Day 2 – Leaving Rotorua for the Wiamangu Valley of volcanoes…
I woke up feeling slightly better and hopeful that I would improve quickly. Gabi took us all into Rotorua town after breakfast, to the Ohinemutu Marae, which is a very beautiful intricately carved red and cream coloured wooden structure that is a meeting place and focal point for the Maori community. Women are not, however, allowed to speak in these buildings. We also saw the Rotorua Museum (in Bath House in Government Gardens) that had been damaged by the Kaikoura earthquake in November 2016 and is therefore currently indefinitely closed to the public. Cracks had appeared in the older part of the building, built in 1908. On the coastline, this same earthquake had lifted parts of the seabed upward by two metres, leaving seaweed-covered rocks and marine animals exposed above tide-level. Hard to imagine. We often think of land erosion and losing land rather than gaining it. We enjoyed the beautiful gardens in Rotorua though; and gasped at yet more tiny steam vents rising out of the road beneath us surrounded by yellow sulphur and giving off heat!
We eventually left Rotorua and Gabi drove us on to Waimangu Volcanic Valley, ‘a fascinating geothermal park of bubbling mud pools, hissing geysers and steaming lakes created in 1886 following the volcanic eruption of Mount Tarawera’ (Explore ‘Walking in New Zealand’ Itinerary 2019).
The park is New Zealand’s own version of Yellowstone Park where pools and lakes bubble away in the depths releasing steam and gas which deposits brightly coloured mineral crystals on the banks. It’s also famous for the ‘inferno crater’ lake which is very acidic (with a PH of 2.2) and varies in colour (from bright blue to grey) and depth (of up to 12 metres) based on where it is in its 38-day cycle of eruption.
It was a two-hour walk from the visitor centre, through the valley and on to the lake at the end, with a bus ride back. I came to New Zealand wanting to see all the sensational geothermal and volcanic stuff, but in reality it is very important that we learn as much as we can about it all in order to warn people about volcanoes and earthquakes. It's a serious business and quite unnerving witnessing the power of the geological world beneath us. We saw a frog(!), but not much else apart from the birds of which there were relatively few in that area, until we got to the Lake. We had a short lunch and some beer. Then we left Waimangu and went on to the ‘Huka falls’ where ice-blue water from a lake in the mountains above is allowed to cascade down to the Waikato river below. It's quite dramatic and there's a lot of very cold water flowing very fast.
Back in the bus and stopping at a few other places, we drove through Taupo (where Ironman flags were flapping in the wind in preparation for the on-coming endurance event) and on to Tongariro National Park. On the way we saw the volcano that we would be walking around on the crossing, from a distance. Like Mount Fuji in Japan, the Ngauruhoe volcano stood like a huge cone, a perfect volcano, with deadly promise (though dormant at the moment). We all took loads of photos of it. It loomed menacingly on the horizon like something I had never seen before. Back down to earth and we stopped off at a supermarket to buy bits for lunch on the next day's epic walk. I had no trouble finding gluten-free bread. We were staying at the Skotel (New Zealand’s highest hotel) for 2 nights. We all had dinner together in the hotel. Full hiking gear was required the next day…. It was to be an early start.