Attracting visitors since the 1800s
New Zealand is often referred to as “the youngest country” partially due to the fact that it is so young geologically. Even before Americans and Europeans began flocking to the country for its adventure sports and laid-back attitude, tourists were coming to New Zealand because of its geological wonders.
Back in the mid-1800s, the fabled Pink and White Terraces near Rotorua were known as “the eighth wonder of the world,” and drew intrepid tourists from around New Zealand and the world. The pink and white silica terraces cascading down a hillside were, without a doubt, New Zealand’s top tourist attraction. The terraces were sadly destroyed by the 1886 eruption of Mount Tarawera – but it was not the end of New Zealand being a popular geological/geothermal destination.
These days, Rotorua is usually cited as being New Zealand’s top spot for sighting geothermal oddities. From geysers to bubbling mud to brightly-colored thermal pools, Rotorua seems to have it all.
But Rotorua isn’t the only place people can get up close with the geological features that help make New Zealand “the youngest country.”
The town of Taupo is also full of and surrounded by volcanic and geothermal activity, even though it is often overshadowed by flashier Rotorua. Lake Taupo, the large lake Taupo is situated upon, is actually located within the caldera of an ancient supervolcano, and there are plenty of hot springs in and around the town.
Craters of the Moon - a sight to behold
One of the most interesting and easily accessible examples of geothermal activity in Taupo, however, has to be Craters of the Moon.
This thermal park is full of colorful craters and steam vents that give it a rather unearthly appearance. For a small fee visitors can enjoy a 45-minute loop trail on wide boardwalks, and a steeper 20-minute loop that leads to a lookout point. Both trails take visitors right alongside active geothermal activity.
The “craters” here are formed by hydrothermal eruptions, and are found alongside fumaroles (steam vents) and a few boiling mud pools. The area is quiet, steam-filled, and devoid of most vegetation, leaving some people to brand is as being quite “eerie.” I personally think it’s just plain cool.
The Craters of the Moon geothermal walk is managed by a charitable trust (est.1991) which provides visitors with information at the site. The entrance fee helps maintain the boardwalks, grounds and other facilities at this low key geothermal attraction.
If you find yourself in Taupo with an interest in seeing some geothermal activity, Craters of the Moon is a great, affordable choice that’s suitable for the whole family. The walking surface is on gravel with sections of wooden boardwalk. It is suitable for most people including family groups. The track is also suitable for assisted-wheelchair access. Just make sure you stick to the trails because natural thermal areas are wild and wonderful places but they can be unstable, unpredictable and potentially dangerous. Children under the age of 12 must be supervised. Bicycles are not permitted at the site.