Thursday, March 30, 2006

Day 4 - Rotorua

Breakfast was a simple affair this morning. Like many motels in NZ the Ascot on Fenton had its own kitchen, this was a luxury for us and we thought we had better make good use of it whilst we had it just in case we never saw one again.

Days are full in NZ, that's if you want to get the most from them in the short time that you have so I'd decided the night before we needed to stock up on provisions as I wouldn't be getting my usual holiday breakfast feast in some diner. Luckily we had a 24hr supermarket on the opposite side of the road to our motel.

Countdown Supermarket is one of the few NZ supermarket chains, (bizarrely Woolworths is another one), and in Rotorua it's a good place to hang out and see the many modern-day Maori people go about their shopping duties. Maoris are large, strong looking people, yes there is a lot of body fat but they are most definately not obese, they are more "well built" for want of a better term. Is this a modern day Maori meeting house? I'm not sure but not only were there Maoris shopping but there was also Maoris working there, and a lot of chatting and hanging around sharing stories just like in the traditional meeting houses. We do the same in the UK, back up in the north of England supermarket aisles are full of people hanging around gassing. Meeting houses indeed...

Digression out the way, breakfast today was simply fruit, toast and marmalade.

Lucky we ate breakfast too because little did we know that today was to turn out as probably one of our most energetic days of the holiday.

The agenda today was simple: hit the geothermal parks and hit them hard.

Billed as "New Zealand’s most colourful and diverse geothermal experience" Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland is like Walt Disney World on acid. As we approached, the entrance appeared shrouded in a mist of pungent steam. The whole place seemed to be on fire. From the minute you walk through the gates you are confronted immediately with the sights of naturally coloured pools, craters, bubbling mud and steaming ground. Unlike Disney though, everything you see here is real no matter how fake it may look.

This is one truly awesome place (oops there I go again, justified this time I feel though).

The trick with this place is to get there early, have a wander around for an hour and then at 10:15am head for the parks only geyser. This is a short drive away so you have to uproot your car from it's nice convenient parking spot and head with the masses back down the entrance road for 2 miles where you then park up again.

Now call me stupid but I figured that a geyser was a completely natural thing and I was prepared to be amazed at the Lady Knox Geyser's strict 10:15am prompt eruptive timekeeping. This isn't the case at all and Lady Knox needs to be aroused before she lets go...errmm.

At 10:15 a park ranger comes out, stands beside the good Lady and chucks a bar of soap into her to get her juices flowing (stop it now), and then procedes to tell you a potted history and exactly why the soap is needed (it acts as a catalyst with the acidic water).

All the time the Lady's bubbling away like an overflowing washing machine and getting more and more erratic until finally she let's go and the earth moves (ok, enough of this!).

The water gushes upwards to a height of around 15 metres in a pretty ferocious manner. Even with human intervention it's still spectacular and unmissable but there is still that slight disappointment that it's not wholy natural.

The whole thing lasts for around 15 minutes and then it's back in the car again to get back to the main park!

The rest of the morning was spent leisurely walking the three routes around the park taking hundreds of photos round every corner - of particular note is the unnaturally bright green pool near the exit. A wonderful sight to end our time here.

You will need to allow at least 3 hours to see the whole park and it really is well worth it.

Without a break we hit the road again...but not for long. On the road leading away from Wai-O-Tapu is a wonderful find - thermal mud pools, and hey these are free!

Here mud, in the form of a pool (errm), bubbles and spits in an erratic and sometimes dangerous manner (some of the biggest explosions shot out right over the fence) and again has to be seen to be believed.

Back in the safety of the car again we headed off to Waimangu Valley, another thermal reserve. This one is slightly different in that it's rather a large one, so large in fact that when you stand at the viewing point next to the ranger station at the beginning of the walk and look out across the valley it reminded us more of an American National Park like Yosemite. It's quite impressive.

