Situated on New Zealand’s North Island, the Taupo Volcanic Zone is the country’s most geothermally active region. Rotorua is a popular destination for travellers and holidaymakers, despite the perpetual smell of rotten eggs. Wai-O-Tapu is the perfect place to experience it.
Ian Middleton found out why.
The Earth Moved for Me.
Sitting in my hostel room staring at my computer, the earth literally moved beneath my feet. I’d been in Rotarua for a month, and this was the first time I had ever experienced an earthquake. It was also a stark reminder of just how unstable the region in and around Rotorua can be. The town and lake sit inside the caldera of an ancient volcano. Tarawera Mountain, whose violent eruption back in the late 1800s is always in the minds of locals, is a haunting presence indeed. The Rotorua area is also the most geothermally active region in the world.
It’s so geothermally active that many of the homes and hotels are heated using the thermal waters from underground.
So just why do we come to a place where we could so easily be walking down the street one day and simply slide down a crack in the ground and melt into the earth’s crust?
A visit to Wai-O-Tapu is all the answer you’ll need.
The name means “Sacred Water”. There are many areas where you can view the wonders of the thermal activity here. However, Wai-O-Tapu is by far my absolute favourite, and encompasses everything the other parks have, and a lot, lot more.
The park opens at 8.30 in the morning, and at 10.15 the Lady Knox geyser is triggered. In 1901 Wai-O-Tapu was the site of New Zealand’s first ever prison. It was during this time of incarceration that inmates, as they washed their clothes in the hot water, discovered you could trigger a geyser by adding soap. The water can reach up to a height of 20 metres.
After a visit to the geyser you can then go into the main park and take a walk through the Thermal Wonderland. Before the eruption of Tarawera, the main attraction in the area was the Pink and White Terraces. After their destruction in 1886, attention shifted to the Primrose Terrace in Wai-O-Tapu, a flowing river of water rich in silica. Before you reach that though, you will be wowed, like I was, as you reach the Artist’s Palette. I stepped onto a lookout with uncanny timing, as the clouds parted and sun burst through to illuminate the vast array of vivid colours.
As you cross a boardwalk just beyond this you reach the Champagne Pool, from where the water flows into the Primrose Terraces. This is the image you’ll see on all promotional literature, and a sight to behold should you be fortunate enough to see it through the plume of steam rising from the hot pool, which engulfs anyone who stands upwind of it.
The park is mapped out by a series of walkways, most of them relatively easygoing. After picking my way through an abundance of hot pools, sulphurous craters and steaming holes, at the very end of the park I came across a lake. From the lookout I gazed intently across the huge body of vivid green water to the shape of Mount Tarawera, looking so innocent and serene in the distance. But looks can be very deceiving.