Visiting the Wairakei Terraces

“Nothing in this world can be said to be certain, except death and taxes,” wrote Benjamin Franklin in a letter he wrote to Jean-Babtiste Leroy in 1789. But for a while I was sure I could add another certainty: that no one alive today would have ever seen the eighth wonder of the world. The Pink and White Terraces were smothered by volcanic debris when Mount Tarawera erupted in 1886. I was wrong. In 2011 and 2012 scientists probing the floor of Lake Rotomahana confirmed that sections of the White Terraces and three-quarters of the Pink Terraces remain intact, albeit 60 metres below the lake’s surface. The certainty now is that most of us will never see them. And then I went to the Wairakei Terraces, seven kilometres north of Taupo, where a network of paths lead past descending ledges covered in silica formations. When I employed my imagination, I could in some small measure conjure up how the original wonder might have appeared. Man has had a hand here; the terraced foundations have been constructed. But the hot water and silica deposits are 100 percent natural. By a process of inventive engineering, silica enriched fluid, 1.5 kilometres deep down, is drawn up to the surface. Measuring 130 degrees Celcius it bursts into sight in an impressive geyser billowing steam high into the air. The bright blue water is then piped into cooling ponds and spills over their edges to cascades down the terraces and deposit the silica that builds up the authentic pink and white coral shapes on the ledges. They look a bit like dripping icing. They are quite a sight, although on a cold day the steam was so dense we had to wait for puffy little breezes to come along to clear the air enough for us to see the spectacle. Through this valley also runs the hot Wairoa (healthy waters) Stream, once used by the Maori for health and healing. The water has now been harnessed into several delightful bathing pools set in gardens of ferns and native trees. If you are feeling a little road weary, a full spa service is also on site. A lounge in the thermal depths would have been enough for me. The warm water contains 13 different minerals and felt like silk against my skin. With spare time and a pair of swimming togs I could have been soaking up the health benefits all afternoon. Jill Malcolm is a former editor of Motorhomes Caravans & Destinations and author of the Great Kiwi Motorhome Guide. Read her 'notes from the road' in every issue.
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