The most visible wound from Mt Tarawera's 1886 eruption, 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 4km trail ends by the lake, where it's possible to take a 45-minute boat cruise past steaming cliffs.
Highlights include the powder-blue Inferno Crater Lake, which fills and empties every 38 days; Frying Pan Lake, the world's largest hot spring; and Warbrick Terrace, where the valley’s colours are at their most intense. Waimangu (Black Water) refers to the dark water that once shot out of the world's mightiest geyser, reaching heights of up to 400m during its eruptions from 1900 to 1904.
Waimangu is 25 minutes' drive south of Rotorua, 6km off SH5 (towards Taupō) at a marked turn-off.