Saturday, February 26, 2011

The volcanic wonderlands of Rotorua and Taupo

Straight after landing in New Zealand we took a car and drove to Rotorua, a volcanic area, still pretty active judging by the fumes, the many natural hot tubs around, and the wonderful smell of sulfur (I say wonderful, not because it smells good but because it allows one to fart, fairly discretely, and blame it on the volcano).
What color would you like your water today?
Rotorua was our first New Zealand home for 2 days. The hostel was very average and definitely below our expectations but the location was pretty central at least.
Around Rotorua we went to visit the thermal park of Wai-O-Tapu. It's a pretty neat park where we got to see many different manifestations of the underlying volcanic activity. If the smell wasn't really my favorite, the many colors of the rock and the water were definitely a highlight!

The names of the places were also pretty awesome. Champagne Pool was definitely wonderful to see with all its different colors, and it has a cute name, but then what about Devil's Cave, Sulphur Mounds or Inferno Crater (to be pronounced inFEEEEEERno crAAAAtEEEEUUURR!!). We had this game with Denise where she would ask "but what is next honey?" and I would try to come with my best boxing announcer voice.

Devil's bath and its neon green color
Walking the parc was definitely fun and had enough highlights to keep us interested. As Denise noticed, it is a little sad that the entry price is steep even though we're here to see natural elements.
Here are some examples of our favorites places.

Artist's palette with Champagne pool in the background

Details of Champagne pool

Algae patterns

Also part of the park is the Lady Knox geyser. It goes off at exactly 10:15 every day. Before getting there I was pretty amazed at the fact that the geyser was so regular that it would explode at the same time every day (I even started wondering about the daylight savings time). We got a little disappointed then when we realized that the park rangers trigger the geyser manually, by dropping a bar of soap in it. (I'll spare you the physics of how that works, mostly because I don't really remember them myself...) It works like a charm though. 2 minutes after the soap is in, 'boom' goes the geyser, and 'snap' goes the tourist's camera.

Last but not least were the bubbling mud pools. Imagine pools full of mud, and it's bubbling!!! It's pretty crazy how much bubbling goes on, and watching the bubbles explode is definitely a fascinating activity (I'm serious here).

Bubble pre-explosion

Bubble post-explosion
After Rotorua we went one hour south to Taupo where we landed in an awesome hostel. The right size where you get to meet people, great outdoor area and fantastic room. It felt like a hotel with a kitchen and fun people. Alas we spent only one night there.

Denise "chilling out"
 We decided to do a walk along the nearby river. It starts at a spot where volcanic vents heat up the water from a stream, which then meets the river. People come to hang out in the warm water (for free this time). The walk ends at the Huka Falls where 200,000 liters of water flows per second. We of course went to the Taupo lake as well, which is the biggest lake of the North Island
Huka falls

South of Taupo we went back to the Tongariro national park. I say "back" because we went there 5 years ago and did a fantastic day hike then, the Tongariro crossing, which is still our all time favorite hike. As we were on our way to Wellington and didn't have much time, we did a small hike to a couple of nearby waterfalls. It was a great walk with beautiful views, including the famous Mount Doom from Lord of the Rings (actually called Mt Ngauruhoe).
Climbing Mt Doom

The most awesome sign of New Zealand, on our way to Wellington!

The rest of the photos can be found here:

View New Zealand - Rotorua in a larger map

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