Australia and New Zealand Mini Series Part 23: North Island, New Zealand: Rotorua and Geothermal Wonderland

This is the twenty-third in my series of short reflections on different places in Australia and New Zealand, as experienced during my November 2019 visit. Today is the seventh of my posts on New Zealand’s North Island.

map of New Zealand
map of New Zealand
Map of Australia and New Zealand

In my last post I wrote about our visit to the art deco city of Napier, destroyed by an earthquake in 1931 but subsequently reborn as an artistic vision with Art Deco architecture and design throughout the city.

After we left Napier, we travelled north once more and this time we were headed for Rotorua, situated on the shores of Lake Rotorua and famous for its thermal areas full of natural wonders such as boiling mudpools and geysers.

Rotorua itself is a very pleasant town of two story buildings which include a cultural and arts centre; and the buildings are well spread out to provide much green space, wide boulevards and attractive shops. The Lonely Planet guide will tell you the town often has a smell of rotten eggs with the sulphurous fumes of volcanic activity, but I didn’t find this to be so. In fact the first hint of a sulphurous smell was when we went to the local supermarket to buy provisions. I don’t know what we may conclude from this fact…

Our first excursion from Rotorua was a visit to the Wai-o-Tapu Thermal Wonderland, a very popular tourist attraction. There we saw the Lady Knox Geyser which very conveniently shoots boiling water into the air to a height of 20 metres at approximately 10.15am every day – with a small amount of human intervention. A large crowd of tourists (replete with hats and cameras held high above their heads) surrounded the geyser and so it was quite a feat to obtain a photograph of the Geyser in action!

The Lady Knox Geyser at Wai-o-Tapu Thermal Wonderland (photo credit Jamie Robinson)

A walk around the geothermal park, however, was awesome, for this landscape is like no other I have ever seen in my life. In some ways it was quite frightening to witness and experience the effects of the dynamic power beneath the earth’s crust, and the park was suffused with a smell rather akin to boiled eggs. I wouldn’t go so far as to liken it to “rotten eggs” but it certainly put off one member of our party who after we reached a choice of paths, made a quick return to the main building and to the blessed respite of the café!

The Wai-o-Tapu Scenic Reserve is part of the Maroa Caldera which was formed 160,000 years ago. It has the largest area of surface thermal activity of any system in the Taupo Volcanic zone. I was fascinated to learn that the Maoris of this region would use the geothermal features of this area for cooking, healing, drinking and bathing: surely a magnificent example of using natural resources for their daily needs.

The temperature on the day of our visit was extremely high, and only two of our party chose to take the extra walk deeper into the thermal park. What we saw and experienced was, to me, otherworldly and dramatic.

We saw bubbling mud pools containing crude oil and graphite; in the past sludge would be skimmed off these pools to burn in kerosene lamps. Other amazing sights included a ‘champagne pool’, full of bubbles caused by carbon dioxide in the water; billows of steam rising up from craters and chasms with boiling water and mud at the bottom. The pool of bright green water, we learned, had gained its colour through a deposit of minerals suspended in the water and refracting the sunlight.

A truly wonder-filled experience, even despite the sulphurous smell which accompanied our journey round the park!

SC Skillman, psychological, suspense, paranormal fiction & non-fiction. My next book, Paranormal Warwickshire, will be published by Amberley Publishing on 15th June 2020 and is available to pre-order now either online, or from the publisher’s website, or from your local bookshop.

Australia and New Zealand Mini Series Part 17: West Auckland, New Zealand: Piha and Karekare Beaches

This is the seventeenth in my series of short reflections on different places in Australia and New Zealand, which I visited in November 2019. Today is the first of my posts on New Zealand’s North Island.

map of New Zealand
map of New Zealand
Map of Australia and New Zealand

We flew into Auckland from Brisbane, and our first experience of the spectacular scenery was in West Auckland. Driving along the narrow, winding Piha Road, I was particularly struck by the rich, vibrant forests rising up high on either side of us, in which we identified giant tree ferns, casuarina, honeysuckle, callistemon and pandanus. The intense green reminded me of the paintings of Gaugin in Tahiti.

First we drove to the car park for visitors to Karekare Beach – where scenes were filmed for The Piano.

In fact, it’s hard to go to any spectacular New Zealand location that hasn’t already featured in a major film. Later on our trip we were to visit the Hobbiton movie set in Matamata that was used for The Lord of the Rings films, and the sublime Cathedral Cove which featured in the opening scene of Prince Caspian.

A scene on Karekare Beach from the film The Piano

The west coast of Auckland we also found to be a glorious setting, as we walked along the black sand track that leads to the beach, past rich flora and greenery.

Along the path to Karekare Beach
on the path to Karekare beach

Signs warned visitors of dangerous rip currents and advised swimmers only to use the area between the flags, when the lifesavers from the Karekare Surf Club were on duty.

Karekare is known by the Maori people as Wai Karekare, ‘the bay of the boisterous seas’, and we found there a carved Maori ‘pou‘, symbolising the spiritual guardianship of Karekare.

flowers alongside the path to Karekare Beach
Surf Lifesavers sign at Karekare Beach

Karekare Surf Club
The Bay of the Boisterous Seas
Carved Maori ‘Pou’ symbolising the spiritual guardianship of Karekare

Karekare Beach itself is awe-inspiring, despite the fact that, as you can see, the weather for us was rather more moody than when the film camera crew were here.

On Karekare Beach (image credit Jamie Robinson)
Karekare Beach looking towards the Tasman Sea, photo credit Jamie Robinson

Late we drove to Piha village, and walked on Piha beach crowned by Lion rock. Another amazing location, which is also a Tsunami evacuation zone, as warning signs made us well aware.

SC Skillman, psychological, suspense, paranormal fiction & non-fiction. My next book, Paranormal Warwickshire, will be published by Amberley Publishing on 15th June 2020 and is available to pre-order now either online, or from the publisher’s website, or from your local bookshop.