Depending on your access needs, it’s worth considering a visit to Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland. It wasn’t an easy day for us, pushing BJ in his manual wheelchair, but we certainly felt it was worth the extra effort required. It offered a unique day of exploring, including Lady Knox Geyser and the Geothermal park.
We visited Wai-O-Tapau from Taupo, which is where we based ourselves for the majority of our time in the North Island of New Zealand. We visited on a whim so we hadn’t researched our visit, which wasn’t ideal. It resulted in extra work with transfers in and out of the car for BJ.
WAI-O-TAPAU THERMAL WONDERLAND – LADY KNOX GEYSER
Every day at 1015am crowds congregate in the natural amphitheatre, eagerly anticipating the unique opportunity to see the Lady Knox Geyser erupt to heights of 10 to 20 metres.
After a short presentation soap is added to the geyser which causes what I’ll refer to as an “assisted eruption”, given it isn’t natural. Although it’s assisted, It’s still an impressive sight.
We travelled in peak school holidays and although popular, there was plenty of available seating. There is no allocated accessible seating but BJ happily sat at the end of a row in his chair.
WAI-O-TAPU GEOTHERMAL PARK
Walking around the Wai-O-Tapu Geothermal Park is an other-worldly experience. Sculptured out of volcanic activity and thousands of years in the making, Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland is heralded as one of New Zealand’s most colourful and diverse geothermal attractions. It is also considered one of the most extensive geothermal systems in New Zealand as it extends over 18 sq kilometres.
Not all of that area is accessible, but there’s plenty of park to explore via boardwalks and viewing platforms which are wheelchair friendly.
The largest hot spring in New Zealand measuring 65 metres in diameter and 62 metres deep with a surface temperature of 74 degrees celcius. The bubbles caused by carbon dioxide provide champagne like effect in the water. Formed an estimated 700 years ago by a hydrothermal eruption some of the minerals contained in the water include gold, silver, mercury, sulphur, arsenic, thallium and antimony.
Earthquakes have tilted the spring causing mineral laden water to flower over the sinter encrusted flat. This has become known as the Artist’s Palette because of the trace mineral deposits that streak its surface and which are distributed by the direction of the wind.
You’ll also find well over a dozen craters located in close proximity, ranging between 5-50 metres in diameter and are up to 20 metres deep. All were formed by the ground surface collapsing with the most recent being in 1968.
ACCESSIBILITY AT WAI-O-TAPU THERMAL WONDERLAND
Extra muscle power was needed to see even the areas which are wheelchair friendly around the park. A power wheelchair would definitely be an asset in the areas with a steep incline.
We navigated a variety of surfaces from easy to use boardwalks and gravel paths.
One section of the Geothermal park is inaccessible due to stairs but we felt we’d seen the highlights on the wheelchair friendly route. AJ and I did venture further afield to the inaccessible area and returned to tell BJ and Hubby that although they had missed out on some pretty areas, the main event was the places they too had explored.
The final push back to the exit was a challenge with a steep incline.
Accessible parking is available near the entrance to the Geothermal Park and staff will guide you to a closer parking position at Lady Knox Geyser if you alert them to the fact you have a parking permit or are a wheelchair user.
Staff went out of their way to assist in making our day as easy as possible so don’t be afraid to communicate your needs when it comes to parking.
Overall we thoroughly enjoyed our visit but this is one which takes that extra bit of effort due to access.
Don’t wander or wheel off paths or you might find yourself in hot water – literally!
Wai-O-Tapu is a cashless site so make sure you have a credit, or debit card, available for your visit. You can also book and pay online but there is no online facility for wheelchair users to receive a discount so you will pay more.
Ensure you arrive early if you’re keen to see Lady Knox Geyser do her thing as it takes a while to park and get to the location.
If you don’t purchase your tickets online you need to purchase them at the entrance to the Geothermal Park, then drive to Lady Knox Geyser and then return to explore the Geothermal Park. This was where my lack of research let me down as we all got out to buy the tickets then needed to load up again to drive to the Geyser. If I’d known, I could have just run in to get the tickets myself without the rest of the family.
Check the Wai-O-Tapu website for more information about a visit.