The Real Thermal Experience

A better morning. After yesterday’s cheapskate thermal experience around Rotorua itself, this morning we – well, Francine, planned to visit Waiotapu (or Wai-o-tapu) “Thermal Wonderland”. Hello tourism!

The main attraction at Waiotapu is the Lady Knox Geyser which “goes off” at 10:15 daily, just like clockwork. It is just like clockwork because its going off is controlled by the addition of “a soapy surfactant” into the vent just like clockwork. It is thus a man-made event and unworthy of our attention. The value of this, however, is that it attracts all the less discerning members of Joe Public who swarm away from the other photogenic attractions in this “Thermal Wonderland”. [Oversold but what the hell.]

To avoid too many Joe Publics anyway, we left early and drove the 25kms or so south of Rotorua.

We arrived soon after 09:00 with the car parks blissfully clear. We shelled out our NZ$58.50 [2 of us less a Top 10 discount] and started the walking circuit looking at more fuming holes in the ground. They were fuming more than in Rotorua, BTW. Still, regardless of giving the various fuming holes graphic names such as “bird’s nest crater”, “thunder crater” and “ink pots”, they remain fuming holes in the ground. Some may have a yellow stain around their rim from the exuded sulphur but they are still fuming holes in the ground. There are only so many fuming holes in the ground that it are worth looking at.

J17_3901 Champagne PoolThe two features on this tourist route that are worth looking at are “Champagne Pool” and “Devil’s Bath”. Champagne Pool is probably the most photographed feature, its images being used on most publicity literature. The reason is that one edge is rimmed with a reasonably bright orange band, usually over-punched in Lightroom or Photoshop to look even brighter. A polarizing filter helps tremendously, too.

J17_3942 Devil's BathDevil’s Bath, which, incidentally, doesn’t seem to fume, is an impressive pool of decidedly green water, again, usually over-produced for effect. Nonetheless, in reality, both are, indeed, impressive. Neither can you see anything of the sort around Rotorua for free.

J17_3925 Stilt maybeAmazingly, in this apparently inhospitable environment, we did see some wildlife. On a side loop, which we decided to walk around, we came across what I believe are Stilts of one sort or another. They were wandering about over the ground searching for food and females appeared to be sitting on nests on the ground. Nothing surprising, you might think. Nothing surprising until you understand that the water here is close to 100°C. The ground is warm – maybe that makes the ideal incubation site?

J17_3958 Mud PoolAs we left at getting on for midday, the transformation was amazing – the parking areas were now heaving and so, too, must’ve been the walking tracks. We had to make one final stop on the way out to see an actively glooping mud pool. Timing photos for this is imperative and tricky, the gloops not being orchestrated by the addition of a soapy surfactant.

Our target for the evening was a campsite beside Lake Taupo, which is supposedly the size of Singapore. [Makes a change from Wales.] En route we headed off sideways to Aratiatia Rapids. The rapids are another example of man-made spectacles and, therefore, not worthy of our attention … but Francine said. I’m very glad she did because, as I walked out onto a boat dock, we saw dragonflies doing what dragonflies do. Common Redcoat Damselflies were mating and, most exciting, a Yellow-spotted Dragonfly (Procordulia grayi) was hunting tirelessly over the water – my first NZ dragonfly as opposed to a damselfly. If only it’d stop for a picture.

J17_3985 Yellow-spotted dragonflyMy dragon didn’t stop for a picture. However, I did find somewhere that I could look down on it from and eventually managed a manual shot of it in-flight. Time to pray to the gods you don’t believe in, Franco. Yikes, it was in focus. Miracles!

We had time for lunch before the controlled 14:00 sluice opening to create the rapids. Oh what the hell, let’s have lunch and watch it. Spectacular it wasn’t but then I wasn’t expecting it to be. A couple of dozen folks turned up to watch it, though. I think this happens every two hours. [Sigh]

We tried another tourist spot at Huka Falls. This was more raging water but this time in a proper cataract. I was tiring of it, though, and looking forward to a beer on a campsite.

Our campsite was the weakest we’ve yet been on. It boasts 260 pitches but the vast majority were taken up by static units. Only 30 or so were for touring units. These are classically the sites we’d steer well clear of in France. However, at second attempt we got a reasonably pleasant grass pitch with a view of the Singapore-sized Lake Taupo. Francine tried her camera but lakes of such scale typically have no foreground and a very distant background so don’t show well on photographs.

Posted in 2017 New Zealand, 2017 The Antipodes

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