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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.