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Orakei Korako

By Richard Moore

Orakei Korako
Orakei Korako
Orakei Korako

From top to bottom: tranquility personified
in a cave pool; the silica terrace; and the
blue and white sky view from inside a cave

(images courtesy of

Orakei Korako is a hidden gem near Taupo where you can stroll about with few other visitors to get in the way of your camera, or disrupt the relative tranquility of an active thermal area.

It is well off the main State Highway One - 21 kilometres in fact - but the countryside is pleasant and Orakei Korako is well worth a detour.

It is a fairly compact thermal area that you can walk around in an hour, 90 minutes or take all afternoon if you'd prefer.

Orakei Korako contains geysers, huge silica terraces, a sacred cave, mudpools, a rock that looks like an elephant's head (honest) and a picturesque view back across the river to the café, office and accommodation centre.

To go the final distance to Orakei Korako you need to take a short boat ride across the Lake Ohakuri. The service is on an on-call basis and when you are ready to be picked up all you need to do is press on a buzzer and the guys will pop on over to get you.

It is worth suggesting that you take along a bottle of water on your trip around - particularly on a warm day - and if you have children then some snacks wouldn't go astray as there are no facilities on the site itself.

From the boat ramp and jetty you can take yourself up excellent walking boards to the unpredictable Diamond Geyser. The geyser is an on-again, off-again spout that can be steamy or, when erupting, send boiling water up to eight metres into the air.

It gets its name from the look of the millions of water droplets pushed into the air that "sparkle like diamonds".

A short climb will take you up to the Rainbow Lookout and from there you can look down on the Emerald Terrace. It may not seem like it, but there is more than 20 million litres of hot water that flows down the silica terrace each day.

Now, another interesting thing about Orakei Korako is that its silica terraces are among the largest in the world and it has the most active geysers of any geothermal area in New Zealand.

The Rainbow and Cascade Terrace was formed way back in 131 AD during one of Lake Taupoi's major eruptions. The water flowing across them is 60 degrees Celcius and that allows algae to form giving them the most gorgeous colours. Just beyond the terraces is the phenomenon known as both The Cloud and the Golden Fleece. It is a wall of silica standing up to five metres high and runs for about 40 metres. It too began life around 1900 years ago, back in 131 AD.

Following the walkway further you come to the Artist's Palette, which is said to be the most dangerous and unpredictable place in the area. Its silica crust can be only 20 mm thick in places and eruptions from the spring can occur at any time. The hot water from below again creates perfect growing conditions for algae and they give the brown, green, yellow, orange and pink colours that give it its name. Across the expanse are some 120 clear-blue rock pools as well.

One of the highlights of Orakei Korako is the sacred Ruatapu Cave. It is one of only two caves in geothermal areas in the world. You journey down to the cave down a fern-surrounded set of stairs and descend about 40 metres into the reasonably light space.

At the bottom is the sacred pool where - it is said - you can touch the water and make a wish. The locals say it will come true if you tell no-one about it. Seems someone must have been reading my thoughts because, to date, my wish has not been realised. A particularly moving sign in the cave mentions Adam Mikaere, a local guide who loved the cave and who died many years ago in Libya in 1941 during World War II.

Next up it's the Mud Pools and the Soda Fountain. The fountain seems a little cantankerous as one day it will be full of water and the next will be empty. No reasons are given for its changeability. Then back to the jetty, call up the ferryman and relax in the café that offers an excellent view from outside tables.

Now I have to say that the tranquil waters of Orakei Korako are mighty inviting and it has to be said that staying overnight, or for a weekend, at Orakei Korako's cabins looks a pretty fine way to relax.

Adults: $22.00
Children (16 & under): $8.00
Families (2 adults & children 16 & under): $52.00
Under 5s: Free

Hours of Operation:
Orakei Korako opens at 8am with the last boat to the island at 4pm in winter and 4.30pm in summer.

Orakei Korako (official site)

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