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Published: December 1st 2008
The Pohutu Geyser
Remarkable Rotorua! Saturday 29th November 2008
Yesterday we arrived in Rotorua. It is true what the guide books say and that is that you can smell Rotorua long before you reach it. The strong sulphuric gasses give the air a potent smell like rotten eggs but one quickly adapts and after several hours cease to notice it. Our campsite was right near Te Puia geothermal park and the Pohutu geyser so the smell was all-encompassing! What is surprising is that, unlike in Hawaii, where the fumes are considered to be dangerous to one’s health (especially if asthmatic), the Maori have always considered the area to be beneficial, especially if one suffers from respiratory problems, hay fever or blocked sinuses. I have to say that I find I can breath really well here (and I am asthmatic) and can only conclude that all of the warnings in Hawaii are to do with the culture of liability i.e. “Where there’s blame there’s a claim!”
We could see the smoke from the geyser where we camped, but didn’t visit Te Puia until this morning. We got up early so that we were at Te Puia when it opened at 8.30 a.m. (there is
Water power, 30 metres high!
so much to see)! The region which surrounds Te Puia is called “Te Whakarewarewatanga o te ope taua a Wahiao” which means “The Gathering Place of the war parties of Wahiao” because this is where Chief Wahiao used to gather his warriors to prepare for war (with a Haka and a few drinks) amidst the boiling mud pools, spouting hot geysers and sulphuric lakes. This way the fearsome volcanic god and others could support the war effort. Maori still live in and manage this sacred area and here also is a school for Maori craftsmen where a chosen few (just 4 or 5 each year) can lean the intricate skill of wood carving which is handed down through generations as well as weaving from flax. The student carvers are all male and traditionally the weavers are female. All of the beautiful carvings in the shop at Te Puia are made there by hand. I bought myself a mask (Koruru), only a small one; it is hand carved redwood with Paua shell eyes and very beautiful.
The Pohutu geyser is remarkable and very dramatic; every twenty minutes it boils up and shoots boiling water and steam 30 metres into the air
Hot mud pool
At Te Puia, Rotorua
and continues for about another twenty minutes gushing forth, flanked by two smaller geysers, the three of them boiling away and then it all dies down for about another twenty minutes before boiling up and shooting into the air again; astonishing power and a dramatic show of nature’s force. Pohutu is the largest geyser in the southern hemisphere (there is a bigger one in Russia) and we spent a long time walking around the hot pools and mud pools and watching Pout’s display. After a quick lunch we went on to Hell’s Gate on the other side of Lake Rotorua. The whole region of Rotorua is dotted with hot springs, mud pools and sulphur lakes but Hell’s Gate is the most active.
George Bernard Shaw gave this place the name “Hell’s Gate” when he visited in the early 1900s and it is very apt since it is such an active thermal area. Here one can see huge hot pools, where water exceeds boiling point and boiling black mud (over 145 degrees C) erupting and shooting up over three metres in to the air. Cracks and crevices emit steam all over the place, hissing and shooting up near the pathways, bubbling
yellow sulphurous water and mud glug away noisily and deposits of yellow sulphur crystals cover the volcanic rock in wonderful patterns and tiny yellow, red and white stalactites and stalagmites drape over black mud deposits in a landscape like Dali’s paintings; awesome!
Also at Hell’s Gate are the Kakahi Falls, the largest hot water falls in the Southern Hemisphere. It is the first time we’ve ever seen a hot water fall, just looks like a cold water fall except the air is hot and damp and the water bubbles and hisses over the rocks. For hundreds of years the Maori used this region to cook food in the hot pools, to bathe in the sulphuric waters to cure ailments and to use the mud for beauty and body treatment. Now everyone can enjoy massage and hot spa treatments in Rotorua. We didn’t treat ourselves to a massage but when we got back to the campsite we had a hot mineral tub for 30 minutes to relax at the end of a pretty sensational day. Tomorrow we are leaving Rotorua and heading towards Lake Taupo and visiting some more thermal areas and waterfalls on the way.
The Thermal Highway Sunday
30th November 2008
The road from Rotorua to Taupo is called the ‘Thermal Highway” and steam jets can be seen right at the side of the road as you drive along. This is a very active volcanic area indeed! Our first stop was at Wai-O-Tapu, a thermal wonderland; administered by the Department of Conservation; it is a huge area of surface thermal activity, including geysers, bubbling mud pools and the famous and colourful “Champagne Lake”. This lake, formed by an eruption 700 years ago, contains hot bubbling mineral water (about 70 degrees C); the minerals include gold, silver, mercury, sulphur, arsenic, thallium and antimony and so the colours are stunning, red, orange, green, yellow, white and black, mixed together like a messy artist’s palette.
Also at Wai-O-Tapu is a most interesting geyser called Lady Knox. Unlike most of the geysers she steams away quietly and doesn’t erupt until soap is poured down in to her cone. About one hundred years ago, convicts working in the area used the hot pools to do their washing. One day they had the luxury of a bar of soap and were terrified when Lady Knox started throwing jets of water, with a tremendous
from the Pohutu geyser
and forceful power, about twenty metres into the air (and their washing too no doubt). The reason for this is that, unlike most geysers, there is a layer of cold water, fed by a stream, above the hot, and it is only when soap is added that a chemical reaction enables the hot jets to escape. Whilst we were there, a ranger poured soap into the cone and the geyser shot forth powerful jets of water for about half an hour.
Wai-O-Tapu is a fascinating area of natural bush and lush vegetation interspersed with this alien landscape of sulphur rivers, sinter ledges, boiling mud and even bubbling crude oil. It really is quite astonishing to hike through lush forest and then see a bright green steaming lake or a primrose and red river; one of the most colourful landscapes anywhere on earth. There are only four large areas of this kind on the planet, the other three being in Russia, the USA (Yellowstone) and Iceland, so this makes Rotorua very special and we are so delighted that we have been able to see and enjoy it.
Forcing ourselves away from Wai-O-Tapu we stopped briefly to admire the turquoise rapids and
Boiling mud and crude oil at 140 degrees C
Haku Falls on the way to Lake Taupo. As we approached Taupo, the sun was shining and we had our first glimpse of the snowy peaks of Mount Ruapehu across the blue lake; real picture postcard stuff!
We are camped fairly near the lake. We don’t like this camp site much. A most miserable woman who checked us in wouldn’t let us choose our pitch, which is usual, from those available, of which there are plenty because the busy summer season hasn’t started yet. If we hadn’t been tired we would have driven on, but we booked in one night instead of the planned two and shall move on in the morning. Also, it isn’t as clean and well-maintained as others we have stayed on. So, anyone travelling to Taupo, our advice is to avoid Great lake Holiday Park on Acacia Bay. Tomorrow we’ll explore the town, enjoy the lake and then probably drive on to Napier or Hastings on the east coast on the way down to Wellington. We want to get the ferry to the South Island around Thursday or Friday. I’m really looking forward to seeing Wellington, where one of my grandfathers was born (roots)!
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