After the destruction of the Pink and White Terraces in the eruption of Mt Tarawera in 1886, Wai-O-Tapu became known as the “New Wonderland” due to the presence of the “Primrose Terrace” the largest silica terrace in the southern hemisphere.
Visitor numbers increased in the early 1900’s when a hotel was built as a halfway house between Rotorua and Taupo while farming and forestry assisted with the establishment of the wider area.
In 1931 the Wai-O-Tapu thermal area became a Scenic Reserve which is now administered by the Department of Conservation with part subsequently being occupied by way of what is known as a concession. All development work within the concession area has been done by private enterprise. The role of protecting our natural beauty is taken seriously and we are committed to sharing this unique eco system with our visitors.
Wai-O-Tapu is associated with volcanic activity dating back about 160,000 years and is located right on the edge of the largest volcanic caldera (depression) within the active Taupo Volcanic Zone. With the largest area of surface thermal activity of any hydrothermal system in the Zone, the Thermal Wonderland is the most active part of the 18 square km reserve and has at its northern boundary the volcanic dome of Maungakakaramea (Rainbow Mountain).
It is an area associated with the immense pressures attributable to the Indian – Australian Plate rising and overlapping the Pacific Plate causing a fault line which enables heat from below the earth’s crust to radiate upwards towards the surface and form geothermal features. In basic terms beneath the ground at Wai-O-Tapu is a system of streams which are heated by magma left over from earlier eruptions. The water is so super heated that it absorbs the minerals out of the rocks through which it passes and conveys them to the surface as steam where they are ultimately absorbed into the ground. The wide range of colours are all natural and are due to different mineral elements.
The uniqueness of the landscape is essentially attributed to land alteration through (1) Steam discharge (2) Acid-sulphate water (3) Alkali-chloride water.
Visitors to the main park have an opportunity to do one or all of three walks, each having its own unique atmosphere.
All the walks have been developed with the concept of providing a natural experience. Throughout the park are a number of graphic displays which provide interesting and easily understood information about volcanic activity, fauna and flora while the visitor guide map provides good basic information.
Source: Wai-O-Taupu Thermal Wonderland