Aotearoa: Rotorua, Nature

Rotorua is an amazing place. It's tourist central; the main street is lined with souvenir shops, and if you're in the market for a Kiwibird-shaped paperweight or a shotglass with scenes of sheep, this is the place to be. Nevertheless, Rotorua has genuine attractions that outweigh the paperweights and the Made in China faux-Maori kitsch. Because there's a lot to see, I've divided the Rotorua entry into two parts; you can get to Part 2 here.

Photo of thermal vent

One of the bizarre vents created by the intense geothermal power boiling underneath Rotorua

Photo of thermal pool

Mist was everywhere you turned.

Photo of thermal pool

The colors were often spectacular, even if they often turned out hazy in the photos because of all the fog!

We had to decide between many thermal parks; we were limited not only because of time constraints, but because most parks cost somewhere around NZ$20 to enter, which is quite a bit when you're on a budget. We ended up choosing two: Te Whakarewarewa, which is both a thermal area and a Maori Cultural Centre which, as far as we could discover, is run by the government in conjunction with the local Maori iwi; and Waiotapu, home of the promptly erupting Lady Knox geyser (more on that below). Most of these photos are from Waiotapu; Te Whakarewarewa pictures are in the next entry.

Photo of vegetation

Because of the constantly damp air, molds grow well here, and they come in brilliant colors, too.

Photo of thermal pool

Other areas looked distinctly sepia-toned...

Photo of thermal pool

...whereas yet others looked positively Martian.

At Waiotapu, the landscape is spectacularly weird. Craters of the Moon may have the name, but Waiotapu looks more like moonscape than anything I've seen in a while. Or at least it looks the way scifi films have imagined moonscapes, with vast, shallow, slick pools, bubbling with undefined matter. Craters randomly dent the otherwise deceptively smooth ground, and the colors, whether pale and faded or intense, look utterly unnatural.

Photo of thermal pool

Don't you just expect an alien to pop out of that?

Photo of thermal pool

And a reminder for the profoundly stupid: Don't walk on this bubbling ground!!

Photo of forest

The forest looked much like a cloud forest, covered in mist as it was.

Photo of small layered terraces

Delicately layered terraces - grey reminders of the spectacular pink and white terraces in Rotorua that were destroyed in a volcanic eruption in the 19th century.

Some of the areas are almost entirely covered in mist, thanks to large boiling pools releasing steam into the air. Visibility dwindled to near zero in a couple of places, particularly near the Champagne Pool, which you can see in the pictures below. The pool is perhaps the park's most breathtaking feature, with its red, coral-like shelves and blue steaming waters. Its name comes from the many little bubbles released by underwater vents, so it gets that bubbly champagne look to it. It's also sulferous and scaldingly hot, so, well, the comparison only goes so far.

Photo of TLFKAS in mist

A barely visible Lawyer Formerly Known As Sarah

Photo of thermal pool

This pool was positively spectacular, with stunning color combinations.

Photo of thermal pool

Also, that water is boiling. Seriously.

By this time, we were also quite used to the sulphur smell. It pervaded the entire town, from the visitors' center to our hotel room, and while I found it initially unpleasant (apparently my tastes have changed since I was a kid), after a day or so I didn't even notice it.

Photo of thermal pool

And speaking of stunning colors, this pool looked like liquid poison.

Photo of thermal pool

A closeup from the red soil edge.

Some of the pools looked downright dangerous - which, given their temperature, they pretty much are - particularly the chartreuse pool you see above. Unlike the Champagne Pool, this one didn't have clear waters, but was a milky green color that made you think of Snow White's stepmother brewing poison for that apple.

Photo of geyser
The Lady Knox geyser erupts promptly every morning at 10:15, a regular schedule that's quite convenient for tourists...
Photo of geyser
...and is enforced by the park rangers' addition of 1.5 kilograms of soap powder at about 10:15 every morning. (Everyone wanted to get their picture taken in front of it - no avoiding the crowds here!)
Photo of geyser
The soap works wonders. Without soap, the geyser would spout off on its own every 24-48 hours, but it wouldn't keep to a regular schedule.

One of Waiotapu's central attractions is the Lady Knox geyser, which erupts every morning at 10:15 am. Being no natural Old Faithful, the geyser is helped along by 1.5 kilograms of soap added a few minutes before the scheduled eruption. This breaks the surface tension of the underground water and causes it to explode into the air. The effect of soap on geysers, the ranger explained to the waiting crowd, was initially discovered by early settlers, who had put their clothes in the geyser and added soap in the hope of getting an easy hot wash for their laundry. Much to their surprise, their clothes were erupted mere minutes later.

Photo of mud pools

Mud puddles at Te Whakarewarewa

Photo of mud pools

A mud bubble ready to pop. I found these guys fascinating, but they don't photograph so well.

Photo of mud pools

Pop! There it goes!

Photo of mud pools

The grey lake kept throwing up bits of mud here and there, to the tune of a constant snap, crackle and pop.

Photo of mud pools

No, really, this shot is in color. But even the tree is grey from all the mud that the lake flings about.

A personal favorite of mine were the mudpuddles near the entrance. For some reason I really like the mudpuddles, which bubble up and explode, but always look incredibly smooth. The monochrome look of the area - which had been spattered into greyness by mud from the puddles and the lake - made it seem unreal. The sound accompaniment was the constant pop of the mud bubbles exploding, and the occasional splash from mud being thrown around in the lake. I took far more pictures of mud puddles than I'm going to put you through here; suffice it to say that while they're very funky in person, they just aren't that photogenic.

 

10. August 2003

 

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

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