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Nature & Wildlife

Rotorua town walks, Sulphur Bay boardwalk

  • 2 minutes

North Island, New Zealand

Where tourism started, geothermal energy on full display

Discover a quiet boardwalk tucked behind the well known Government Buildings. It’s a free walk and a gem. A perfect short walk for kids introducing them to the joys of sulphur and the geothermal energy of Rotorua. Rotorua is one of NZ’s earliest spa towns with Sulphur Bay playing a key role in the development of modern tourism. The Bay is barren, streaked with mineral water stains, stunted vegetation and fascinating with its lunar like landscape. And the birds love it.

Sulphur Point in Rotorua, North Island, New Zealand
Sulphur Point in Rotorua


Year round, note: with heavy rain your shoes could absorb the acidic water seeping into the surface water. Wash your footwear thoroughly as soon as practical.


The boardwalk to Sulphur Point begins just beyond the Tudor-style Bath House in Government Gardens. The path follows the lakeshore to Motutara Point in Sulphur Bay. This walk is part of the Rotorua 10 things to do for free – Best Bits and a great introduction to the impact of volcanic activity on a landscape.


Beyond the Government House and the Sports Arena is the beginning of the Sulphur walking trail. The 145 hectare wildlife sanctuary is a prime example of why Rotorua has a distinctive odour. The stark landscape is markedly geothermal with steam vents, boiling mud lazily spouting black sulphuric scents in the air, boiling hot water bubbling with the intense heat and steam wreathing the area in an atmospheric mist.

Explore an amazing geothermal area where threatened bird populations make their home. Magnificent steam vents, boiling mud pools, naturally hot water.

Lime pool, heavily mineralised, Sulphur Bay boardwalk, Rotorua
Lime pool, heavily mineralised, Sulphur Bay boardwalk

Plants and birds have adapted to the unique environment. The Puarenga Stream is home to an array of bird species, including the nationally threatened New Zealand dabchick, banded dotterel, and black-billed gull.


Look carefully at the webbed feet of the birds and wonder about the webs of their feet. The murky sulphur infused water is low in oxygen and acidic (pH3.5) and eats away at webbed bird feet. The birds have been witnessed driving smelt (minuscule fish) into the acidic Sulphur Bay creating the fish to plate experience for birds.

Sulphur Bay information plaque, Rotorua, New Zealand
Sulphur Bay information plaque


It’s amazing to think about the risks early spa fans took for a therapeutic soak. Information plaques narrate how the area was the original area for commercial hot pool bathing. Prospective spa goers were tied with ropes and lowered into the murky waters.


Rotorua’s geothermal field is dumping approximately 28,000 tons of warm mineralised water into the bay every day.


Part of this area used to be Rotorua’s rubbish dump which is an environmental crime. Plaques describe the clean up process and the impact of dense human activity on the area.

Continuing on the boardwalk at time walkers are directed onto tracks formed on the ground. Ensure you follow the paths and do not stray off the designated path. You definitely get a sense of adventure being so close to a geothermal field without a fence.

Information plaques Sulphur Bay Rotorua, New Zealand
Information plaques Sulphur Bay Rotorua

Ensure children are supervised at all times as independent exploration is definitely not a good idea.

Lake Rotoroa, Hatupatu Drive car park, Scenic Point, Rotorua, New Zealand
Lake Rotorua, Hatupatu Drive car park, Scenic Point

At times the track takes you onto the road for short periods of time. Take care as the road leads to the local boat ramp.


This was also where the first aeroplane to visit Rotorua landed in April 1922. The plane, piloted by Capt Lesley Brake, was forced to land here after engine failure. However repairs were made and the plane successfully took off from the beach the following morning.


Look carefully at the photograph of Hatupuka Drive and the tiny island Motutara. The island is a creche for baby birds. Shags, native robin, weka and saddlebacks have their own minuscule refuge.

The locals fish from the pier and launch boats from the adjoining boat ramp. The water is clearer as the geothermal field water outlet is further into Sulphur Bay.

  • Duration: 2 hours
  • Grade: Easy, wheelchair accessible with assistance
Sulphur Bay walk boat ramp Rotorua, Seagull on the background of the lake, New Zealand
Sulphur Bay walk boat ramp

Closed footwear is recommended to protect your skin from acidic groundwater. Please keep to the designated pathways to avoid disturbing the wildlife. Threatened bird populations live and breed around Sulphur Bay and are sensitive to foot traffic. Dogs are not permitted in the reserve.



Best Bits travel guide is published by Owned and managed by PacificJane Ltd.

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