica sinter draping over the terrace face, forming unique sinter stalactites or a silica terrace. The warm waters flow down the sinter slope, creating a captivating display of colorful orange and green microbial mats thriving in this geothermal environment.
d. Hochstetter’s Pool
Named in honor of the renowned Austrian geologist, Dr. Ferdinand von Hochstetter, who explored this area in 1859 and provided the initial description of Orakei Korako’s thermal activity, Hochstetter’s Pool stands as a fascinating natural wonder.
This 5-meter round pool boasts vertical sides and gracefully discharges water onto the mesmerizing Rainbow Terrace. The vibrant colors of yellow, orange, and green microbial mats beautifully adorn the pool’s surroundings, adding to its allure and making it a sight to behold.
e. Map of Africa
The Map of Africa, spanning about 70 square meters, is gracefully divided into two basins by a low ridge. Within this mesmerizing geothermal feature, the water temperature oscillates between 58-68°C, with a pH level ranging from 6.8 to 7.6.
The Map of Africa at Orakei Korako is a captivating marvel, drawing visitors into its captivating dynamics of geothermal wonders.
f. Mud Pools
At Orakei Korako, the fascinating mud pools result from a gradual alteration process within the local rocks. Over time, these rocks are transformed into clay due to the effects of acid. The liquid clay subsequently gives rise to the thick, muddy pools that intrigue us.
Numerous small vents on the floor continuously discharge steam and carbon dioxide (CO2) within these pools. The release of carbon dioxide gas causes the bubbling phenomena observed in the pools as it ascends with the steam.
4. The Lookouts: Witnessing the Past and Present
Here are some terraces and caves offering spectacular views.
a. Golden Fleece Terrace
Golden Fleece Terrace boasts a remarkable abundance of old silicified plant material readily visible within the sinter. It is witnessing the formation of new and diverse microbial communities. The emergence of these colorful microbial mats dates back to early September 2001, coinciding with the re-establishment of water flow over this part of the terrace. These favorable conditions have given rise to thriving communities of microbes, adding an enchanting and ever-changing element to the mesmerizing Golden Fleece Terrace.
b. Artist’s Palette
Artist’s Palette boasts a remarkable silica sinter terrace. This unique formation fills the remnants of an ancient hydrothermal eruption crater, believed to have formed between 8,000 to 14,000 years ago. The former crater walls now create steep, steaming ridges that add to the terrace’s captivating beauty.
Today, the white silica sinter terrace spans approximately 150 meters long, showcasing widths between 35 to 115 meters. Clear, blue, alkali chloride water forms tranquil pools, springs, and geysers throughout this artistic landscape. Some enchanting blue pools rest at or below the water table, while steaming ground features add to the terrace’s allure, emerging gracefully above the water table.
Vibrant colonies of colorful microbial mats have gracefully established themselves, painting a living canvas of nature’s artistic expression.
c. Ruatapu Cave
Also known as Aladdin’s Cave / Sacred Hole, Ruatapu Cave offers a fascinating journey into the depths of volcanic tuff. This consolidated ash, deposited from a volcanic eruption approximately 100,000 years ago, serves as the enchanting backdrop of the cave’s descent.
Extending 45 meters into the surrounding rock and descending for 23 meters, Ruatapu Cave captivates visitors with its intriguing features. At the base of the cave lies a small pool known as Waiwhakaata or ‘The Pool of Mirrors.’
The formation of Ruatapu Cave remains a topic of discussion with two main theories proposed. One theory suggests that the cave is a hydrothermal eruption crater, where intense heat and steam pressure beneath the tuff led to an eruption that shaped the cave. Alternatively, the cave’s formation may have resulted from dissolution along rock joints or fractures.
5. MudCake Café
By the time we finished our visit, it was already noon. We indulged in a delectable lunch at the MudCake Café. The café’s offered us breathtaking views of Lake Ohakuri, creating a perfect backdrop as we savored the mouthwatering assortment of pies, sandwiches, soups, and freshly brewed coffee.
6. The Formation of the Amazing Silica Terraces
At Orakei Korako, the stunning hot springs, geysers, and clear blue pools release alkali chloride water. This water surges to the surface from deep reservoirs with temperatures exceeding 175°C.
Upon reaching the surface, the discharged water begins to cool. As it cools below 100°C, the silica present in the water starts to settle and accumulate on the surface, forming the iconic white silica sinter terraces. Sinter is a rock that develops gradually through silica deposition from thermal water.
Orakei Korako welcomes visitors every day of the year, from 8 am to 4 pm. Here are the admission prices:
- Adults: $47
- Children (16 & Under): $21
- Families (2 Adults & 2+ Children): $126
- Children under 8 years old: Free
Watch the video we shot at Orakei Korako 👇👇.
We also upload a video we shot at Waimangu Volcanic Valley. Please click the image below to bring you to our YouTube channel (shot in high definition!). You may also want to check out our visit to Blue Spring Putaruru and Waimangu Volcanic Valley.