$65 gets you a Waimangu Explorer pass which includes a walk and boat cruise. It was 1pm and the guide suggested that we could book onto the 3.40pm boat trip at the far end of the park, explaining that we should have plenty of time to see everything along the way. Satisfied that this would be the case we settled down to a quick pie (have I talked about pies yet? No time here anyway, it'll have to wait until later) and drink at the cafe before we set off.

Of course such confidence in our walking abilities cannot be garnered from our appearance alone, we are average hikers at best both on the inside and the outside! Feeling confident ourselves we set off...

Waimangu Valley is a whole different experience to Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland even though it's really just more of the same. The vegetation here is very lush and rainforest like with the valley itself housing curious but incredible waterways within its depths. Sheer rock forms hang over the valley, smouldering gently like a giant having a cigar, water bubbles along hissing streams lapping against copper coloured river sides and tiny holes in the ground spit hot water like it was their dying breath. Again, it's just incredible.

On the way we saw the most remarkable bright blue pool, steaming gently just like everything else. It was very tempting for a dip, so I fingers that is and boy was it hot, not boiling but not far off either. I wouldn't be doing that again in a hurry.

The walk here is tough, especially if you want to get the best views looking out across the volcanic lake, there is a choice though and you can either take the short cut to the lake or you can climb a bloody great big hill and add 45 mins to your journey like we did.

The views are worth it though, our only problem was that when we stood at the top looking out we could actually see how far we had to go and it was at this point we realised that it was a bloody long way to where the boat docks for the lake cruise.

With great regret we barely stopped for a couple of minutes at the top and then quickened the pace to get down again.
Getting to the bottom was only the beginning too and when we reached it we had an uneasy feeeling that we had a lot further to go.

Quickly we hurried past copper terraces and waterfalls with barely time for a photo, then all of a sudden we found a sign, a sign that told us that the boat was 20 minutes walk away and a look at the watch told us that we had 10 minutes to get there. We looked at each other and broke into a sprint.

Luckily the terrain was reasonably flat here and we reached the jetty just in time, hot, sweaty and breathless and glad to sit on a boat for a while and catch the breeze...and hey we weren't the only ones, another couple climbed onto the boat after us in exactly the same state.

Lake Rotomahana is a volcanic lake and is made up of 15 craters formed on June 10 1886 during the Mt Tarawera Eruption. Originally there were a number of pink terraces here, formed over thousands of years and visited by many rich tourists of the day but they were destroyed in the eruptions.

The cruise was really pleasant, and the captain was very friendly. It lasted about 40 mins. Our cruise ran a little over time and a gentleman on the boat was worried that he would miss the shuttle bus which would take us back through the park, but the captain assured him that he felt the driver would wait for him. After getting off the boat we walked upto where the bus stop was and sure enough the bus was there waiting for us but there was no driver to be seen so we all hung around and waited. 5 minutes later the captain from the boat turned up and climbed aboard the bus. He was the driver. No wonder he was so sure the bus wouldn't leave without us.

After a brief stop back at motel we headed off to the Skyline Gondola and Luge.

Now I'm not a big fan of gondolas/cable cars, they feel pretty unsafe to me and I had my reservations about getting in this one but it wasn't really that bad and certainly not our worst experience in a gondola on the that was yet to come.

The views over Rotorua City were great but the views aren't the only thing to do up here.

For a start there's the luge. Strapping a crash helmet on your head you sit in a toboggan like contraption with handbars to steer which also act as a brake. After choosing one of 3 levels of track you kick yourself off on a journey which takes you round hair pin corners at whatever speed you dare. Great fun for all ages.

Due to it being rather late in the day, it being our first luge and our bellies being empty we only did the one track here, saving our more courageous attempts for later in the holiday. Luckily there is a rather nice restaurant here which hosts a pretty impressive "all-you-can-eat" buffet, and features a lovely picture-window view across Rotorua. Recommend here is the seafood counter, the hot carvery and the desserts (obviously!).

This filled up our time nicely and was worth the $55 asking price, I say filled up our time because we were waiting for the sun to set before we could take our final photo of the day.


Post a Comment

<< Home