Tucked away from other more popular thermal fields, Orakei Korako is (since the destruction of the Pink and White Terraces, at least) arguably NZ's most spectacular thermal area, with active geysers, stunning terraces, bubbling rainbow lands and one of only two geothermal caves in the world. A 2.5km walking track (allow 1½ hours) follows stairs and boardwalks around the colourful silica terraces for which the park is famous. Entry includes the boat ride across the lake.
Be sure to take the short side track to Ruatapu Cave. This impressive natural cave has a jade-green pool, thought to have been used as a mirror by Māori women preparing for rituals (Orakei Korako means ‘the Place of Adorning’).
MudCake Cafe, inside the visitor centre, does only the likes of sandwiches and pies, but has a lovely terrace overlooking Lake Ohakuri.
It’s about 30 minutes to Orakei Korako from Taupō. Take SH1 towards Hamilton for 23km, and then travel for 14km from the signposted turn-off. From Rotorua the turn-off is on SH5, beside Mihi Bridge. You can also arrive in more spectacular style with New Zealand River Jet.