NZ: Thermal Explorer - Wai-o-tapu
In Rotorua's volcanic plateau, geothermal activity, is very pronounced, seethes from cracks in the streets, steams from backyard hot pools, bursts from geysers throughout the area, and bubbles from cauldron-like mud pools. Mineral formations rise from and mould into a landscape sculpted by the region's turbulent volcanic activity for thousands of years, to form stalactites and stalagmites and shapes in-between.
With lush native greens, crystal blue lakes and earth tones ranging from rust to ochre resulting terraces, valleys and lakes, they are nature's own art form. Waimangu Volcanic Valley, Whakarewarewa Thermal Village, Orakei Korako, Wai-o-Tapu, geothermal wonderland, amongst others – all are extremely, extraordinarily hot.
Hells Gate Geothermal Park, steaming cliffs, mud volcano, sulphur bath and sulphur lake, are aptly named. Kakahi Falls, the hot waterfalls, largest hot sulphurous waterfall in the Southern Hemisphere, is located in the geothermal reserve Hell's Gate, a few minutes’ drive away from Rotorua. They were said to be traditionally used by the Maori, a treasured site of bathing, healing and revitalisation.
They were just some of the sight-seeing opportunities in the vast geothermal area between Rotorua and Taupo. I'd been to see some of them during my University days, some others were part of the story-line of the children’s books I'd authored after my stroke ....
We were fortunate enough to be in Rotorua just recently. After much debate, we decided to visit Wai-o-Tapu geothermal wonderland. New Zealand's most colourful geothermal attraction - just a short drive from either Rotorua or Taupo. Sculptured by volcanic activity some thousands of years ago, Wai-o-Tapu introduces you to a different, natural landscape; below the surface lies one of the most extensive geothermal systems in NZ. Approximately 20 minutes south of Rotorua, Wai-O-Tapu means "Sacred Water" and it is easy to see why.
Defined tracks and paths provide the visitor with the opportunity to enjoy the diversity of the landscape over a number of different walks, each with their own unique volcanic vistas to fascinate all ages. Being an active volcanic area, the paths are in harmony with the environment so as to preserve nature, but the management are also wisely pragmatic since volcanic terrain can rearrange itself without prior warning so why make extra work for yourself by making it smoother/easier. Some of the terrain was a little more taxing than others hence may present some difficulties for people with various disabilities.
Guides in and around the site gave very knowledgeable suggestions as to where best to park by someone (me) who is less able to walk long distances (see: stroke: walking), and which routes to take.
Wai-O-Tapu is a colourful choice; hot pools range in hues of turquoise blue and rich green to burnt orange and sulphuric yellow, making the steaming waters of Waiotapu a sensation. Bubbling CO2 rises from the deep green of the spring laden with minerals, while heavy metal sulphides deposited at the edges to form a brilliant orange ring of the Champagne Pool, 65 metres wide and 62 metres deep. Overflowing waters, rich in silica from the Champagne pool has formed the Primrose Terrace. This is now the largest sinter terrace in NZ.
The unique geothermal forces that shape Wai-o-Tapu are evident around each corner. A bit of history: the first open prison in New Zealand was established at Wai-o-tapu, and it was discovered the clearing in which the geyser is situated and erupted – imagine the surprise of these prisoners, by a stream of boiling water, shooting 20 metres (65 feet) into the air! The Lady Knox geyser was discovered.
Lady Knox geyser erupts at 10.15am every day. It is in a slightly different corner of the park. Visitors were gathered in the outside seating auditorium from as early as 9.25am. You could choose where to sit, to provide optimum coverage with your video or camera. More and more visitors, busloads of tourists... and then the eruption! High into the sky, higher... 20 and 30 metres, this gushing burst of super-heated water. Cameras went clicking like mad, and then to the next attraction.
We followed the map, and traversed the area. Mud pool fun? Further around the extensive Wai-o-Tapu area, is the Mud Pool. This was the site of a Mud Volcano which was destroyed by erosion in the 1920s. It is now one of the best examples of bubbling mud in NZ. I was mesmerised. Also, I was timing the blu-blub, blu-blub.. to see if I could capture the perfect shot of the bubbling hot mud. If I had the whole day, perhaps, but I managed to get a few worthwhile shots...
Against the background of a piercing blue sky boiling and bubbling craters, the geysers and the hot springs, giant multi-coloured terrace and more, Wai-o-Tapu is picturesque and pretty impressive. Definitely worth a visit. Highly recommended.