We decide to leave the most well-known geothermal parks to inbound tourists and seek places off the bus-tour circuit that provide a memorable, and possibly better, experience.
But first we find a secret, free, hot water pool at Kerosene Creek, though careful sleuthing on Google means that it’s not so secret any more. The creek is down a forestry road near Wai-O-Tapu, south of Rotorua.
The stream temperature varies from hot to warm, depending on where one chooses to take a dip. There are a number of rock pools to sit in and two waterfalls to linger under. It’s gorgeous to have our shoulders massaged by hot water and to gaze skyward through the dappled canopy of native bush. It’s a great place to start our day.
Wai O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland is just a few kilometres away. The Lady Knox Geyser is one of the features of this area, but we were laying about in hot water when she fired-up, so we missed it. Lady Knox is a real geyser but its previous erratic eruption times were not good for tourism. These days it is induced to erupt promptly, at 10.15am, by the pouring of a chemical that reduces the surface tension in water, into the vent. And up she goes, with crowds standing around gazing in awe.
The advantage of missing seeing the Lady Knox play is that we also miss the mass of visitors that walk around Wai-O-Tapu directly after the event.
Wai-O-Tapu, Sacred Waters, is indeed a wonderland with three kilometres of paths meandering through geothermal marvels such as the Devil’s Inkpots, a series of small pools of jet black water. Graphite and crude oil brought up with the water causes the colour. There are other geysers, including one named after Jean Batten, but they are smaller and less predictable than Lady Knox.
Other astonishing phenomena include a lake that is a milky turquoise green and looks positively nuclear, bright yellow bubbling pools, lime green Bridal Veil Falls and, the most amazing thing: the Champagne Pool (pictured above). The association with the name, a colossal glass of champagne, is almost perfect. This pool is 65 metres in diameter and 62 metres deep and is constantly fizzing with fine bubbles of carbon dioxide.
In keeping with the geothermal theme we visit the Waikite Valley Thermal Pools, which has a camping ground attached. The following morning, we follow more dusty backroads to our next geothermal adventure and, as often happens, the best is last.
Orakei Korako, is away from the main highways, in the middle of an imaginary triangle between Taupo, Rotorua and Tokoroa. There is not a tourist bus in sight, and not many cars or motorhomes either, so strolling around this geothermal area has a tranquillity and serenity that other places don’t.
The ambience is set at the beginning. To get to Orakei Korako thermal area, one takes a boat that gently putters across the Waikato River which is plump and still at the back end of the hydroelectric lake, Ohakuri.
The thermal area is like a huge fan, open at the lake edge and stepping up in a series of silica sinter terraces with the head of the fan tucked into a valley and surrounded by bush.
The biggest of the sialic terraces, the one that we step onto after we alight from the boat, is a large, flat, wet surface, covered in abstract patterns of orange, yellow, white, grey and blue, as if a giant has had a Hotere-on-a-happy-day moment with paint pots. When I stop and look closely at individual parts of this colourful creation I notice that it’s steaming, bubbling, fizzing and popping.
Multimedia art does not get any better than this.