Aotearoa: Thermal Wonderlands. And Prawns.

After the Tongariro National Park, we headed to an area where almost every NZ tourist ends up at some point: Rotorua. Rotorua, we'd been told, is quite touristy, which gave us the shudders. We didn't realize, at the time, that "quite touristy" here in NZ compares to "somewhat geared to tourists" in the States. Yeah, it was touristy, but it didn't have that annoying Disneyland kind of feel to it. And the area Rotorua is set in does a fine job of justifying the hype, because it's a thermally active area with some stunning scenery.

Photo of waterfall

The water from this river provides 15% of New Zealand's hydropower

Photo of waterfall

It was certainly looking the part.

Photo of waterfall

In spite of all this very green and renewable hydropower, you'd think they'd also get with other environmentally-friendly projects, like emissions controls on cars.

We started with the waterfall (above), whose name may or may not have been Huka Falls, which provides quite a bit of hydropower for New Zealand. NZ is doing its best to rely on renewable resources for its fuel needs, something more of the world should be doing (ahem United States ahem ahem). From the waterfall, we went to two less scenic but nonetheless lovely places: The Honey Hive, and the Prawn Farm. The Honey Hive sells all honey products you can imagine, and many more that you can't. They allow you to taste any and all of the many NZ honies they have for sale; then, in their little wine and liqueur store, you can taste whatever liqueur, wine, or fruit brandy you desire. The service was incredible, and both TLFKAS and I bought more than we should. After a second trip to the store, TLFKAS began bitterly referring to honeybees as devils tempting her into the evils of consumerism; their products, consequently, were dubbed devilspit. This did little to deter her (or me) from future devilspit purchases, but it did at least amuse us.

Photo of Honey Hive store

After the waterfall, an excursion to tamer areas: The Honey Hive, purveyors of damn fine honey products.

Photo of Prawn Farm entrance

From there, onward - how else? to the Prawn Farm.

Photo of Prawn Farm pools

The prawn farm has a sense of humor about its prawns. Prawns Exercising: Please Keep Out.

We went to the Prawn Farm more or less on the assumption that it would be pretty campy, and why not check it out? We were in the area, and it was the world's only geothermally heated prawn farm. OK, that's really not a selling point for those of us with no clue as to how prawn farming happens elsewhere, but whatever. Our expectations, going into it, were pretty much nonexistent; by the end of our visit, we'd become Prawn Farm fans, and TLFKAS was wishing she could get a jacket with the Prawn Farm logo on it. We took a guided tour (ours was small, 5 people) and went through all the prawn farm's buildings, checking out the various tanks and prawns, watching the fight for tank dominance among various blue-armed male prawns. Our guide explained the prawn life cycles and whatnot, and the highlight, no doubt about it, was feeding the baby prawns. Yep, they're cute when they're little, and their tiny little claws don't do much more than prick your skin.

Photo of prawns

Slightly blurred, but you get the idea: prawns on the prowl.

Photo of me with Prawn Farm pools

Proudly, I present to you: The Prawn Farm!

Photo of prawns

Me - or at least my hand - feeding a small prawn. They're prickly but they don't really claw yet.

Photo of Prawn Farm pools

Scenic view of the Prawn Pools, in which the prawns, as it were, exercise until they are full grown, or at least full grown enough to be eaten.

Plus, well, it's a self-conscious prawn farm. They sell their products with at least some degree of tongue in cheek, and yet they're also quite classy about it. An interesting balancing act, really - which resulted in some entertaining shot glasses for me and a damn fine lunch at their restaurant for both TLFKAS and myself. Plus, really, when do I ever get the chance to see a prawn farm?

Photo of TLFKAS with our lunch

After having fed the baby prawns, a certain sense of guilt set in over eating the full grown ones, but they arrived at our table and stared us down all the same.

Photo of TLFKAS and Prawn Farm door

Everything was prawn-themed. Look at the doorhandle...

Photo of sign saying "Female Prawns"

...and here's the sign on the bathroom door!

Our consumerist tendencies and prawn curiosity satiated, we moved on to the Craters of the Moon, a strange landscape that is now a national park. This is the area where you really start to realize what "geothermally active" means. Sure, I'd been in Yellowstone as a kid, but the whole area was just packed with thermal vents. We kept seeing them, shooting out mist, wherever we drove, and there were vents just behind our hotel, letting up steam constantly. But the Craters of the Moon, as the name suggests, was one of the stranger collections of geothermal venting.

Photo of TLFKAS feeding roosters

Before going anywhere we had to pay a toll to the chickens in the parking lot. Roosters, I suppose. What do I know? I'm a city girl.

Photo of thermal vents

Craters of the Moon, an area that Byron had not so much enjoyed, as it reportedly reminded him too much of the fate that the preachers said was in store for him.

Photo of thermal vents

It's a geothermal area with many vents, and the occasional geyser and mudpuddle, though the craters are really mostly about the vapor.

The smell of sulphur reminded me of my childhood love of Yellowstone...and of the fact that, after getting back from a family vacation there, I stole some eggs from the fridge and hid them in my closet, hoping to eventually recreate that signature sulphur smell of geysers and gases escaping the earth. Unfortunately - or, really, fortunately - my mom found the eggs before they were ready to provide atmosphere, and in spite of my attempts to explain why I wanted to rot eggs in my room, I don't think she really understood.

Photo of thermal vents

With imagination it is no doubt possible to see this as the mouth of hell.

Photo of thermal vents

A pleasant meadow, really, except for that constant sulfury smell...

Photo of thermal vents

More vents, these ones - excuse the pun - going at full steam.

The whole of Craters of the Moon was constantly in motion. There was hissing and fizzing and rumbling. Drops of water were expelled into the air as mist, and gradually settled on plant leaves, occasionally dropping to the ground. The biggest vent made a sound like a jet engine taking off, but only when you got close to it. Everything was in process; you had a sense of the earth simply not being finished, of some more renovations or remodeling being done here.

Photo of vegetation

The odd elements of the area combined for some weird and interesting colors in the plants, primarily a bright, almost neon green and a brilliant red - neither of which you can really see in all their glory in this picture.

Photo of thermal vents

From the craters, you could also see the surrounding countryside, which is always gorgeous.

Photo of thermal vents

More of the foaming mouth of hell. ("Foamy?" the Buffy fan says.)

This, however, was just the warm-up for the thermal wonderland of geysers and mudpuddles that awaited us in Rotorua proper, on the next day!


4. August 2003


All text and images © 2003 NoAura Productions. All rights reserved.

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