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Waiotapu, New Zealand

The Waiotapu thermal track is a very popular tourist destination in New Zealand.

GeorgeBurba/iStock/Thinkstock

Imagine a harsh, inhospitable alien world where the surface is bubbling and contains bright orange and yellow swaths enshrouded in sublimely steamy mists. That should give you a pretty good picture of Waiotapu (sometimes rendered as Wai-O-Tapu), a thermal area of about 11 square miles (18 square kilometers) in New Zealand.

Steam and gases rising through the pool create bubbles of mud, at the site of what was once a volcano. While Waiotapu is a popular tourist spot, visitors are warned to stay on government-erected walkways, lest they fall through thin crust surfaces and risk being burned by hot geothermal gases or fluids, and inhaling possibly fatal concentrations of carbon dioxide and sulfur [source: New Zealand Department of Conservation].

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