Bubbling Cauldren

Trip Start Aug 06, 2011
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Where I stayed
Waitai Trout Stream Camp

Flag of New Zealand  , North Island,
Sunday, April 8, 2012

As a note of caution, if you are prone to nightmares after hearing stories involving very expensive food, accommodation, activities, etc. you might want to quickly skim over this blog entry (and most of the other New Zealand entries). Since entering NZ airspace we've had emails from a number of friends who list this country high on their bucket list- nothing wrong with that- there's lot's of spectacular vistas here- but you might want to re-mortgage your house first to provide the financial cushion required to make your way around both islands.

That said, Rotorua was the one must-dos for me when we planned our trip to Kiwiland. The gods of scheduling put us on the doorstep of Rotorua for the Easter weekend which meant sharing the sights and activities with more local families than normal but it was manageable (I've since discovered that I have a lot of poignant advice to offer parents of out-of-control, riotous urchins). DH has discovered that she really likes ducks as campsite companions (?) so we found a spot by a trout stream just north of Rotorua with the required population of mallards.

First item on the agenda was a needed dose of culture, specifically a deeper look into the Maori of New Zealand. Although far from authentic, there are a number of packaged options available and we picked the Mitai Maori Village. The entertainment value was pretty good with a traditional Maori meal dug up from a buried ‘oven’, a war canoe welcome, and a stage show that walked us through the ancient life of the first people of New Zealand with a heavy application of humour. They wrapped the show up with an extended version of the famous Hakka which made DH go all weak in the knees (prior to this I had only seen this reaction when I had applied the barbed wire stick-on tattoos to my arms). After dining we wandered next door for a night safari which centered around the antics of the nocturnal kiwi bird- strange but adorable flightless creature and very much endangered. We did see a number of additional critters including glow worms (Kiwi’s- the people- are either fixated by these worms or they think the rest of us are- there all kinds of glow worm viewing tour options- you can see them in caves, in ditches, along riverbanks, probably in frying pans, etc.).

Having addressed the cerebral to at least a small extent, the next day called for another physical challenge. And what better way to do that then to try something we had never heard of before- sledging!! For the uninitiated a sledge is a grown-up flutter board but instead of doing laps in a pool, you ride these plastic tubs down a series of white water rapids and waterfalls (while saner people go cruising by you inside a raft).  Sledging is only done in New Zealand as far as we can tell but it was actually introduced by a Frenchman who had experienced something similar while training in the French Foreign Legion (using backpacks in place of sledges)!!  Most of our fellow sledgers were just human puppies and just to rub it in one of the guides made a point of suggesting to us (and us only) that we might want to stretch.  Presumably he thought that anyone in our age bracket would be dangerously brittle unless suitably limbered up. Gearing up involved a heavier wet suit for both warmth and protection (one section of the rapids was called the Cheese Grater), a very flattering helmet (more show than function), and a fin and boot combination that they didn’t have in my size (going bigger didn’t seem like a problem at the time!). After a safety briefing that was effectively “never let go of the sledge”, “use it to protect yourself from the rock walls (yikes!)”, and “if you’re in trouble we’ll throw you a bag of rope (really?)”.  Sledgers were required to be strong swimmers and confident in water but the honesty policy was invoked here- the penalty for lying, I guess, was a quick flushing into the nearby lake. From start to finish our ‘ride’ was a little more than an hour and involved a series of adrenalin rushes through rapids and over falls connected by huge efforts to paddle into position for the next rush (when paddling hard with boots that are too big you experience equipment failures that had me somersaulting in the water trying to rescue my wayward fins). DH was a natural at this and despite my own equipment malfunctions, the whole thing was good fun and highly recommended.

Now one of the more unique features of our Rotorua campsite is that it is also home to Harold ‘The Trout Guy’ probably the most enthusiastic fly fisherman in NZ. Learning fly fishing was never on our agenda for this trip, or any other trip for that matter, but when Harold is constructing his own flies in the camper-van next door, it just seemed to make sense to sign up for lessons. We spent an intense morning learning three different casting methods (all of which involved the 10 o’clock and 1 o’clock positions- Harold was very disappointed in my constant need to go to the 2:30 position) in a grass field adjacent to the trout stream. We managed to terrorize dogs, small children, and passing pedestrians with our errant casts but it wasn’t until we met Harold’s tough standards that he armed us with flies/hooks and allowed us to try out our new skills in the stream itself. We had purchased the required 24 hour NZ fishing licenses but truth be told, neither one of us really wanted to catch a fish (super hypocritical I know since we both enjoy our share of fish dinners but the idea of dragging ashore some poor little fish who was just innocently swimming around looking for something to eat, then bashing him over the head just didn’t sit right), but apparently the fish populace of Rotorua had little to fear from the freshly graduated fly fishermen from Canada (although a bush in behind DH took a bit of beating). Instead of trout for Easter dinner we had to settle for beans on toast, DH’s most elaborate dinner creation yet on this camping tour.

