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Hot New Zealand

Everyone knows about the sheep, “Lord of the Rings” locations, and the many hot spots for adrenaline junkies. Did you know New Zealand is also one of the hottest places on Earth? Steaming hot, thanks to its perch on the edges of the Pacific and Australian Plates.

With geothermal resources rivalled only by Yellowstone National Park and Iceland, the bubbling mud pools, hot springs and powerful geysers are among many natural highlights in the Rotorua–Taupō region on New Zealand’s North Island. Both native Maori and settlers have learned to live alongside the excitement, and the occasional stinky sulphur aroma. Here’s where to get close to the inner workings of the Earth.

Whakarewarewa is a “living thermal village” and home to Maori who have been using the natural geothermal resources for generations. Food is cooked in boiling hot springs and natural steam vents, and communal bathers (when the park is closed to visitors) also use the thermal springs. Ask what happened to residents who have fallen in the scalding waters if you’re a fan of gory details.

Te Puia, a Maori cultural center, contains not only the National Carving and Weaving Schools, but also the Pōhutu Geyser—the largest geyser in the southern hemisphere. Pōhutu erupts up to 30 metres high nearly 20 times per day. The Prince of Wales Feathers Geyser, a neighbour geyser, precedes Pōhutu—so there’s always a premature eruption to let you know when the big one’s coming.

White Island
White Island—also called by its Maori name, Whakāri—is New Zealand’s only active marine volcano, located 48 kilometres off the north island. The island has very little vegetation, and the semi-moonscape includes meandering beds of white and yellow sulphur crystals. In some places, the crystals concentrate to create delicate yellow towers that look like Gaudi-esque melting castles.

Lake Taupō
The largest lake in New Zealand, Lake Taupō is also one of the largest volcanic craters in the world. Aside from a dip in the lake (find a spot, like Hot Water Beach, where thermal springs lie just below the surface), one of the best ways to experience its geothermal power is to soak in one of the many thermally heated mineral pools.

Jill K. Robinson divides her time between writing about travel, running a kayak business and trying to wring adventure out of every day. You can find her on Facebook and Twitter.

Ask what happened to residents who have fallen in the scalding waters if you’re a fan of gory details.

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