Its funny what you forget with time. From the very first moment you open the vehicle door in Rotorua the sulphur smell greets you. It stays with you constantly, sometimes wafting stronger, both outdoors and even in sometimes.
Accompanied by, what is quickly becoming our travel partner, the rain everything looks different. You lose the colours of the hot pools and geothermal lakes, and the bubbling mud pots become boiling liquidy soup. However, nothing detracts from the awe that our live and volatile planet inspires each and every time. Constant steam arising from the drains holes in the street, from between trees and rocks in the park, under a garden fence charring it black in the process. Everywhere you look there is a reminder, or two.
Having visited two of the four major geothermal parks here before, we opted for a new adventure to Hell's Gate. Minute bright yellow sulphur stalagmites and stalactites form on the rocks where the sulphur laden steam vents through. A mud volcano, unique to NZ, has gained a height of almost two and a half metres and still grows. Every six weeks or so, the top hardens forming a crust; under that crust pressure
builds presenting an eruption of around 5 meters in diameter every two or three days. An impressive sight to see such a steaming mound of conical shaped mud. To finish the experience, and somewhat a little touristy, was the opportunity to attempt a carving; something that is very important to the Maori traditions. Of course, the kitchen fitter and carpenter among us took to it easily.
Having felt we'd missed the variety of geothermal activity at Hell's Gate in comparison to Wai-O-Tapu's expanse across all thermal activity we had to go back to take it in a second time. The walk, some of which is in primitive bush, takes in around 6km of trails between each hot pool, vividly coloured lake, steaming vents and mud pools. The hot pools range from turquoise to rich green, and burnt orange to sulphuric yellow. The largest of these is the Champagne Pool, its vibrant colours caused by mineral and silicate interference; bubbling CO2 rises from deep green, while metal sulphites gather around edge to give an orange rim.
Lady Knox Geyser, just up the road and part of the same ticket, was due to go off the next morning. A conical
mound of silica, formed over rocks put in place by early natives to make use of the vent, set a beautiful base for the boiling water to arise from. It was with curiosity that we had arrived for the precise 1015 spouting, given this geyser has a 4-72 hour period in which it could blow. The disappointment then hit to learn that the geyser was induced with environmentally friendly soap; a discovery made by prisoners washing their clothes in years gone by and accidentally allowing soap to run into the geyser. It seemed very unnatural to interfere with the environment in this way.
The first night in Rotorua was spent on a campsite, chasing the illusive boxes and doing a few loads of washing - but having successfully had Hermie certified for self-containment it was time thereafter to start venturing off grid and finding out what the two leisure batteries, tank of water and the gas could do. Fiddling with the control panel to see which lights use most energy and which heating vents we could do without, we started to learn the ropes a little. The NZMA is a body we've joined here, similar to the motorhome and
caravan club back in the UK, except there are heaps of benefits with free camping spots known only to members, fuel discounts and cheaper prices on the Interislander ferry crossing to South Island among them. Making use fo the membership we found Hinemoa Street Caravan Park on the edge of town, nothing glamorous just a small car park, but backing up to a bubbling pond with the natural steam vents from the Polynesian Spa behind it. The location was perfect for visiting the town itself and walks around Lake Rotorua and the Government Gardens Peninsula.
The one upside to all the rain so far means that South Island has had some good snow in preparation for the upcoming ski season. The Queenstown and Wanaka area had around 40cm at the weekend, so our desperation to head South faster is growing constantly! With that in mind we took some time out here to plan our route, places we couldn't miss and those we didn't need quite so long at, so as to reach the mountains sooner. The aim has always been to get to Queenstown in time for their Winter Fest - a four day long celebration at the start
of the ski season, full of crazy mountain activities, bands and comedians; the few locals we chatted to about this have been encouraging, convinced we'll 'have a blast'!
Leaving Rotorua behind our journey took us past the impressive Huka Falls. Huka, a Maori word meaning foam, is quite apt for this raging, swirling river that suddenly dives 9 metres over the edge creating bubbles and beautiful aqua colours in the process. Over 200,000 litres of water plunge the short distance each second, enough water to fill five Olympic swimming pools every minute. The dangerous undertow at the bottom of the falls is beyond contemplation, having claimed the lives of many a brave kayaker. The Waikato river's powering force has been put to good use as it provides 15% of NZ's power. The river now supplies eight hydro electric stations and the cooling water for three others. Incredible how natures own forces can be harnessed to provide, something these Kiwi and Moari folk have always been very in tune with.
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