After the adrenalin rush of fly fishing wore off we were back at the river rapids looking to try and tame the river from the inside a raft. DH had done this before on a river near Ottawa and other than an embarrassing wedgy experience, immortalized on film, while being hauled up after she was tossed from the raft, she thoroughly enjoyed it. Once again we were viewed suspiciously by all the kiddies that made up our fellow rafters but most concerning for us was the fact that the three that were going to be in our raft seemed to be on a release program from some sort of Kuwaiti asylum. They claimed to speak English but that was doubtful, and they each possessed a nervous laughter that put you in mind of that diabolical lunatic in every horror movie that laughs with wide eyes as he’s about to saw the heroine in half (we were the only raft with two guides so I don’t think we were the only ones with concerns). The journey itself would take us through rapids and over four different falls, one of which is the highest falls commercially rafted in the world- gotta love those kiwis!! From the start in was obvious that our Kuwaiti raft-mates either didn’t understand English or chose not to understand it- paddles/deadly weapons were swinging everywhere, they paddled in the opposite direction of the guides instructions if they paddled at all, but at no time did they stop laughing (eerie to hear as we headed over a waterfall- is the diabolical lunatic about to get his just desserts??). I thought the frustrated guides might start throwing people overboard but we managed to navigate the course in a largely upright position and good fun was had by all (except the guides).

From there we got as far as securing our Zorb licenses before we realized that Zorbing was effectively a kids ride (think Spinning Teacups at Canada’s Wonderland)- everyone else in the line-up being under 3 feet should have been a clue. Very disappointing as we had seen a couple of TV travel shows that had made this made-in-New-Zealand sport seem much more exciting than it really is. DH kept her Zorbonaut license just in case NASA calls.

After that we toned it down a bit and visited a couple of ‘must-see’ local national parks. Hamurana Springs was first up and was probably as interesting for what you couldn’t see as opposed to what you could see.  Although it wasn’t a dramatic visual, over 1 million gallons of water flow out of these natural springs every minute. Water from the Mamaku Plateau travels underground for 70 years in order to reach Hamurana Springs. People love throwing coins into the springs to watch them swirl and dance to the bottom- 50,000 pennies dating back to 1860 taken out by volunteer divers and given to children charities. Hamurana Springs also has a surrounding redwoods grove planted alongside the river in 1919 by a local farmer. With the tallest redwood in Hamurana Springs being around 55 metres, it only has another 300 years to reach its maximum height of 120m. Nice trees!
 
We also did a four hour hike through Whakarewarewa Forest (say that three times fast).  A massive growth of Redwoods. Nice trees!

We definitely saved the best for our last day here- the thermal fields south of Rotorua. With huge craters filled with dramatic colours and odors, hissing steam fissures everywhere, pervasive sulphur smells, boiling mud pools, you can’t help but expect a particularly nasty dinosaur-like creature to emerge from the hot mists with a mad-on for disruptive tourists.  Very other-worldly!!  Our first stop was the Lady Knox Geyser in Wai-O-Tapu.  She erupts at 10:15 every morning reaching heights of up to 20 meters (this is not a natural occurrence- it is encouraged by a large application of soap- apparently this area was once a prison, and it was prisoners washing their cloths in the hot water of the geyser who accidentally discovered the explosive result of adding soap- probably had to add the shorts they were wearing to their laundry pile). The thermal area of Wai-O-Tapu is literally covered with collapsed craters, cold and boiling pools of mud, water and steaming fumaroles (vents) and is associated with volcanic activity dating back 160,000 years (Dave B was just a child back then).  Beneath the ground is a system of streams which are heated by magma left over from earlier eruptions.  The water is so hot (temperatures of up to 300C have been recorded) that it absorbs minerals out of the rocks over which it  passes and transports them to the surface as steam where they enter pools and are ultimately absorbed into the ground creating the wide colour palate you experience as you wander the area.  The so called "rotten egg smell" associated with these geothermal areas is is hydrogen sulphide. Don’t know why but the mud pools are so much fun but they are - no colour but violent eruptions spewing mud everywhere and at different times.  Mesmerizing!

Thanks again to Judy S. and hubby Greg W. for their email suggesting Waimangu Volcanic Valley as we ended up wandering this prehistoric area as well. It was very different from Wai-O-Tapu but no less dramatic. A line of craters formed from the last and most violent eruptions in 1886 line the valley.  Bubbling pools of hydrothermal activity are interlaced with small lakes with hues of blue, brown, and emerald. The spectacular colours depend on the water levels, mineral content, and the state of the plant life. This area was my New Zealand WOW! I’m not sure I’d be making any long term investments if I was living near this boiling cauldron of hellish activity but it is truly a one-of-a-kind feast for the senses.
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Comments

Elaine & Doug on

Great commentary and pics you two! Vic, I passed on the link to your blog to your Great Uncle Vern (Courtenay BC) with the understanding that he would intoduce himself to you through this blog and provide some comments/words of encouragement.
So far I've seen nothing from him so, Uncle Vern, if you're out there, it's time to come through!

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