It’s surprising how satisfying a close-up view of pulsating mud, punctuated by gurgling and plopping sounds, can be. A rain shower had just passed over and rising mist from a dozen fizzing, simmering hot pools created an atmospheric, ethereal scene that seemed to swallow me up.

The walk I’m on is short but stunning, with great photo opportunities if you can dodge the clouds of drifting steam. It gives an interesting glimpse of a natural thermal area in its absolutely wild state, but in a peaceful setting.

For four centuries the Ngāti Kurauia subtribe of Tūwharetoa, have used geothermal pools beside the Tokaanu Stream for cooking, bathing, dyeing clothes and leisure activities. Today we can share in this longstanding tradition by enjoying a therapeutic and relaxing swim at the nearby Tokaanu Thermal Pools at a very reasonable cost.

Lake Taupo viewed from the highway above Tokaanu

Before visiting the hot pools take a stroll around the 20-minute Thermal Walk. It’s a very pleasant ramble along a winding path that offers many surprises. There’s a great variety of steaming hot springs and crystal-clear mineral pools bubbling up from deep in the earth, set in dramatic and colourful sinter basins amidst native bush.

Remarkably, the Tokaanu Stream that flows beside the thermal area is cold, just metres away from deep springs and spluttering mud pools that give the impression that the whole place is about to explode. Hissing steam escaping from fissures in the ground, acts as a safety valve.

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