November 30, 2022
The Thermal Explorer Highway is one of New Zealand’s iconic drives – from the lakeside township of Taupō through to the geothermal capital of Rotorua. 80 kilometres in distance, you could do the entire trip in an hour, but where’s the fun in that? Here’s some of our fave spots to break up the drive and make it a roadie to remember.
Race down the river with Rapids Jet
The Waikato River, New Zealand’s longest awa, flows from Lake Taupō and is worth exploring before you head out of town. Don’t miss Huka Falls, the Honey Hive and Prawn Park, but for the ultimate adventure, the rapids are best seen aboard a jetboat. Rapids Jet’s 35-minute adrenaline blast ticks all the boxes – with plenty of spins, squeals, and splashes! Speed down the river and experience the unique sensation of white-water jetboat surfing, before you dry off and continue along the highway.
Get your geothermal fix at Orakei Korako
Gushing geysers, bubbling mud pools, lava flows and more await when you visit Orakei Korako. A short detour off State Highway 5, this geothermal valley is worth the side trip. Wandering across brilliantly coloured silica terraces that will make you feel like you’re in a different planet – you’ll leave with a full camera roll and some incredible memories.
Enter a wondrous volcanic wonderland at Waimangu
Waimangu Volcanic Valley is another geothermal must-do with plenty of star attractions including the bright-blue Inferno Crater, the steaming Cathedral Rocks, and the Frying Pan Lake – the largest hot water spring in the world. Embark on a self-guided walk and see the sights at your own pace, followed by a boat ride around Lake Rotomahana, the original home of the now-buried Pink and White Terraces.
Unwind and re-energise in the Waikite Hot Pools
Overlooking a beautiful botanical valley, this is your chance to experience the ‘Living Waters’ of the Te Manaroa Spring – the largest single source of 100% pure boiling geothermal water in New Zealand. Six unique pools with temperatures ranging between 35 and 40°C offer different bathing experiences, nestled amongst idyllic native gardens. Visit with the whānau or opt for a private pool for a more romantic escape.
An evening like no other at Te Pā Tū
If you’ve been searching for a way to connect with and learn about New Zealand’s indigenous Māori culture, this is it. This four-hour evening experience is an immersive journey into the history, traditions, and future aspirations of the local Māori people, as you’re invited to come together, share stories and feast on kai (food). Highlights include fire ceremonies, outdoor kapa haka performances and torchlit walks through the village. You’ll be well nourished with a menu that pays tribute to seasonal Māori flavours and serves these on a modern plate – it’s a night that will stay with you long after the sun sets.
The Thermal Explorer Highway is one that shouldn’t be rushed. It rewards the curious, the discoverers and those hungry for adventure (and delicious cuisine!). So don’t rush, take the scenic route, and you’ll have an unforgettable time.