New Zealand just happens to lie on the edge of two tectonic plates. This leads to a thermally/volcanically active area running down the middle of the North Island and many parallel mountain ridges running along the west coast of the South Island. This tectonic activity caused the recent earthquakes in the Christchurch area (Canterbury).
So we should avoid these potentially dangerous areas, right? No! They are a huge tourism centre, and there is so much cool stuff to see! There are brightly-coloured mineral pools, geysers, hot springs, bubbling ponds, deep sunken pit craters, gargling mud pools, brightly-stained rocks, and best of all: the constant smell of sulphur! Okay, so the smell of sulphur isn’t so great, but the rest is awesome.
Most of the thermal tourist attractions are near Rotorua and Lake Taupo, however that means that these areas are also really expensive. We tried to see as much as possible on a student’s budget.
Early in the morning on our first thermal day we went to a small town called Te Aroha. A small area of the town is a historic thermal spa complex, and it has been restored beautifully. We watched a small geyser erupt and went for a walk around the town to look at the old buildings and gardens.
We carried on south and soon arrived at Rotorua. After getting some directions at the iSite (wonderful nationwide information centres staffed with knowledgable locals), we continued on to Waiotapu (Wai-o-tapu: sacred waters) to see some amazing natural thermal phenomena. It is all rather hard to describe, and even harder to get on camera, but hopefully you will get some idea of what we saw from the photos below. We stopped at some bubbling mud pools on the way to the welcome centre.
There was an eruption of Lady Knox geyser at 10:15am (daily… daylight savings time the same; figure that one out!), and then a self guided tour through some amazing scenery.
We stopped at “Craters of the Moon” thermal area as well. It is smaller than Waiotapu but also very neat.
Lake Taupo is the largest lake in NZ, and the most closely monitored thermal area in NZ. It’s nothing to worry about, but the lake is actually the flooded mouth of an active volcano due to erupt any time now. No big deal. Kiwis are pretty chill about these things.
Northeast of Lake Taupo are the Huka Falls. They may not be tall, but they are very fast-flowing and they’ve carved a small gorge out of the rock around them. Unfortunately, I can’t find the photos we took of the fall, but you can look them up online!
Next time: underground adventures in caves!