New Zealand- Round The World Tour 3 2004 Day 385 (195)
Monday 28th March (2005)
Having paid NZ$130 (€75,40) per night for this B&B, I was rather hoping for a cooked breakfast this morning but all that was laid out was bread with cheese and meats or cereals. I made do with a couple of slices of toast but I’m going to work on trying to persuade our very nice host to rustle up some eggs for me tomorrow morning.
We did a little bit of thermal exploration yesterday right here in town but there are some very much more impressive things to see just a short drive south of here and we wanted to explore these some more today. Wai-O-tapu is one of these thermal areas and is the home to the Wai-O-tapu geyser that erupts every day at the same time. It’s one of the must-sees on the tourist trail here so we drove the twenty minutes or so due South to go take a look for ourselves. I think it was around NZ$45 (€26,10) that we paid for our two tickets after discount and this bought us a ticket to see both the geyser as well as the thermal park itself. The geyser is actually a short drive outside the main park so we had to get back into the car to drive over there after purchasing our park tickets. The geyser is located in a clearing not far from the car park and is surrounded by a semi-circular amphitheatre that can accommodate several hundred people. We managed to get there in time to find a decent enough seat but by the time the geyser was due to erupt, the Easter crowds had really shown up and there was barely any standing room left. As the due time for the eruption arrived, a park employee walked out into view and started to tell us all about the geyser and the geology that drives it. Apparently, it runs on a natural cycle of between twenty-four and seventy-two hours. About a hundred years ago, prison labourers had discovered this location and used carbolic soap to wash themselves in the spring pool. Without realising it, they had discovered a means to artificially stimulate the mechanism that causes the geyser eruption. Beneath the amphitheatre, there is a thermal pool with a very hot lower layer of water and a slightly cooler upper layer. The detergent in the soap used by the prison labourers caused the surface tension of the upper layer to break down and this caused the hotter lower layer to force its way upwards and thus cause the geyser to erupt. By adding a small hand full of detergent into the geyser opening, the geyser is now artificially stimulated into erupting every day at the same time for the benefit of tourists. The park ranger went through this whole story and then added his handful of detergent into the opening. Within a couple of minutes, the geyser started to first froth and then, finally, erupted into a continuous fifteen-metre shooting spire of hot water. It was still blowing at full strength by the time we left some fifteen minutes later.
We decided that the circus of people that were now leaving the amphitheatre would be heading on back into the main thermal park area so we decided to drive back to Rotorua to grab lunch and to come back later after the crowds had hopefully dies down a bit. On the way up towards town, we noticed a sign for another major thermal attraction in the area. Our guidebook tells us that the Waimangu thermal area is probably the best there is so we made a point to have a look at it later on this afternoon after lunch.
Just on the outskirts of Rotorua is the Maori Arts & Crafts Institute. We thought this might be a good opportunity to pick up a Maori souvenir to add to our growing collection of reminders from our travels so we stopped in to have a look. It turned out to be something more along the lines of a collection of Maori cultural attractions, a sort of Maori Disneyland, and we might have taken a closer look but the people manning the ticket office didn’t seem particularly friendly or keen to tell us just what it was all about and so we decided better of it and left again. The whole complex looked a bit too touristy for our liking anyway.
After a quick lunch, we set off again back South towards the Waimangu thermal area. We had to pay another NZ$20 (€11,60) each to get in but we trusted our guidebook on this one and bought the tickets anyway. The people there were very friendly and helpful and although it was a downhill walk all the way into the park, they had buses going every half hour or so to ferry the park guests back up to the main entrance again so it would be much less strenuous than it otherwise could have been. The main features of this thermal area are several large lakes that are full of steaming hot water, along with numerous other features such as bubbling mud pools and rivers of fast flowing, boiling hot water to name but a couple. That same pungent, sulphur smell that hangs in the air in Rotorua was present here too but much stronger. The bus took us back up to the main ticket office after we spent an hour wandering down through the park and, quite conveniently, it dropped us off right in front of the souvenir shop, which we had to pass through to get to our car. We had a quick look around but their prices were well over half as much again for a given item compared to what we saw even at the Tamaki Maori village yesterday evening. We’ve already seen a number of things that we might like to pick up as souvenirs here in Rotorua but the prices here are not terribly cheap compared to every other country we’ve visited and I’m starting to lose faith that we will find ourselves a bargain.
Even though our legs were starting to show signs of fatigue, we were both still enthusiastic about visiting the remainder of the Wai-O-tapu park that we avoided this morning so we made our way back over there through the bumpy countryside. We spent the next two hours walking around in awe of the Wai-O-tapu thermal park and admired a wide variety of geo thermal activity ranging from huge sink holes to boiling springs, terraced waterways, bright yellow thermal vents and boiling lakes lines with red encrusted rocks. Every inch of the park, it seemed, was steaming from vents in the ground both large and small. Even though it was very tiring, we made it through the entire park in about two hours and really enjoyed the opportunity to see things that truly could not be seen anywhere else.
Now really very tired but sated, we made our way back to Rotorua, again, and to the welcoming environment of our B&B. John was there again to greet us and we discussed our staying for a third night. Even though we paid NZ$130 (€75,40) to book through the information office, he wanted for us to have the third night directly from him for just NZ$80 (€46,40) – cheaper by a fair margin than his normal rate. We really do seem to be getting on very well with him. He seemed so thrilled yesterday when I showed in inside three seconds how to configure something on his computer that he’d been struggling with himself for a long time.
Since the roast dinner we made ourselves back at the previous hostel was such a success, we thought we’d have another crack at preparing another scrumptious meal this evening here in our B&B’s kitchen. Accordingly, I popped out to pick up a joined of beef and some potatoes and I spent the evening preparing a nice meal for the two of us. Although John had insisted we make full use of all the house’s facilities, I asked him how many people had actually cooked a meal here before. Apparently we are the very first people to do so. It was a delicious meal that set us back less than NZ$20 (€11,60).