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Published: March 12th 2011
Wai-O-Tapu: Sacred Waters in Rotorua
I left off with our roadtrip to the Waitomo Caves area: visiting the glow worms and rafting in the dark, with wetsuits, inner tubes, and caving helmets. Perhaps I forgot to mention how cold the water was. After cleaning up and dressing, we headed to the Blackwater Rafting Co.'s small diner, where bagels and soup were offered to the cavers gratis
. This had been part of the package deal we paid for; I had thought, "Soup and bagels?" But now it made sense. The carbs were welcome after our exertions picking our way over the rocks and, in my case, flailing and struggling not to be swept off my feet in the stream. And the soup was perfect for warming up: even after being outside in the balmy air, I was still rather cold.
After eating we met up with my brother's family; Bill and his wife were off to another part of the country, while the rest of us drove to Rotorua. We would see Waiotapu Thermal Park the next day, a fitting spot of sight-seeing given the very geoactive nature of our host nation. I would compare it to Yellow Stone in
the US; in fact, the wooded land surrounding the pools (if you ignored the fern trees and other unique species of plants) looked very much like the forest in that National Park.
On the way to Rotorua, we stopped at the Marakopo Falls and Mangapohue Natural Bridge. I had already become enamored of the fern trees: here was my chance to photograph them as much as I wanted, and many other plants, besides. We saw wild foxglove, which I recognized from a botany plate at home and my study of Anatomy and Physiology in high school: foxglove was once the main source of the heart medicine digitalis.
The Falls were quite a sight to see; they looked cold, but still appealing with their mossy rocks at the bottom and their roaring voice. The hike down to the viewing area was also delightful: down through woods filled with fern trees, palms and cabbage trees, and species of hardwood all covered with moss and epiphytes. Green beyond green.
Mangapohue Natural Bridge was also a lovely place. Where Marakopo was bracing and loud, Mangapohue was quiet and mystical, almost primeval. There was a silent river, perhaps old enough to be
the very water that had carved out the Bridge itself, and the sound of water dripping from plants and moist rock.
We had seen stalactites and stalagmites aplenty, but at Natural Bridge we saw something that was unexpected and unknown to me: biokarst. Formations that look vaguely like stalactites, and if I understand correctly formed by a similar process of dripping water depositing lime, with the difference that the lime is deposited onto hanging mosses. We got a good look at the Bridge, walking under and through it, and then we departed, me lagging as always while I photographed plants on the trail.
Perhaps I should mention, since I do have a preponderance of photos of flora in this entry, that I am something of a sucker for plants. Well, most plants and animals, actually, but here in New Zealand I was confronted with a bevy of new plant species, and my very favorites were the fern trees. I was fascinated by their structure, the shapes repeating from the unfurled fronds to the "buds" of the immature branches on the fronds down to the little unfurled leaves: a pattern something like a nautilus that repeated itself until the
frond was completely unfurled and mature. It made me think of fractal geometry for some reason, and I found out later that one of the most famous fractals imitates the repeating patterns in ferns: it is called the Barnsley Fern.
Off the path and back to the cars, and we were headed onward to Rotorua and Jack & Di's Bed and Breakfast, situated on the shore of Lake Kahumatamomoe. We arrived after dark, and to be truthful the majority of the complex resembled the motor lodges of yore in the United States, rather than a B&B; but one of the staff came out and led us into the main building, an older house, where we had a shared kitchen and bathroom and three bedrooms. It was lovely, but here I began to see the wide variety of businesses encompassed by the term "bed and breakfast" in New Zealand. To me, this was really more of a hostel than what I would consider B&B, although we did have cereal, milk and canned fruit provided for us in the kitchen.
The next morning dawned fair and bright, and I applied copious amounts of sunscreen to prepare for our visit to
Waiotapu Thermal Park. We drove through the city, and the air became more and more sulphurous to the scent. One could almost follow one's nose to the Waiotapu (which means Sacred Waters), where we first went to the visitor's center for maps and recommendations, and then went to the 10:15 eruption of the park's most famous geyser, Lady Knox.
I was a bit nonplussed that the park employees were so certain of the viewing time: even Old Faithful was known to give delayed shows. It turned out that a park ranger was waiting, microphone in hand, to tell us about the geyser and how it was discovered. He told the gathering crowd of the loggers who used to work the surrounding forest, camping in the bush. They found that the thermal pools made great places for doing their laundry, and one made the mistake of dumping soap into Lady Knox, along with their clothes. I could just picture the startled, half-naked men as the ground began to rumble underfoot and the pool to bubble furiously, and the eruption sending their clothes into the air and the men fleeing into the bush for cover.
It turns out that Lady
Knox has two layers of temperature in her depths, the colder water layer on top of hotter water below. Every so often, the pressure equalizes and the hot water shoots upward. Soap will equalize the pressure quite easily, and the park ranger demonstrated by dumping in a packet, then standing (way) back as the geyser began to rumble, froth, and finally sally forth.
The show over, we followed the crowd out and onto the paths leading through mud pools, basins, "ink pots" and other treacherous ground. The paths were lined with nonverbal signage every several yards, reminding us not to throw rocks, to keep to the paths, and not to touch anything because, in case we hadn't noticed, the water here was really hot. I found some of the signs humorously obvious, although I have to admit that a sucker is born every minute and the signs were probably necessary.
My niece and nephews seemed to love the bright colors of the pools, basins and ink pots, though they complained almost constantly of the smell. I would have loved to paint here, and found "The Artist's Palette" to be a fitting name for one of the basins. We
walked for a couple of hours, and then were on our way "home" to Albany.
Back at the "home base," we stayed a day or two with the family, rained in but unrepressed: we made it a good excuse to have a fish-fry and invite our friends to join us in eating, drinking and merry-making. We regrouped, so to speak. The Californians had returned from the northern Kauri forests, and I decided to head north with my sister and brother-in-law in two days' time.
In the meantime, we passed the days by shopping, collecting greens for dinner from the garden, eggs from the chickens for breakfast (with an interlude of horror upon finding a rat in the coop), and enjoying the cool, but not cold weather.
More to come on the Kauri forests and Omapere. For now, signing off-
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