Wai O Tapu Thermal Wonderland

Wai O Tapu Thermal Wonderland

Wai O Tapu Thermal Wonderland

The Wai O Tapu Thermal Wonderland was one of the more expensive attractions we visited during our New Zealand trip. (Fortunately the best stuff is free.) I’m not sure if I would recommend the thermal park to most visitors, as you can see lots of thermal activity in Rotorura for free. Although, if you are into photography the green and yellow pools and mud pits are definitely a unique things to capture.

I would probably have a better opinion of the place if I hadn’t gotten sick from the smell during the first 10 minutes of our walk. Many people have a strong reaction to the smell. My brother-in-law sneezed and coughed for the first few minutes, but eventually got used to it. Unfortunately my headache and stomach-ache just increased with every breath of the putrid smell.

Champagne Pool

Champagne Pool

The worst of the smell is by the Artist Palette and Champagne Pool near the beginning of the park. These large thermal pools are unique due to the color and it is pretty cool to see people on the other side of the pools engulfed in steam.

Devil's Ink Pots

Devil's Ink Pots

One of the more entertaining parts of the park were the names of all the different mud pools. It was definitely a creative team that went around and named each section of the Thermal Wonderland.


Oyster Pool

Oyster Pool

Wai O Tapu is Maori for ‘sacred waters’ and it is easy to see why the native people would consider these hot springs of water sacred. I couldn’t imagine being the first person in my tribe to discover a pit of boiling water in the earth. I learned at another park that the Maori people would use the thermal water to cook their food. I wonder if they used pots, or just put meat directly into the water. I believe it would make me sick, consider the smell made me feel so ill.

Yellow Boiling Mud

Yellow Boiling Mud

I was tempted to increase the saturation of these photos to show you how amazing the colors were, but I was afraid I might overdue it. The colors were even more vibrant in person, which is surprising – you just don’t expect to see yellow mud.

Wai O Tapu Waterfall

Wai O Tapu Waterfall

I love waterfalls, so I was delighted to see a thermal waterfall at the back of the park.

Devil's Bath

Devil's Bath

The eerily green pool at the end of the park is aptly named Devil’s Bath. There are actually many references to the Devil throughout the park and I cannot help but wonder what the Maori people think about this as it was sacred to them.

Maori Carvings Lake Taupo: Launch Point and Pictures

Ngatoroirangi, Depicted on Cliff-side Carving

Ngatoroirangi, Depicted on Cliff-side Carving

The Maori Carvings on Lake Taupo are one of the area’s most famous attractions, before I even left Miami I knew this was something I wanted to see.

Finding the 30 foot high cliff-side carving was a little more difficult than I had imagined. There were plenty of kayaking tours that would provide a guide all the way to the carving, or you could take an easier route and go on a small yacht or a peaceful sailboat. Unfortunately there was no map for the independent traveler – we already owned our kayak so we just wanted a location and launch point. We consulted several maps, free maps, maps in guide books and the AA (AAA back home) maps, but none of them marked the precise location of the carvings. We eventually read that the carvings were in Mines Bay and that we could launch from Acacia Bay.

Where are the Maori Carvings?

The Maori Carvings are located on the Northwest part of Lake Taupo in Mines Bay. There isn’t a place to launch a kayak or boat in Mines Bay, so you must find a public park or dock farther north of the carvings. If you are looking for the closest launch location head Southwest from Taupo down Acacia Bay Road. Look for the sign for the boat ramp and just beyond that is a small public beach. You have to have a permit to launch at the boat ramp, but the public beach is free for kayakers. It is a little tricky getting your kayak down the hill from the parking lot to the beach, but the trouble is worth it.

Maori Carvings face South, so be carefull not to paddle past them

Maori Carvings face South, so be careful not to paddle past them


When you paddle south to Mines Bay stay close to the coast or you could easily pass the carvings as we did. I believe I read that the carvings were about a 90 minute paddle from Acacia Bay, but the entire trip took us over 5 hours. We went quite a ways pass the carvings, which was frustrating, but also gave us an amazing place to have a private picnic and swim. The coast curves in and out and it is faster to paddle straight to the edge of each curve, but I would only skip the first two curves unless you know exactly where you are going. If you are paddling for a while without seeing any houses – you’ve probably gone too far. Also, don’t be afraid to ask the many boaters in the water, everyone is very friendly and will kindly point you in the right direction.

