Or “Swamp of Eternal Stench”
We left Frodo, Sam, Gandalf and all the other Middle-Earth creatures behind us in Matamata and continued our way south, towards Rotorua. Being one of the more touristic places on the North Island we could see dozens of signs beckoning us to bungee, skydive, zorb (??) or more or less jump off any other place just for the heck of it (what’s with Kiwis and jumping off high places anyhow??). A little less adrenalin, a little more walking on safe ground was what we had decided - the Patagonian ferry-ride still in our memories. For now our feet would remain planted on land :-)
After a good night’s sleep we headed out to the surrounding countryside, first destination being Blue and Green Lake (or in Maori tongue ‘Lake Tikitapu’ and ‘Lake Rotokakahi’....seems a bit long to describe colours, doesn’t it? :-). The hike around the lake should have made for an easy entrance back into ‘hiking-mode’ we had left behind in Peru. The weather was sunny and beautiful and everything was aligned for us to get some mileage back on our boots.
A little more than two hours later, after having ascended multiple hills, made our path through some washed away paths along the lake, stepped in mud to get to the other side and had some branch marks across our foreheads we completed the circle and enjoyed a lakeside picnic with some of nature’s cutest animals!
One of the most interesting sites is the Waimangu Volcanic Valley. In geological terms, this valley is about the age of a tiny toddler as it was created in 1886 when the Tarawera volcano erupted and gave Lake Rotomahana a growth spurt like that of a teenage kid. What is now left in the valley is pure beauty – luscious trees, emerald lakes and a path that made you feel like you were in Jurassic Park.
After emerging from the thick forest we saw what seemed like an active crater. Wasps of steam floated above the water like the setting of a horror movie, the wind whisking it around. Saddled between the surrounding green it had an eerie quality to it.
Funnily enough it had been named ‘Frying Pan Lake’ and with noon approaching my hunger did start to purr. Luckily for me the sulphur smell that dominated the area quickly pushed aside any inklings of hunger –the term rotten eggs cannot describe it well enough! It smelled more like a dragon’s fart...
The colours though, were amazing!
A river emerged out of the lake, boiling and filled with colours like that of a rainbow. Shades of green I had never seen before, filled with a live, deep, rusty orange and amidst it all, slimy, creamy foam that was just soooo wrong!
But looking at the scenery I started to get a vision of how pre-human life might have looked like here. And since it seemed like we were the only ones in the park, I could easily imagine that we were the only ones left after a fitting 2012 end-of-the-world catastrophe (isn’t that supposed to happen soon?? – where are those Mayan calendars when you need one... :-)).
Behind the name ‘Inferno Crater Lake’ lays one of the most beautiful sights we have seen on our trip. The icy blue of the water was almost surreal, almost too colourful to comprehend. This lake is the largest geyser-like feature in the world although the geyser itself cannot be seen since it is hidden at the bottom of the lake.
What do you say? Is this beautiful or what?
The path followed the river on its way to Lake Rotomahana and it continued to be a sight to our eyes.
It was a fascinating and memorable day here in the valley, with extraordinary colours, dazzling nature and the knowledge that even though man can create what he wants; the best and most amazing things are still produced by nature.
It was time to leave Rotorua and continue our way south. A short drive away lays another volcanic active region, Wai-O-Tapu. Advertised as one of the ‘must-sees’ of the area we could not leave Rotorua without spending some time in what we hoped would be another insight to all things swampy. One of the attractions was a geyser, Lady Knox that apparently erupts every day at 10:15 like a Swiss watch. We wondered how this could be, how did the geyser know exactly at what time to erupt in order not to let down its fans? Theories of little dwarfs sitting underground pulling a lever that says ‘water spray up’ or some sort of fire-brigade holding a water-hose under a hole and then spraying it up, started to form, and we were quite curious to see what would happen.
The truth is actually not that far from that. Nature does not have a watch, so in order for the geyser to erupt punctually every day, a little magician put some of his ingredients into the blowhole.
The result was something like a chemistry experiment. It took a couple of minutes to start bubbling and overflowing, but if you wanted to blow stuff up when you took chemistry in high-school, I’d advise to aim for a position in the park! Cuz’ stuff erupted... :-)
After the water show of the geyser we headed for the park, following the distinctive smell of rotten eggs, ahm, sulphur. Whilst Waimangu valley shows the volcanic activity above land, with beautiful lakes, steamy rivers and extraordinary colours, Wai-O-Tapu is more like the ugly brother. It shows what happens down below, the underground bubbles of eternal stench, the mud, the sprays of clay as it melts.
Of course there were some more aesthetic sides to the park as well, like the somewhat uniquely called Champagne Pool.
Or the almost artistic hardened clay of the Primrose Terraces.
It’s a different experience, to hear the hiss of steam underneath the earth like a pressure cooker, to see mud pools like one could imagine filled Hell’s gate, to experience all the fascinating ugliness that is what makes the earth’s core. The smell is wretched in places, entering your lungs with tentacles of sticky warmth.
We still preferred Waimangu valley over Wai-O-Tapu, but having had the two contrasting experiences, can give a freak like me some better understanding of what we can really expect to happen when the earth will end in December (wasn’t that what the Mayans predicted?) as it seems as if we are sitting on a ticking time bomb which inevitably will explode at some stage... :-)
The stench of eggs was left behind as we sped towards Taupo and Huka Falls. This was to be the last stop before we called it a day in Turangi, on the south side of Lake Taupo, which is roughly the size of Singapore. Huka Falls (which we fondly called Hooker falls in a Brooklyn accent) were another demonstration of how powerful nature can be, and how small we actually are in comparison. Imagine standing under this thunder of water, feeling the pressure of hundreds of cubic meters of water squeeze you to the bottom of the floor, pinning you and never letting go. Or imagine riding this rollercoaster ride inside the small riverbed as it churned the stone away, the water white with force. How small we are.... but luckily for us, all we had to do was watch this spectacle from the side and enjoy another example of how lucky we are to be able to see these places. It’s times like these that I am reminded that although this year is not always easy, it is more than worth it!