Saturday, May 27, 2006

Waimangu Volcanic Rift Valley

Had breakfast at "Fat Dog," tried too hard to be trendy. We left Rotorua today and headed south. Our first stop was Waimangu, where we were able to hike a trail beside "Frying pan lake", previously "Frying pan flat" before it flooded. Lots of Thermal activity in and around the lake. The whole area is an active thermal valley, so it's much warmer than you'd expect. The trail split; the easy way to the right, the harder way up and to the left.

We went up, so we were rewarded with a view of Inferno Crater lake--bright blue--and our map says that it sometimes reaches a pH of 2.1, very acidic. Our hike took us between other volcanic rifts and delivered us to a thermally active swamp that seemed more at home in a fairy tale by the smells and all the unusual plants and strangeness.



 The end of the hike came a little earlier than the full trail because of the height of Lake Rotomahana (Hot Lake), and its subsequent flooding of the boat loading dock. The guide on the boat was also the captain and besides us, the only one on the boat. He said we could ride up in the bridge with him, so we had a 180-degree view of the lake. And the storm that was moving in a wall of gray mist across the lake.



We saw where the pink & white terraces used to be, before they were destroyed in an eruption on 10 June 1886. We also saw some areas of thermal activity on the green shoreline, one that was a brick red scar devoid of plant life, which grew wider as it fell into the lake where all sorts of steam was coming out. We took a bus back to the car, which was perfect since the rain moved in right after we disembarked the boat & our guide showed us the silver fern's secret: Green on top, white/silver underneath, the Maori used to snap and fold the fern to use the white side as a trail marker.

Waitapu
Back at the car, we headed just a few miles south to Waitapu and saw saw all different colors of mineral lakes. Some were bright green/yellow from the sulphur, others had orange or blue. The trees and everything else had occasional patches of bright orange, I couldn't tell if the trees were alive or dead. We followed the trail around huge craters with violently boiling mud at the bottom of them.


Then we descended the hill beside a broadly terraced deposit where each terrace was only 1 cm tall, but there must have been thousands of these little formations.


 The trail put us onto actual rock after the wood planking vanished, so we were able to walk right over & feel the heat from some small vents.
 We finished our visit at Waitapu less than an hour before it was set to close, and crossed our names off the visitor list so that they could close the park without fear of trapping someone in a land filled with sights named "Devil's Bathtub" or "Frying pan flat." The latter of which probably took its name after the other one at Waimangu flooded.
Kacey's glasses were foggy from the steam that came off the Champagne lake, clouds that stretched down to the water and back again without any seams.

We drove on to Taupo and drove around the entire city before finding a place we could call the Hopkins (our NZ hosts for the weekend) because all the phone booths took cards that we didn't have. The sun had set by the time we made contact and we were just in time for dinner. Arriving at the Hopkins' at night, we were welcomed and shown to our rooms before the meal to refresh from the drive.

Considering that I was only here because of meeting their daughter Charla in Seoul during a 10k race and she'd offered up their place...they were going out of their way to see that we felt comfortable. The first course was bread and cheese and wine. Bob is quite the wine enthusiast, so bottle after bottle kept coming out for us to try. I lost count, I think it was at least three, maybe more. After many hours of talking and eating and drinking, we retired for the evening. Our room was a little cold, and only later the next day did we learn that we had an electric blanked but hadn't plugged it in.

The plan for tomorrow is for Bob to drive us around to the Taupo sights, which should give Kacey and me a chance to rest. Driving on the left is a conscious act for us, mentally draining as we have to think about every action that used to be automatic. If you're keeping track of the weather, it's rained every day that we've been here with forecasts for more. Our hike plans for tomorrow washed away with the dreary forecast--safety first.

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