Taupo: Wairakei Terraces, Pamukkale
Late one Friday afternoon, the forecast that weekend was for very good weather. What should we do? I had pottery to collect on Saturday, but it could wait for another week. If there is ever an opportunity to go and explore NZ, it should be seized at any available opportunity and this was one of those. A quick discussion, a few 'shall we or not' moments, and the die is cast - we drive south the next day.
The next morning, we travelled in the direction of Taupo, to visit a few sights enroute and perhaps look-in on Wairakei Terraces and Thermal Health Spa. I had seen the attraction on the internet the previous week, and it looked a promising adventure - terraces filled with ice-blue cascades looked delicious enough to soak and float in, except it was filled with boiling hot, calcium-rich mineral waters. Cool(?) It may be a rather contrary expression for the topic, but it fits.
I was reminded of the enchanting Pamukkale's (Cotton Castle, in Turkish) travertine terraces. We visited it back in the 1990's, from Kusadasi. An unusual natural, historical site with the blindingly-white, castle-like cascades, Pamukkale was the highlight of this trip to Turkey.
The travertine terraces over time have been formed by limestone-laden thermal springs, which has created the dazzling formation of large searingly-white pool crucibles.
As with all areas of geothermal activity, hot water, minerals and ancient rock are part of the equation, which means slippery surfaces: be careful how and where you tread.
It is simply the most surreal place. Almost as if Antonio Gaudi opened a natural ceramics factory in open air, in Turkey.
Also within the site of Pamukkale is the Sacred pool, sometimes called the Antique pool. It was just dreamy – fallen, ancient columns which line the bottom of the pool with its bubbling calcium waters.
Surrounded by pines, oleanders and cypresses, and littered with the fluted sections of fallen marble columns, the pool is constantly refreshed by an inflow of hot mineral-laden water.
One could just lie there in the water, and watch the skin oils react with the minerals in the water and create a carpet of bubbles on your skin... as soon as you wipe it off, it effervesced to the surface, and the process started all over again...Murray 'bubbled-up' a lot as most got trapped under the hairs on his skin - haha. Cue shrieks of delight from smaller children when they figured out they had a fun bubble factory on their skin. The Sacred pool's setting was so like a movie set, you almost expected Gina Lollobrigida or the Prince of Persia's princess to come sashay-ing in at any second.
Meanwhile back to the present in NZ, the Wairakei Terraces are located 3 hours south of Auckland, 10km north of Taupo . The journey south through the Waikato region takes you through some of the most green and productive farmland in the world, passing rich countryside with lakes, grazing sheep and cows. As for the terraces, it reminded me of the Mt Tarawera eruption.
What is left of Mt. Tarawera sits near Rotorua, slightly north-east of Taupo in the thermal activity zone. It violently erupted in 1886 which completely devoured the famous Pink and White Terraces of Te Wairoa, which is a former-century take on Pamukkale, but with the bonus of additional minerals to realise the pink colouring as well as white: Pamukkale only has white travertine terraces.
Prior to this event, visitors to the site came from all over the world. They braved the adventure of a several months sea-passage to get a glimpse of the amazing Pink and White terraces. It was buried and completely destroyed on the night of the eruption.
There's a prominent painting of the White Terraces hanging up in the elegant Chateau Tongariro located within Whakapapa Village, in the central North Islands National Park. The Pink and White Terraces were referred to as the eighth wonder of the world. The painting legend notes that Carl Kahler painted the White Terraces before their destruction in 1886.
Entering the Wairakei Terraces, we took photos of the steaming geysers and boiling, cascading waters, as they are up close and personal and so dramatic.
We changed and ventured outside, to find the gently sloping ramp down to the pool area. Ah yes , a reminder from Pamukkale: geothermal, water, mineral, and rock.... as slippery as a bucket of eels. Since I had a stroke and walking on uncertain surfaces is a real challenge, both our alarm bells rang very loudly. Making our way gingerly down the path, we finally made our entry into warm-to-hot thermal waters – oooh!... this is amazing.
We tried two pools and luxuriated in warm thermal waters. At Wairakei Terraces, there is a hot waterfall in one of the pools; other pools varied in temperature, the hottest being the furthest away across a little bridge.
Murray tried every pool, as well as most of the rest of the other visitors that day. Some of them had just done the Tongariro Crossing, and were treating themselves to a hot thermal spa and a massage. Aaahhh.... One or two couples had been given the treat as birthday surprises.
A group of women had a shopping trip as well as a concert in Auckland planned; the visit to Wairakei Terraces Thermal Health spa was welcome bonus. Others were on holiday to NZ from Texas, Belgium, France, Switzerland and were doing the rounds of sight-seeing attractions.
It was so relaxing that we didn't realise when it came to leave it was past 3.30pm... getting out the pool, if felt like we suddenly gained about 20kg of weight: the muscles were so relaxed. The walk to the changing rooms was up the slope - it felt like were were both dragging a tree trunk uphill. If it was downhill, we could have just sat on the path and slithered down.
Changed again, we hurried back to Auckland, stopping for a drink in Hamilton. As we sat there in the setting sun, the table next to us, had amazing food, we'll be back next time...