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Created during the eruption of Mt Tarawera in 1886, the Waimangu geothermal area spreads down a valley to Lake Rotomahana (Warm Lake). The experience is quite different from the other ticketed thermal areas as it involves a stroll down the lush, bush-lined valley, with a return by shuttle bus from either the 1.5km, 2.8km or 3.6km point. The last bus stop is by the lake, where it's possible to take a 45-minute boat cruise past steaming cliffs.
Highlights include the powdery blue Inferno Crater Lake, where overflowing water can reach 80°C, and Frying Pan Lake, the largest hot spring in the world. Waimangu (Black Water) refers to the dark water that once shot out of the mightiest geyser in the world, reaching heights of up to 400m during its eruptions from 1900 to 1904.
The site is 20 minutes south of Rotorua, 15km along SH5 (towards Taupo) and then 6km from the marked turn-off.