Pits of Mountain Dew

On Monday M and I had less time since we had to drive the three hours back to Auckland, but just we had to stop at Wai-O-Tapu Geothermal Wonderland! According to the guidebook, it has the best and most varied collection of geothermal features of all the similar locations around Rotorua, including a geyser. The geyser, called Lady Knox Geyser, goes off at 10:15 every morning, but not naturally. It is induced by a guide who pours some sort of soap powder into the hole which causes it to erupt about five minutes later.

The geyser pre-eruption.
The geyser pre-eruption.

The guide said that the area used to be part of a prison camp and some inmates discovered a natural hot pool, then decided to do laundry in it. The addition of soap caused the “pool” to blow their clothes in the air; I guess they’re lucky they didn’t decide to take a bath instead! Over the years the cone has been built up (somewhat artificially in order to create a more focused and powerful geyser) and the pool has disappeared. Even though it’s slightly artificial, the eruption was still impressive!

During the eruption! It was about 25 feet tall.
During the eruption! It was about 25 feet tall.

The Lady Knox Geyser does erupt naturally but on a cycle of 24 to 36 hours, so not predictably enough to make a good tourist attraction. Luckily the owners of Wai-O-Tapu have the soap trick, and set up an ampitheatre-style seating arrangement with the geyser as the focus. We sat and watched the geyser for a while, waiting for everyone else to drive back to the main site, but eventually left before it was done; apparently it erupts for up to an hour, and we were on a schedule!

Wai-O-Tapu.
Wai-O-Tapu.

We made our way back to the main site (we’d had to go there to get our tickets before the geyser) and started walking around the park. The map we were given marked the direction we should proceed around the site with some facts about the major features, and of course included many warnings about staying on the marked paths. Since most of the ground on either side of the path was steaming, this rule wasn’t hard to follow. We first saw some craters, tinged with yellow sulfur, that had pools of muddy water boiling away in them. Since it hadn’t rained in a while, we couldn’t see the pools but we could hear (and smell) them. Fortunately some pools (in craters-to-be) were closer to the surface so we could see the noxious liquid up close.

A yellow crater.
A yellow crater.
A yellow pool.
A yellow pool.

Wai-O-Tapu prides itself on being colorful, and it wasn’t just yellow: we also saw the Devil’s Inkpots, which were bubbling pools in a dark brown color. The next large feature after all the small pools was the Artist’s Palette, a large flat containing spillover from the Champagne Pool (the steamy area in the next picture). Of course the most vibrant color was yellow, but a pretty, not a  nasty, yellow:

Actually nice!
Actually a nice color.

The Champagne Pool was right there, and a main attraction in the park, but the map guided us away from the pool up into the forest. Though it wasn’t a geothermal feature the forest consisted of strange crazy trees: instead of growing straight up the trunks were bent at strange angles. We guessed that it was due to the shifting earth in the area, as the map didn’t offer any explanation.

Look at that bending!
Look at that bending!

On the other side of the trees was the Frying Pan Flat, one of the largest hot springs in the world. Since it hadn’t rained, the area looked less like a spring and more like a regular mud flat … well, one with bubbling and steaming fissures in it. Apparently a certain type of bird wades in the water even though it is nastily acidic, but we didn’t see any on the flat.  The path led past the flat to Lake Ngakoro, which was a lovely green color.

Notice the steam on the left shore.
Notice the steam on the left shore.

The lake was the furthest extent of the path, so we were directed back towards the rest of the park. We passed through another forest, this one without crazy trees, and past the terraces. Each terrace was only a centimeter or so tall, but they were a nice green color and extended over the entire side of the hill.

Mini-terraces, how cute!
Mini-terraces, how cute!

Up the hill past the terraces, we arrived back at the Champagne Pool. There were lots of pictures of this pool in the visitor center but our view was obscured by clouds of steam rising from the pool. We could only barely see the characteristic orange edges, which are a result of arsenic and antimony sulfides. The pool was quite large and, according to the map, about 200 feet deep. Though we couldn’t see into the depths, M and I were definitely impressed by the sheer amount of steam coming off the pool.

Some more nice colors.
Some more nice colors.

The Champagne Pool was designed to be the highlight of the tour, but we liked the last feature we came across on our way back to the visitor center: a large boiling pool that reminded us instantly of Mountain Dew (hence the name of this post). It was just such a bright neon yellow-green that looked entirely artificial; the fact that it was natural made it seem even more nasty. What did the first people to see these pools think?

Delicious!
Delicious!

On our way out of the park, we stopped at the last feature in the Wai-O-Tapu area, the mud pool. As advertised, it was a pool of boiling mud. It wasn’t quite as good as the pool of boiling Mountain Dew, but it smelled worse.

Stinky mud bubbles.
Stinky mud bubbles.

With that, we concluded our trip to this thermal wonderland!

As a palette-cleanser from the nasty noxious pools, we stopped at a natural spring north of Lake Rotorua. In contrast to the crazy colors at Wai-O-Tapu, the spring and the stream it fed were completely clear. The spring itself was a fissure in the rock which, due to the clear water, we could see deep into.

You can hardly see the water.
You can hardly see the water.

The walk along the stream to the lake was also lovely, with a quiet forest to either side. It was easy to see why the Maori people of the area regarded it as a sacred site.

Beautiful.
Beautiful.

A peaceful ending to our trip to Rotorua!

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