Whaka, as the locals call it, is the most accessible of the area's thermal spots. It's closest to town, but it's also the most varied, providing insight into Māori culture. The reserve is divided between two different groups; both give you some firsthand exposure to the hot pools, boiling mud, and native culture. Whakarewarewa is at the southern end of Tryon Street, signposted on Fenton and Sala streets. If you don't have a car, sightseeing shuttle buses leave from the visitor center on Fenton Street.
The Living Thermal Village. For an introduction to Māori culture, visit this authentic village. On the guided tours you'll see thermal pools where villagers bathe, boiling mineral pools, and natural steam vents where residents cook. Arts and crafts are available at local shops. The village is open to visitors daily from 8:30 to 5, and entry fees are NZ$35, or NZ$66 with cultural show and hāngi. 17 Tryon St., 3010. 64
Te Puia. The grounds are home to a carving school that hosts workshops as well as the Pohutu Geyser and silica terraces. The Whaka Māori community was founded by people who moved here from Te Wairoa after the catastrophic eruption in 1886. Don't miss the Nocturnal Kiwi House, where you might spot one of the birds. Open daily October–March 8–6 and April–September 8–5. Guided tour and Māori concert costs NZ$60.50 with cultural show and dinner costs NZ$150 Hemo Rd., 3040. 07/348–9047. www.tepuia.com.