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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.