Tip: Bring plenty of water, food and sunscreen. Also, if you aren’t an experienced kayaker light gloves can really help protect your hands from blisters.

Smooth Lava Rock on Lake Taupo

Smooth Lava Rock on Lake Taupo

Beach just pass the Maori Carvings on Lake Taupo

Beach just pass the Maori Carvings on Lake Taupo

A Picnic Spot and Swimming Location on Ancient Lava

Just one inlet pass the carvings is where we decided to break for a picnic and swim. There was a pebble beach where we docked our kayak. Next to the rocky beach were huge smooth rock formations. I believe they are ancient lava formations, because the smooth texture was similar to the rocks in Tree Trunk Gorge. The large rock shore broke in a few places which created these small waterways which were nice and warm and protected you from the lake waves. The edge of the rock ended in a perfect cliff for jumping into the lake. There was no one around so it is the perfect place to picnic and enjoy a private swim.

The Maori Carvings

Finally we retraced our steps (or paddle strokes) and ended up at the Maori Carvings. We had to wait our turn as there were several large boats and other kayaks crowding around the 30 foot artwork. We had a pretty good view of the large face of Ngatoroirangi even from faraway, and I was tempted to just paddle back rather than wait our turn. Luckily before I lost patience all the large boats parted and we were able to approach Matahi Whakataka-Brightwell’s masterpiece.

Celtic Image of South Wind- represents other New Zealand cultures

Celtic South Wind- represents New Zealand mix culture

The largest and most pictured part of the carving is the famous 30 foot face of Ngatoroirangi, a Maori navigator who led the Tuwharetoa and Te Arawa tribes to the Taupo area over a thousand years ago. The carvings took four years to complete, as Matahi and his friends could only work during the summers. Matahi carved the figures into the cliff to honor Maori traditions and celebrate the multiple cultures that make up New Zealand, that is why the smaller carvings include Celtic designs. He did the carving free of charge, only accepting some small fund-raising to pay for the scaffolding needed. It was a gift that has brought Taupo fame for over three decades and will be cherished for years to come as tourist and Kiwis alike paddle in Lake Taupo to marvel at the cliff-side drawings.

Sailboat in front of Maori Carvings

Sailboat in front of Maori Carvings

I am so happy we waited to get an up close view of the carvings, because besides the large face there are several small sculptures surrounding the area. My favorite was an enormous lizard that lounged on the rocks. I wanted to climb on top of it for a picture, but I was sure if the carving were sacred or if it would be offensive to the artist so I stayed in my kayak. There were lots of figures on the rocks that I couldn’t make out, but I did recognize the south wind and a mermaid which I had read that Matahi carved.

Lizard and other small carvings on Lake Taupo

Lizard and other small carvings on Lake Taupo

Tip: Be careful when you enter the small bay of the carvings, when large boats approach the waters become very rough. We witnessed an experienced kayaker smash into the wall and overturn. He quickly righted himself, but we wouldn’t have been so lucky if put in the same situation.

Paddling back to Acacia Bay was exhausting. We were out for over five hours and my arms ached. Luckily Paul did most of the work, but even he was fading from the days activities. It is definitely doable, especially if you don’t paddle past the carvings, but if you’ve never kayaked before I would definitely recommend using one of the many guides available.

Mermaid carved by Matahi Whakataka-Brightwell

Mermaid carved by Matahi Whakataka-Brightwell

Parnell Rose Garden: Auckland, New Zealand

Peach Rose at the Parnell Rose Garden

Peach Rose at the Parnell Rose Garden

I love the Parnell Rose Garden at the edge of Dove Myer Robinson Park. It has over 4,500 rose bushes in every color you can imagine. When we stumbled upon this little treasure I was shocked that it was free!

Parnells on the Rose Garden Cottage

Parnells on the Rose Garden Cottage


Next to the rose garden is a gorgeous little cottage that is perfect for a wedding reception or other party. The cottage isn’t as small as it seems; there is room for 150 dinner guest or 300 for cocktails.

Rose Bushes at Parnell Rose Garden

Rose Bushes at Parnell Rose Garden

The Parnell neighborhood surrounding the garden is absolutely idealistic for a stroll. We walked to the downtown area which has lots of trendy restaurants and cute shops.

Entrance of Parnell Rose Garden

Entrance of Parnell Rose Garden