More than long overdue, here come the last couple of days on the North Island.
To those who’ve been waiting for this post for a while, my sincerest apologies. I’m terrible with deadlines, even those I set myself.
The last place we visited before we took the ferry across the Cook Strait was Wai-O-Tapu, a. k. a. Geothermal Wonderland. It was very entertaining, although were Alice to wander into this wonderland, the Red Queen would have had a catchphrase a little different from “Off with her head” and a yellowish-green hue, rather then red.
The “sacred waters”, as the Maori had called the region, are numerous pools of various depth and colouration, but all of pretty much the same smell. The smell – I’ve mentioned it towards the end of the post about Rotorua, but I would not expect anyone to remember that by now – was the persistent, never alleviating stench of rotten eggs. Or, to be more precise, of sulphur. And it really did not get better the longer we were amidst the stench pools; it only got a little worse at times when he wind would blow in our direction.
The pools themselves varied from puddles to small lakes in size, and from transparent to garish green to oily black in colour. If you think I’m exaggerating, here are a few exhibits:
The Oyster pool: a light green puddle, filled with water of such chemical composition that the precipitation that dried off has formed a distinctive edge around the little thermal source. I’m guessing the shape gave it its name but… I never really got over the way oysters look so I never tried a raw one – even at the fish market in Sydney, where they were positively fresh – hence, I’m not a big oyster expert.
Oh, this one was really pretty. It’s called “The Champagne Pool” and if you take a closer look at the surface, you’ll see why. I know it’s hard to take your eyes off the bright orange in the middle but if you do, you’ll see the tiny bubbles. They’re the culprits behind the layer of mist that hangs above, which is a mix of CO2, nitrogen, methane and whatnot. Believe me, it was hard taking a picture from this side at that exact moment – the wind was not on our side! You guessed it, sulphuric smell.
As for the orange part – that’s the petrified edge of the pool (which is below the water level), and the colouration comes from arsenic and antimony sulphides deposits. That’s also what’s causing the pretty colours in The Artist’s Palette – the different chemicals mix and react as the hot “champagne” overflows into the cool water of the Palette.
The next two are the Devil’s Bath and Ink pot, respectively. It’s a shame the camera didn’t manage to catch the venomous hue of that green, which went remarkably well with the scales-like cracked ground around it.
As for the Ink pot, it was just one of the several little pools filled with smelly, oily, unidentified – as far as I know – substance. The explanation of all the colours is, of course, the chemical composition of the water. It’s so saturated because of the geothermal and volcanic activity in the region… Or the activity is due to the saturation, I’m not quite clear on that, I’m still surprised that there was any vegetation around.
Still, there were not just pools around Wai-O-Tapu but also caves, crevasses and cracks with boiling mud at the bottom as well.
Oh, the strangest of the strange was this huge hole, where the ground had collapsed a few meters, called “The Nest”. I didn’t really know what to expect because if it weren’t for the names in the guide, my mind probably would not have gone straight to “ink pots” at the sight of steaming tar-like liquid. So imagine my surprise when I get to The Nest, and I actually see birds flying in and out of the depression. Actually, in and out of its walls.
It turns out that because of the constant exuding of warm, albeit poisonous, fumes the temperature in the cave’s walls is perfect for hatching eggs. So the starlings were using the friable rock as one big incubator. Savvy little creatures, eh?
As for the fumes, I was not under the impression they’re poisonous only because instead of indiscernible they became intolerable after a couple of hours. It was because on a sign next to a deep fuming crack in the ground (I think it was the one on this picture on the left here) it said that there used to be a natural rock bridge going over it, but it’s now gone because it was eaten away (!) by the fumes coming beneath it. So on that note we thought we’ve spent enough time among fumes, boiling mud and brightly coloured sediments and headed out.
The smell did not leave us as long as we were in the Rotorua region, but it did moderate once we were not directly at the source. I still wonder whether people who live there notice it at all or just never stop noticing and have made their peace with it.
Nevertheless, Rotorua is a beautiful area with lots to offer to tourists fond of nature and walking. And also soaking. On the way out we stopped at a little inconspicuous bridge across the road, under which is the also very popular and much less expensive (that is to say “free”) “Hot & Cold” spot. It’s sort of a crossroads where a hot thermal spring meets a cold river, and they form a little pool of mixed water where you can soak and swim and have a drink, or whatever strikes your fancy. It’s free, it’s public, it’s there all year round.
We didn’t soak in this exact pool, but that’s only because we had another one in mind already. Instead, we headed down south past New Zealand’s largest lake and towards its oldest national park.