I finally got my head round which thermal wonderland was which. So we started with the Waimangu Volcanic Valley, two different walks, separated by one bus trips. There is something really creepy about this place, not least its air of times past. The truth is the Waimangu Volcanic Valley was the site of the legendary Pink and White Terraces, the Eighth Wonder Of the World, that were destroyed in a catastrophic eruption of Mount Tarawera in 1886.
I always wondered what happened to them. Were they one thing, or two things? and if so, why couldn’t they just dig them up or out?
The walk starts with a short trip up to a bizarre looking wooden bus shelter, painted with elegant figures in Victorian dress, admiring a volcanic landscape that looks unrecognisable from the one you’re actually looking at.
The 1886 eruption was the biggest eruption in New Zealand in the last 700 years and the bus shelter stands on the site of a tourist hotel which was obliterated by steam from the blast. It is why the view looks so different now. It is the youngest geothermal area in New Zealand and the eruption covered the area with mud and ash approximately 20 metres thick.
So that is what happened to the terraces, two separate sites - one of which can only be guessed at now, and the second of which is buried deep below Lake Rotomahana.
The walk takes you past Southern Crater Lake, a steep sided cold lake with pink scum (red aquatic fern apparently) floating on the surface, then on to Frying Pan Lake, which we could barely see because of the steam coming off it and the surrounding hills, and the last small lake, Inferno Lake, a startling cerulean blue, that rises and falls because of the action of a geyser underneath the waters.
Finally you get to the end of the trail which is the beginning of the vast Lake Rotomahana, filling a crater over 100 metres deep. In 2011, there was an announcement that The Pink Terraces had been found but it looks unlikely now that this was the case, and what had been discovered might have been prehistoric terraces that had always lain under the lake and had been previously unseen. Quite moody and atmospheric when you see this off season, with only the odd birder who would rather you just Went Away for company.
By way of a complete change, a few days later we ended up at Lake Taupo and the site of the floatplane, which I had looked at longingly and taken several photos off, it being the only kind of plane I had never been in. My partner took pity on me and paid for me to go up.
On my own, was his suggestion initially.
Was this because we had been discussing my extensive Death In Service benefit shortly before? Who knows? Anyway, I think the pilot took my partner’s laconic comments about safety and Not Getting Me Up In One Of Those Things rather personally, not helped by my rather dark humoured comments to the effect that when I’d put a codicil in my will, leaving our dogs to the lady who was looking after them while we were away, in case we went down in a plane, and that I’d rather anticipated that it might be a bigger one than this.
“Yeah, we do sometimes make it back?” he said rather drily.
However, when he took our details and ‘next of kin’, my partner said “I just put my dad’s name here?” the pilot shifted rather awkwardly and said “er…. a telephone number might be useful…” so maybe they don’t always make it back…
In this next set of pictures you can see Lake Taupo, which apparently is wider than the English Channel in parts, the Hydrothermal Plant and the Hucka Falls from the air. Hucka Falls is next to the prestigious Hucka Lodge, where you can spend over £1,000 a night having a meal cooked by a guy with a minimalist haircut (one tiny plat, about a centimetre long, right in the middle of his forehead. I’m sure there’s some massively cooky reason for it. Probably helps with preparing those foam, smoke, and delicate jus type dishes).
We thought it might be a jolly good wheeze to drive up to the electric gates and ask through the house intercom system whether they did take-away but they didn’t concur.
Next up was Wai-O-Tapu, probably the most popular site, not quite as much walking as Waimangu, but with probably the most variety of steamy lakes in a variety of toxic looking colours. And some ‘man made’ terraces, I discovered afterwards, where the water has been diverted over a flat area and new green and white terraces are forming.
At the far end of the trail is Lake Ngakoro, calm, but unnaturally green, and the even more alarming electric green Devil’s Bath, coloured by sulphur in the water.
And finally, a few pictures from the shores of Lake Taupo of distant Mount Ngauruhoe, the cone shaped volcano (that still gasses the odd unwary hiker) and Mount Ruapehu just behind it.
And just a few photos of the third volcanic area we visited, the Wairakei Thermal Valley, located down a winding dirt road and as opposite to the fairly commercialised Wai-O-Tapu as you could get.
The caretaker was an old English guy who had lived half his life in the UK making British cars, and ended up emigrating here almost by accident. He had a wry sense of humour and got me to drop the F bomb by catching me out with something he does with all the visitors. Those with strong hearts that is. I won’t tell you want it was, but be very careful around any Tarantula Eggs he might give you. That’s all I’m saying…
And next, the Stratford Mountain Lodge and awesome Mount Taranaki.