Thursday, October 4, 2012

Rotorua, New Zealand: Wai-O-Tapu Geothermal Wonderland

Yes . . . still catching up on posts from spring and summer, while we're already well into fall!

After spending our first day in Rotorua poking around the town itself, Nana and I ventured a little further afield the following morning, to Wai-O-Tapu Geothermal Wonderland, a short drive south of town.
That's steam!

Wai-O-Tapu is only one of several geothermal valleys in the Rotorua area, but according to the lovely folks at the Malfroy Motor Lodge, it's the best. Although I don't really have much basis for comparison, I do have to say I was pretty impressed.

First, Wai-O-Tapu is home to the semi-man-made, semi-accidental Lady Knox Geyser. The story goes that inmates from a nearby prison work camp stumbled on the geyser and induced it to erupt spectacularly when they mixed soap with the hot water while washing their clothes. These days, park guides induce eruptions daily at 9:45 AM.

Second, Wai-O-Tapu is home to some spectacular and, um, sonorous mud pools. Check out the video below (e-mail readers will need to click through to the blog):

It was a lot of fun trying to get shots of erupting bubbles.

There's one! (Nana got it!)
After the mud pools, we entered the park proper - a true wonderland of steaming pits, bubbling neon pools, and strange rock formations straight out of science fiction.

Somehow, the combination of steam and ferns always feels vaguely Jurassic to me. So we both kept a sharp lookout for carnivorous dinosaurs.

The view from the bottom of the valley.

It looks like dirt, but it was actually a kind of oily liquid down at the bottom of the hole.

Tar pits in action - "The Devil's Inkpots."

I think this is the "Artist's Palette?" Some of the pools started to blur together.

The top of the "Primrose Terrace," which was weird. (See below.)

They had this wacky little boardwalk across the top of the Primrose Terrace. A little terrifying, knowing that a single misstep and the ground a few feet away on either side could seriously maim you. Granted, it could also do absolutely nothing to you - but that uncertainty is the fun, isn't it?

Just to drive the point home.

The Primrose Terrace from above. It's a really slow-moving trickle that leaves terraced mineral deposits from the hot springs upstream. 

A close-up of the Primrose Terrace.

Looking down the Primrose Terrace.

Some extreme close-ups of the Primrose Terrace.

I think this one is the "Opal Pool." It was steaming like nobody's business the day we were there.




The pits were a bit hard to photograph. Very difficult to get an appropriate sense of scale. This one could have fit a small house inside.

That ain't algae in that pool - it's a bunch of sulfur and other good stuff.

Now, that's not all for Rotorua - next up is a post on a spectacular Maori dinner show at Mitai Maori Village.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Rotorua, New Zealand: Geothermal Sites

Yup, still catching up on posts from the spring and summer. Here's another!

As part of our swing through the North Island of New Zealand, just after our awesome unplanned stop in Hobbiton, Nana and I washed up in Rotorua, a town in the center of the island known as a hotspot for Maori culture - and as a hotspot, full stop.

You see, Rotorua sits in the heart of New Zealand's Tapuo Volcanic zone, amid a steaming landscape of hot springs, stinking pits, and geothermal mud pools. This makes Rotorua one of the world's geothermal wonderlands - kind of the Yellowstone of the antipodes, if you will. We'd only planned one night in Rotorua, but the place was so incredible we just had to extend our stay.

We spent our first day in Rotorua poking around the town itself, where we quickly learned that you don't need to venture far to find geothermal weirdness. For instance, part of the directions we were given to the town's central park involved, at one point, "driving towards the columns of steam."

In fact, if I recall correctly, part of the reason why the park is a park is that all the geothermal activity makes it unsuitable for development.

Not that geothermal activity has stopped builders before: the locals we met told stories of people with steam vents in their backyards - or even in their basements! - that can even be used for boiling eggs or making tea.

From the park, we went to the Rotorua Museum, housed in the spectacular old Rotorua Bath House.

Completed in 1908, the Bath House sits on a grassy peninsula jutting out into Lake Rotorua. On a clear day, the mineral waters of the lake shine a bright gray-blue when viewed from the rooftop observation deck.

We went to the museum not expecting much, but in the end it may have been the best museum of the trip. In addition to a film on the devastating 1886 Mount Tarawera eruption and a fascinating exhibit on Maori culture, there was also a very amusing tour of the Bath House building itself. Long story short: the place opened just when places like it were going out of style.
Quick! You heard the man! Bathe like it's going out of style!

Bonus: a "rainbow" in the rafters!
Of course, the geothermal fun didn't stop there: our accommodation, the highly (highly highly highly) recommended Malfroy Motor Lodge, had a geothermal pool and a mineral hot spring out back. Nothing like a moonlit swim on a frigid night!

Stay tuned - there are more Rotorua adventures to come!