Saturday, March 10, 2007


We've been walking for the last couple of days. Walking in geothermal valleys.

The first volcanic valley was at Waimangu which advertises itself as the worlds newest geothermal area. The valley, including Lake Rotomahana, was formed when Mount Tarawera erupted; this eruption in 1886 was the one that buried the village we saw previously, Tewairoa, which is on the other side of the volcano. It's hard to believe that this lush valley full of birds calling, insects humming, clusters of tall tree ferns mixed in with the regenerating native forest was a barren desolate area when it was first formed. Further volcanic activity occurred when a geyser erupted in 1900, it was the largest ever recorded and shot 450 metres high for 4 years. Further eruptions in 1917 formed Frying Pan Lake, which is claimed to be the largest hot water spring in the world. The most recent eruption was in 1973 and we wondered if another was due any moment. The ground around us was hot, in some places it is 33C. Its a miracle that regeneration on such a scale has occured at all. Prostrate kanuka seems to lead the regeneration, it has re-colonised the 1973 site already and is all over the valley floor, there are many mosses and ferns and nearer the lake there are thickets of tea trees.

After going down into the valley we walked alongside a hot stream, with a side climb to the strangely named Inferno Crater, strange because it is the most beautiful pale milky blue and not a red which I would associate with an inferno. This feature turned out to be our favourite, it was such a stunning contrast to what we had been looking at. It was more or less round and surrounded by cliffs, it is about 30 meters deep when full, it overflows regularly and the temperature of the overflow has been measured at 80C, it's very acidic. Apparently it is a geyser, although you can't see the geyser itself as it is at the bottom of the crater. We rejoin the hot stream on the valley floor, a cold water stream joins it and we follow it on through to Lake Rotomahana. It was about 4ks and took us about an hour an a half at a slow pace with numerous sit downs on the benches provided to gaze at the strangeness. We decided not to do the lake cruise, there is a bus provided and you can catch it at various points, we hop on at the lake, it takes us back to our car and a picnic lunch.

Suitably refreshed we move onto our next thermal area at Wai-O-Tapu. This is very different to Waimangu, for a start the walkways are paved and are suitable for baby buggies and wheelchairs. It also has the most stunning boardwalk over the 'siliceous sinter' that is The Primrose Terrace which has formed over the last 700 years and at the moment covers about 3 acres. The devil certainly is colourful in this part of the world, here the Devil's Bath is a vivid lime green, like a giant melted ice lolly. We peer into various craters, marvel at sulphur pools and enjoy the carbonated Champagne Pool. Its not for drinking though as a variety of minerals such as god, silver, mercury, sulphur arsenic, thallium, antiony etc. are present and would do you no good at all. I have to say I wonder what is present in all the steam we have been inhaling for the last couple of days.

We spend the night on the shores of Lake Taupo looking at the highest mountain in North Island, Mount Ruapehu, 9,174ft - a tiddler compared to Mount Cook.

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