Hubble, Bubble Toil and Trouble

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February 9th 2011
Published: February 11th 2011
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8 February 2011

We would have liked to linger a little longer in Taupo however we have a plan and that involved once again moving on. Today we were headed in the direction of the Bay of Plenty (named by Captain Cook who, apparently, noticed how abundant the local area was) where we planned to stay at one of two DOC campsites that we had pinpointed.

First stop however was Rotorua. Because we both have a childish sense of humour, we were quite some distance from the town when we both started asking if the other could smell rotten eggs. Rotten eggs? Well, Rotorua is home to the most active geothermal area in New Zealand. Think hot springs, geysers, mud pools and sulphur - giving the air that unmistakable tang of rotten eggs. It is also a particularly sacred place for the Maori.

Gregg first visited Rotorua ten years ago when visiting New Zealand as footloose and fancy free 23 year old and he therefore knew what to expect. I, on the other hand, was rather taken by surprise when, as we drove in the direction of Rotorua, the hedges seemed to spontaneously spurt out plumes of steam. I tried, in vain, to photograph this phenomenon as we were flying past but you will trust me that driving past a bush steaming on the side of the hill is just a little bit odd.

First stop in Rotorua - predictably, brunch. As we jumped out of the van, even though there were no hot springs in sight that eggy smell was still hanging in the air and I began to wonder whether it was really possible for a whole city to be tainted by this mal-odour, surely not? Well, I was right. We stopped a little later to gaze over Lake Rotorua and the smell was definitely not evident there - it was back within two minutes tho!

Our highlight of Lake Rotorua? Watching a sea plane take off - had we been born a generation earlier, it seems that there is a good chance that we would have both become trainspotters.

There are numerous geothermal reserves around Rotorua which are open to the public - for a fee. On the journey into the city we had decided that our spot of choice was going to be the interestingly named ‘Hell’s Gate’ which describes itself as Rotorua’s most active geothermal reserve, the heat source of which is ‘only’ 1.5-2kms below earth’s surface - the others in the Rotorua area are all over 10km under the surface.

Within two minutes of setting foot in the reserve, we had become so accustomed to the rotten egg aroma that we no longer noticed it. There was a great deal more than the smell to grab our attention. The reserve proved to a be a perfect combination of our academic backgrounds - sulphur and ph levels for him and plate tectonics for me.

It is difficult to do the area justice in prose and not much easier by photograph - everything looks rather grey - but what follows is my best effort.

A self guided walk took us around numerous varying degrees of hot and acidic muddy pools. The coldest of the hot pools (there is actually a cold one in amongst all of this geothermal activity) is 40°C (104°F) and the hottest checks in at an impressive 145°C(293°F) just one metre below the surface. Shouldn’t this be boiling? Ah well, this water is full of impurities (or ‘minerals’) which raise the boiling point - the chemist can’t tell me whether there is a maximum boiling point of water under these circumstances.

The pH levels of these pools varies from the most acidic at pH1 to pH6 - pH1 would dissolve your hand if you felt like testing out this particular pool! Apparently, in days gone by, Maori people actually used this water to treat septic cuts, bites and some skin diseases - Gregg says that it would very effectively kill bacteria, neither of us would want to test this treatment in anything other than its most dilute form mind you!

For me, the most intriguing (although, some would say, obvious) thing about this reserve was that if I bent down and touched the ground it was actually warm - very warm in some places - so hot that Gregg (who never ever exaggerates) was quite convinced at times that the whole area was “so hot I’m going to expire”.

Then it was time to head towards water of an entirely different kind - the Pacific Ocean and the Bay of Plenty. We needed some matches and also some cash so we decided to head towards a town that looked fairly
A real Black SwanA real Black SwanA real Black Swan

...I am sorry but they scare me
sizable on the map in the first instance - Whakatane (pronounced, Fokk-a-tani) - and what a lovely little town this was. According to the guidebook, Whakatane is officially the sunniest city in NZ and, today, it certainly lived up to the rap. Beautiful and very HOT. We stayed long enough to re-charge the wallet but forgot the matches (we were now down to our last six, if the first few blew out making dinner, this could have been an evening with no cups of tea).

We then headed west along the coast in search of Matata Domain Camp and Pikowai Reserve Camping Ground. Matata looked lovely but we were keen to press on to Pikowai which was described in the map book as ‘Beachside with plenty of shelter and shade’. It was all of these things but what the book didn’t say was that this site is nestled between the beach and a railway line. No problem, we thought, there are virtually no trains in this country, it’ll be ok. Living metres from a railway line in Plymouth, we should have remembered that at night when passenger trains are sleeping, freight trains rule the lines.

9 February
A "hot spring" in the carpark to Hells GateA "hot spring" in the carpark to Hells GateA "hot spring" in the carpark to Hells Gate

...except on closer inspection, this was actually escaping from a pipe. I felt rather sheepish over my excitement.

I am not sure that either of us believes that we actually slept last night - I am sure that I heard five or six trains trundle along the tracks behind us and when I opened my eyes and it was finally daylight I felt nothing other than utter relief. Until I opened the van door - we had spent the night next to the van of an elderly fisherman and his wife and he had been gutting fish the night before - the bin between our van and theirs was honking!

Two cold showers (and some holding of breath) later, we set off along the coast in the direction of Tauranga - described as something of a trendy surf town. Another beautiful coastal town awaited us together with surf - so we lingered looking out at the sea whilst Gregg decided that nope, he wasn’t going in just yet. We paused to look at Mt Maunganui - which sort of nestles on the end of the peninsula at Tauranga - and then headed off further along the coach to Waihi Beach. Again, after quite some consideration, it wasn’t the right kind of surf so we
Waharoa - carved gatewayWaharoa - carved gatewayWaharoa - carved gateway

Representing the ancestral chief
headed inland in search of our site for the night - it was only early in the afternoon but we fancied stopping for a while.

Being the mature couple that we are, we had picked our intended destination almost for no other reason that the name “Dickey Flat”. Unfortunately, it was so flat that we missed it and found ourselves in the town of Paeroa (home of the ‘World Famous in NZ’ Lemon & Paeroa soft drink - to which Gregg has become quite partial)which was rather fortuitous and we were now down to one match. Stopping to find a parking space, we discovered a sign next to some electric boxes and water taps marked “overnight parking enquire at visitors centre”. So we did. $5 bought us a pitch for the night and some power - now you can’t moan at that!

Except, I can. Haulage. Last night trains, tonight we managed to make our bed next to an HGV park.

Additional photos below
Photos: 38, Displayed: 27


Inferon with Sodom & Gomorrah behindInferon with Sodom & Gomorrah behind
Inferon with Sodom & Gomorrah behind

The average temperature here is between 105 and 110 degrees C. Apparently water erupts out of Sodom & Gomorrah, sometimes reaching heights of up to 2 metres. Unfortunately they weren't reaching those heights whilst we were there.
Kakahi FallsKakahi Falls
Kakahi Falls

The largest hot water falls in the southern hemisphere - water temp approx 40 degrees C. This is where the Maori warriors used to bathe to wash off the blood of battle, the sulphur in the water helped to heal the wounds.

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