Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Thermal activity

New Zealand’s main volcanic region runs through the centre of the North Island. Roturua has the most thermal activity in New Zealand and as soon as we entered the town we saw evidence of this in the weird form of steaming drains and a park with steam rising from various points. The park is an area of volcanic activity and it's most recent eruption in late 2003 covered it in mud. Nobody was hurt, but it must have been an amazing sight. We wandered round the park which had a crater lake, pools of boiling mud, lots of steam and a horrible eggy smell.

The park was our first introduction to the delights of thermal activity. The next day we headed to one of the many thermal reserves in the area, choosing Wai-o-tapu (meaning sacred waters) Thermal Wonderland. The title wonderland put me off a bit. It put me in mind of Disney land or something. Never the less we paid our admission and entered the reserve. It was early and we were one of the first people to arrive. The reserve was spectacular. Volcanic activity produces some very beautiful results. It had craters, blowholes and mineral terraces. It was all beautiful, bright colours caused by mineral elements. The most striking was probably, “Champagne Pool” which was a large pool which was formed 700 years ago by a hydrothermal eruption. It was bright blue ringed by bright orange (caused by the many minerals in the pool) and was steaming heavily.(The surface temperature was 74 degrees F.)

Walking around you have to keep to the designated track. You wouldn't want to leave it seeing the amount of steam and bubbles coming off some areas. The water which is underneath the ground heated by magma left over from earlier eruptions is so hot temperatures of 300 degress F. have been recorded. Tim tried to get me to walk off the path to see what would happen, but I declined.

The reserve also has a geyser which at 10.15 each day spouts with a little help from some soap powder. We wanted to see it spout and apparently so did hundreds of others who whilst we had been enjoying the reserve mostly on our own, had arrived in a seemingly frenzy. As we walked to our car (you had to drive to get to the geyser) others screeched away in their cars and motorhomes and I heard an American whine, “I only want to see the geyser I don't want to pay to see loads of mudpools as well. Well we'll not be seeing the geyser then.” I thought she was going to stamp her foot.

We arrived at the geyser with the hoards and I thought it was funny that we were all so eager to see some water spurt out of a rock (I know. I have a way with words). I was even more amused when I saw that there was a kind of amphitheatre; graduated benches set around the geyser so we could watch it in comfort. We all sat down to wait for the rock to spurt and then some bloke came out, complete with microphone to introduce it (and to put some soap powder in to help it along). It reminded me of being at a theme park and I expected some sea lions to come out and do tricks. There were no seal lions but the Geyser did erupt and it was quite nice to see, amid the people getting their photos taken in front of it.

We left the geyser and headed, smugly, in the opposite direction to everyone else who were going to see the rest of the reserve. I was very relieved we had got there early and had the opportunity to enjoy the reserve without anyone else there. We stopped off at some mud pools which were bubbling and spurting away. I expected David Bowie to appear and some creature to come out of the pools. (Ref: Labyrinth- a great film and there was something about David Bowie in those tights..... Anyway I've said too much...)

Our next stop was the “Craters of the Moon” another thermal area, run by the Department of Conservation and so has less tourists because it is not as commercially exploited. It was another beautiful, eerie and strange sight and site of steaming craters amidst the sparse landscape with specially adapted plant life. Again there were warnings not to wander off the board walk. I wasn't about to but apparently people before the board walk was put in walked down paths that weren't “the real” paths and got burned feet. Ouch.

We arrived in Taupo which has a lake of the same name which was formed by one of the greatest explosions of all time. The area is still volcanically active and has thermal areas. We booked into a holiday park which was next to the hot springs. We utilised the discount we got for the springs for staying in the park and were very happy we did when we sank in to the hot waters of one of the out door pools. We hadn't been feeling well and this was exactly what we needed. We floated about for a while with the public before going in to one of the private pools. It was a lovely end to a thermal themed few days.

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