Thermal Wonders and Volcanic Surprises in Rotorua…

After visiting the Coromandel Peninsula, it was time for us to say goodbye to the coast for a while and head inland towards Rotorua. We didn’t know much about this city before we arrived there, only that it was situated within the Taupo Volcanic Zone but we weren’t sure what to expect.

Well, we got to see much more than we’d bargained for as Rotorua is chock full of steaming volcanic hotspots and still-active thermal landscapes – quickly elevating it to one of our top three places in New Zealand! The Taupo Volcanic Zone is recognised as one of the most active volcanic areas in the world, due to its location on the boundary of the Indo-Australian and Pacific Tectonic Plates. This makes it one of the best places to get a fascinating insight into the ‘underworld’…

The trip to Rotorua was fairly straightforward. We left the Coromandel Peninsula and headed South, making a few stops along the way at Onemana beach, Waihai and Tauranga.

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We arrived in the city centre at around 4pm and went straight to the “i-site” information centre to find out more about the city. As we still had a few hours of daylight left, we crossed the road and walked into Kuirau Park, a free-to-enter public park where we were able to see a few hints of Rotorua’s thermal landscape.

As we walked around the park we could see steam rising from several fenced off areas – it was a really bizarre sight, particularly coming from the middle of a busy park where children were playing. There were loads of warning signs around telling people to stay on the path, as random steam vents were said to often erupt with no warning.

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Inside the fenced areas were mud pools, which were boiling hot and furiously spiting, bubbling and letting off steam.

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A lake within the park was probably the most amazing thing we saw – the steam coming off it was really thick and absolutely stank of sulphur (in fact, you can’t escape this sulphur smell no-matter where you go in the city).

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Once we had finished in the park, we drove around the corner to Lake Rotorua (Rotorua has around 16 lakes, with this one being the biggest) and cooked our dinner by the water’s edge.  Later we found a small rest area just off the state highway where we parked up for the night.

The next morning we drove about 27 kilometres out of the city centre to an area known as the Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland, New Zealand’s most colourful and diverse volcanic area. Here, we enjoyed a thrilling geothermal walk through the entire area, passing by huge volcanic craters, hissing lakes, bubbling mud pools, steam vents and geysers. It was a fascinating, unforgettable morning where we were treated to many bizarre natural wonders that not many people would ever have the privilege of seeing.

One of the highlights was experiencing a 20 metre high wall of water erupting from the Lady Knox Geyser. Okay, so one of the Wai-O-Tapu rangers actually sets off this eruption themselves by dropping a bar of soap into the vent, but Lady Knox does often erupt of her own accord too! Now for the science bit!.. The geyser has two water chambers, one lower, hot one and one upper, cold one. The upper chamber cools due to a larger opening to the outside. The lower one heats up due to the volcanic activity below. When soap is thrown into the upper water chamber, the lowered surface tension of the water allows it to mix with the hotter water below, causing the eruption.

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Here’s just a selection of some of the other thermal wonders we experienced at Wai-O-Tapu…

The Devil’s Bath
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Bubbling Mud Pool
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Steam vents dominating the landscape
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The colourful Artist’s Palette
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Unique and beautiful Champagne Pool – complete with steam!
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Richard covered in sulphuric steam from the Champagne Pool!
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After around three hours of gawping and exploring, we left Wai-O-Tapu and drove over to Lake Rerewhakaaiki  for lunch, before making our way towards Huka Falls on the outskirts of Taupo. Here, we witnessed the immense power of the waterfall as 200,000 litres of water plunge nine metres over the rock wall every minute (that’s enough to fill five Olympic sized swimming pools!)

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This pretty much marked the end of the day for us so after catching up on emails and doing our laundry in Taupo we made our way to Reid’s Farm, a free campsite just north of the Falls. The site was completely devoid of any amenities such as a toilet or shower but was in a nice quiet spot by the river, which was all we needed to get a good night sleep!

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