Your kids may normally be reluctant to take a bath, but at New Zealand's Hot Water Beach, they'll dig their own bathtub. They may even be tempted to run under the showers — a geyser shower, in the country's otherworldly geothermal wonderland, a few hours south.
New Zealand sits in the "Ring of Fire," the edge of the Pacific Ocean rimmed by volcanoes and prone to earthquakes. Many volcanic cones in the Kiwi landscape, like Auckland's 48 peaks, are grass-covered and dormant. But volcanic activity elsewhere in the archipelago makes it seem like you're on another planet.
Hot Water Beach of Bathtubs
Take the Bay of Plenty region on the eastern side of the country's North Island. Just north, on the Coromandel Peninsula, there's an unassuming beach by a dramatically rocky cliff, with an almost-always empty golden kilometre of sand. In this beach-strewn country it's hard to imagine why anyone would drive the peninsula's twisty roads to get to this isolated place.
But in the three or four hour period around low tide, a 20-metre section of this beach fills with people on a mission. With a borrowed or rented spade, find a vacant spot and start digging. Soon, hot water from an underground river will seep into the hole. The goal is to find the ideal spot where enough of the cold ocean waves mix with the 64℃ water to create a personal pool that suits your temperature preferences. Have your kids sculpt the perfect sand lounge chair while you explain geothermal energy and prove that having a bath can be fun.
Step onto an Active Volcano
About three hours south, another volcanic place will have your kids curious about what's underneath the surface of the earth.
White Island lies in the Bay of Plenty, offshore from the city of Tauranga. It's one of the world's most accessible active volcanoes. Take a boat or helicopter tour there, and your kids can brag they've walked between the hissing steam vents and boiling mud pits of a live volcano. Hardhats are mandatory and you'll need to carry gas masks just in case — dangerous eruptive activity is rare, though always possible. The sulphur smell is so strong you might want to keep the gas mask on.
Rotorua: Geothermal Capital
Drive less than an hour inland to the geothermal (and sometimes sulphur-smelling) city of Rotorua for the city park, Kuirau. Walking from downtown, cross a steaming lake over boardwalks. Fog envelopes you. Dotting the park's grass are pools of mud bubbling like gravy, and ponds with steam so hot they'll warm you up on a cool day. They're fenced off, but in 2001 a previously unknown steam vent spontaneously spewed mud and rocks high into the air. Near the playground, look for bathtub-sized concrete pools. Cooled water is funneled into them; take off your shoes at a nearby bench and enjoy a warm foot bath.
Just outside of town, several geothermal parks offer even more vivid examples of the earth's active core. The archeological site of Te Wairoa preserves a village buried in volcanic ash from an 1886 eruption. Wai-O-Tapu, called "New Zealand's most colourful geothermal attraction," has almost 50 different otherworldly hot spots. Antimony, arsenic and sulphur turn some pools orange, yellow and bright green. Walk next to a 73℃ lake bubbling like it's made of Champagne and near boiling mud pools, big and small. Hold hands with anyone prone to stumbling — anywhere too hot to touch is signed, but not always fenced off.
If pools aren't enough, other spots have waters shooting high. Every morning at 10:15, Wai-O-Tapu's Lady Knox Geyser sends showers of hot water into the air. In Te Puia, five minutes from Rotorua, the Pohutu Geyser erupts throughout the day, spewing steam and water 30 metres high.
Hot Water Beach baths come highly recommended, but best to avoid getting wet in these showers.