New Zealand,  Oceania,  TDM,  Travel Journal

Tongarino, Lake Taupo, Huka Falls and Rotorua (New Zealand)

Following the earthquake, we are moving away from the coast, even though the tsunami warning has been withdrawn for the North Island, except for Wellington. In the 24 hours following the midnight earthquake, about 50 aftershocks were felt throughout the country. It shakes so often that even when it doesn’t move, it feels like it’s moving. Either I am hyper sensitive or the tremor has traumatized me

Tongarino National Park

The road to Tongarino National Park is very long (4h to 4h30). We make a stop at Palmerston North to take a good hot shower at the i-center (we think to sleep in a rotten camp without shower in the evening). However, when we arrive near Tongarino, we see a huge cloud like a mushroom covering the whole area. How to say? It is out of the question to sleep next to Lake Taupo tonight, with a risk of aftershock following the earthquake and under a torrential rain. Besides, the next day when we pass by the lake Taupo, there are waves ! The lake is so enormous that JB asks me if we are close to the ocean


JB managed to negotiate us a private room at only 38$NZ for 2 at A Pus Samurai Lodge in Turangi. This stop, not that expensive compared to other campgrounds near Lake Taupo, gives us a real boost, especially thanks to the visit of the owner’s cat, a real purring engine – and the heating. It’s crazy how quickly we get used to new living conditions. Our definition of luxury has changed a lot. Now being able to sleep in a real bed is a luxury. Having a private sink becomes the equivalent of a 5-star. The occasion is so precious that I spend the whole evening applying a ton of masks and beauty products to my face. What you can’t do in a freezing communal bathroom with only 2 sinks

I understand why Tongarino National Park was chosen to represent Mordor. Almost nothing grows on this volcanic land. The 7h trek, the Tongarino Alpine Crossing Track, very popular, is impossible to do in the rain (by the way, even when the weather is good, several guides advise against it because you absolutely have to finish the route (see the practical advice section below)


Taupo & surroundings

Instead, we visit Craters of the Moon (8$NZ/person). A 45-minute course takes us around a vast area where geothermal activity is visible through columns of smoke emanating from the holes or huge craters. It smells strong sulfur, but the landscapes have a fascinating, even romantic side, even if it’s scary when you think that these columns of smoke can turn into a volcano at any time (and then, visiting an area with a lot of geothermal activity after an earthquake isn’t very reassuring). We were advised to come here even if we pass by Rotorua in a few days. There are other places in Rotorua that look like Craters of the Moon but more expensive

We then visit Huka Falls, a not-so-high waterfall whose flow can fill an Olympic-sized pool in just 11 seconds

The water is clear blue, and the strength of the water is impressive! It seems that some brave people have even brought it down in a kayak



We head to Rotorua and decide to sleep at the Waikite Valley Thermal Pools, Springs and Spa, 50km from the city. This campsite has the advantage of charging us only 22$NZ/person for one night with unlimited access to its 6 thermal pools. Super good plan compared to Polynesian Spa in Rotorua where the access only to the pools costs 29$NZ. In the evening, the pools have a little bit of algae, but in the morning it’s all clean and we are alone


The water comes from a thermal spring (no sulfur, so it doesn’t stink), only 5 minutes away. The spring water is boiling (98 degrees). Via a viaduct system, the water is conveyed to a cooling platform (with air) and then to the thermal pools. In spite of the cold and rain, you can swim in them, but beware of the heat (between 37 and 39 degrees or more). Personally, we can only spend a maximum of 45 minutes there


I strongly recommend that you do the 5 minute eco-trail to the water source. The picture is ugly but in real life, it is such an extraordinary vision that it justifies the whole of my trip to New Zealand. Imagine a 3m diameter pan filled with boiling water! That’s what the hot spring is like. Nobody knows exactly how deep this “hole” is. The water is clear blue, boiling, even evaporates. From there, flows a river just as boiling… In contact with the air, it goes down to 60 degrees, and 3km later, it meets another super cold river, to form a bathing place called “hot/cool pool” right next to the entrance of the Wai O Tapu park in Rotorua

Wai O Tapu

Great transition! Let’s talk about this Wai O Tapu park. When we go there from Taupo, or from my campsite Waikite Valley Thermal, we have to cross a bridge. There is a small parking lot for 5 cars max and a sign indicating that you should not dive your head in the thermal water because of a potentially deadly amoeba. Stop and take a bath. Personally, I didn’t bathe because it is the same water that I had at Waikite Valley Thermal (see previous paragraph), less clean and less hot

