In photos, the steam emanating from New Zealand’s Frying Pan Lake looks similar to a low-hanging fog—the kind that shows up in the early morning hours of an autumn day. In those cases, the steam is formed when cool air moves over a warm lake, but the “Frying Pan" has its own special flair. The lake is always piping hot at 113 to 131 degrees Fahrenheit, and releases carbon dioxide and hydrogen sulfide to give the appearance of a large boiling cauldron.

Mount Tarawera, a volcano near the town of Rotorua, exploded in 1886 and was New Zealand’s most destructive volcanic eruption of the modern era. The natural disaster killed over one hundred people and formed a large crater—known as Echo Crater—which then became the world’s largest hot spring. The acidic waters in the Waimangu Volcanic Rift Valley sometimes get as hot as 160 degrees Fahrenheit or more, and the body spans more than 400,000 square feet.

The pool is relatively shallow, averaging a depth of only about 20 feet (maximum depth is around 65 feet). While not exactly a welcoming temperature for humans, Frying Pan Lake is home to thermophiles, organisms like bacteria that thrive in extreme temperatures—just one of the reasons they’ve been on Earth practically since life here began.

But that doesn’t mean humans haven’t ventured in. In the 1970s, Ron Keam from the University of Auckland did a thorough bathymetric survey of Frying Pan Lake, with a specially-designed wooden boat called Maji Moto.


Watch the steam of Frying Pan Lake snake off the surface below.