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Rotorua Geothermal System

About the system

The Rotorua Geothermal System underlies part of Rotorua City, from the southwestern end of Lake Rotorua to the Whakarewarewa Valley (see map below). It is part of the Taupo Volcanic Zone, which extends from Whakaari-White Island in the Bay of Plenty southwest to Mt Ruapehu. Fluid within the system can be in excess of 230°C, with high levels of existing use and many surface features.

The Rotorua system is unique in a number of ways, containing one of New Zealand’s last remaining areas of major geyser activity. It is also internationally recognised for scientific research and has provided the basis for the evolution of many geothermal models and geological theories. There are several other geothermal areas close to the city, such as Tikitere and Waimangu, but these systems have different characteristics and are managed separately. 

Rotorua’s geothermal surface features are one of the greatest draw-cards for international tourists, with nearly half of all visitors coming specifically to see and experience the district’s geothermal wonders.

Over time it has become clear that the Rotorua geothermal system cannot meet unlimited demand for heat energy, with previous excessive use of fluid having adverse effects, particularly on the geothermal surface features and the long-term energy potential of the reservoir. Ongoing careful allocation of the resource is important.

View high resolution map of the Rotorua system.

Map of Rotorua Systems

History of Use and Management

Rotorua’s geothermal surface features have been used in a low impact way by Māori for hundreds of years, for practical as well as spiritual purposes. See more information on our Heritage and Culture page.

Extractive use of the system began in the 1870s when Rotorua became a tourist destination, influencing settlement patterns. Demand for commercial and residential use increased further in the 1930s and following energy shortages in the early 1950s extraction of geothermal heat and fluid for private use became commonplace.

By the 1970s more than 1,000 bores had been drilled with depths of 50 to 200 metres below the surface. As a result many geothermal features and activity in Whakarewarewa Valley, Kuirau Park and Arikikapakapa began to decline significantly. In the mid-late 1980s Government stepped in, forcing the compulsory closure of many wells, including all wells within 1.5km of the Pohutu Geyser, and imposing consent requirements.

Subsequently, geothermal features have recovered and the system has stabilised, with fewer natural events such as hydrothermal eruptions.

Some of the significant geothermal features within and around Rotorua urban area – most notably in Kuirau Park – are the same today as they were in the 1920s. While much of this recovery was rapid, some has taken longer. For example, the Papakura Geyser in Whakarewarewa valley began erupting in September 2015 after being dormant for over 30 years.

Values of the resource

The hundreds of surface features in Rotorua have important economic, ecological, landscape and cultural values. They are considered national treasures and part of our heritage. Rotorua's array of geothermal features, including volcanic crater lakes, spouting geysers, bubbling mud pools, hissing fumaroles and colourful sinter terraces, have been attracting visitors to the city since the mid-1800s. They remain a major tourist attraction today and are the most popular sight-seeing destination for international visitors.

Visit the Rotorua NZ website.

Managing the System

The resource is managed under the Regional Policy Statement and the Rotorua Geothermal Regional Plan which promote the sustainable management of the system. There is limited potential for further extractive use and any development must ensure that surface features are not damaged.

Summary of rules for taking geothermal water from the Rotorua System:

  • Any water over 30°C is considered geothermal and needs a resource consent to be taken, used or discharged.
  • Geothermal fluid is usually required to be re-injected
  • Consents for a new bore usually involve two stages: a short-term consent to drill, and then a consent to take, use and discharge (usually 10 years).
  • There is a 1.5 km exclusion zone around Pohutu geyser – no new bores are allowed in this area.

Rotorua urban geothermal - Kuirau Park to Sulphur Bay

Rotorua City

A System Management Plan is being developed for the Rotorua system, including monitoring and modelling of the resource. This work will lead to a plan change to replace the Rotorua Geothermal Regional Plan.