As soon as we approach Wai O Tapu, the famous geothermal park of Rotorua, the smell of sulfur (imagine the smell of a rotten egg) attacks our nose during the 45 minutes walk around the park. The entrance costs 32$NZ but it’s worth every penny. I have NEVER seen anything like this before. We have a lot of ponds, mud pools, mineral deposits forming lunar landscapes. There are vapors everywhere, especially when it rains. At one moment, the wind blows so strong that we hit a sulphurous cloud (with perhaps a little arsenic) which dries us too much the throat. This comes from the Champagne Pool, a 65m pool whose overflows create surrealistic landscapes next to (but not only). Everywhere it says “hot soil, burning smoke 100 degrees”. The paths aren’t very well protected I find, it’s enough for someone to push me to sink into the boiling water. In spite of all these signs, several transparent water sources make you want to plunge your hands into them. But we will resist the temptation when we see a hole filled with boiling water right next to it. When we walk between two very hot and angry craters with smoke in all directions, we wonder how it is that we are still able to walk here, on 1m wide? Will one day this path give way under our weight and we will end up in a crater? I believe to have stressed for nothing, moreover it was very nice. The last lake at the end (chick yellow because of a mixture of sulfur and iron) makes me grow “ah” and “oh”. It is absolutely necessary to go there with shoes, flip-flops are forbidden, and preferably a bottle of water (+ a hat when the weather is nice)


Right next to the park and 100% free of charge, Mud Pools lives up to its name. It’s a boiling mud pool where the air escapes as best it can, creating a “mud fight”… you can hear blouccc bloucc all the time it’s too much fun. Ditto, here, the temptation to get some volcanic mud for my face mask is very strong (my guide written by an American even advises us to reach out and grab some mud for fun), but when I read “between 60 degrees and 100 degrees”, I say “no thanks”


We will spend 2 hours in a garage to try to repair the back door of our van. The “all inclusive” insurance we have covers this repair. The garage is located in the center of Rotorua and it is there that we realize the extent of the smell of rotten eggs: the whole city smells like sulfur! When you look left, right, there is always a small smoke of volcanic origin somewhere. There are “hot pools” everywhere but we choose to flee the sulfur pools, which we have already been able to test in Hanmer Springs. Ah yes, mud baths are also possible at an exorbitant price (75$NZ), so I just buy bags of mud masks from Rotorua (very well known for its purifying properties) for 5$NZ each, there are so many of them that you can spread your face 3 times with them (plus it makes nice gifts)

Part 2: Practical Tips

  • Tongarino Alpine Crossing Track: an unforgettable experience for some, a nightmare for others, you have to be well prepared before doing this 7h trek. There is no turning back: a shuttle will drop you off at the departure parking lot in the morning and pick you up at the arrival parking lot in the afternoon. If you decide to give up along the way, the only solution to come back to your hotel is to hitch-hike… if you make it. Some guides advise you to do only the first part of the trek and park your car from the departure parking lot. That way, you don’t depend at all on the shuttle and can give up at any time, especially when it starts raining ropes.
  • In Rotorua, the inhabitants seem to be used to the smell of sulfur. But I advise you to sleep around Rotorua, not in the city itself, because this smell is really unbearable and dries up the throat. Yes I still recommend camping Waikite Valley Thermal. No swimming pool with sulfur water but mineral water. For sulfurated pools (you have to remove the jewels before), apparently Polynesian Spa is a good address.
  • It is very easy to get 10% discount for Wai O Tapu (3$NZ discount/person), ask the campsites in the area, they will be happy to give you a coupon


  • Huka Falls : free
  • Tongarino Alpine Crossing Track: the walk is free, but in reality you have to pay for shuttles (30 to 40$NZ) and the rental of walking poles, essential to get down from the summit (10$NZ)
  • Waikite Valley Thermal: NZ$22/person, unpowered site (no electricity). Thermal bath included (until late evening and early morning for campers)
  • Wai O Tapu: 32$NZ/person
  • Mud Pools : free
  • Hot/Cool springs (near the bridge at 1mn from the entrance of Wai O Tapu) : free of charge
  • A Pus Samurai Lodge: private room for two at 48$NZ, negotiated at 38$NZ

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