Arsenic and Old… Traditions

I spent a wonderful, sulfur-smelling, jam packed day in Rotorua on Tuesday.

It started with me visiting two different geo-thermal areas, Wai-O-Tapu before lunch and Waimangu after. The area is located within a “super volcano” or caldera, which explains all the geo-thermal activity.

On our way to the “parks”, we stopped at a boiling mud hole:

Before entering Wai-O-Tapu, we watched their geyser be induced by one of the guides throwing some ecologically friendly surfactant. The geyser is fairly regular without the surfactant, but that means it will go every 24-72 hours, disappointing for visitors.

Wai-O-Tapu has pools of various colors caused by different mineral and metal deposits (such as arsenic, antimony, and sulfur). You actually wouldn’t want to spend too much time next to some of the fumeroles(?) at the bottom of the path, due to the heavy metals or other elements in the vapor. But in the short term, it’s well worth a visit, as you see these pools of water with different colors you’d never expect. Here’s the most striking:


Because it was a cold day, the steam was intense, and the water levels were also fairly low, which meant it was a bit hard to see all the colors you might see on another day. Apparently each day the colors can be different. A German girl on my shuttle and I joined a guided walk, though I left it part way to go further on the path before my transfer to Waimangu.

Waimangu is totally different. Unlike Wai-O-Tapu, where much of the track goes through rock, the trail in Waimangu descends somewhat steeply through bush. It’s like a walk in the woods where giant ferns grow and the lakes steam and bubble, and you expect to come across a dinosaur around the corner.

I met a nice couple while walking through Waimangu and we ended up walking together for much of it. That made this city girl more comfortable – I like knowing there is at least one other human being around, especially when walking through bush where it would be relatively easy to twist an ankle and not have anyone around to help. Apparently the guy is in a band called the Thomas Brothers. (There, I’ve now put in a plug for the band! Always interesting to see someone’s performance when you’ve randomly met them.)

Waimangu is a long enough trail that they suggest walking out and taking a bus back. There are three bus stops and I’d originally thought I would have time to go to the end, but it seemed like we were cutting it close by the time we got to the second stop, and I was worried I wouldn’t make it back to the shuttle on time. Luckily the bus passed us at that stop and the driver said he’d wait for us at the third stop so we could see the lake, we just needed to hurry a bit. He was so nice!


After that, I got back on the shuttle and made a flying visit to a tasting room for a boutique winery called Volcanic Hills, that a friend had recommended. It is located at the top of a hill at the edge of Rotorua, and you take a gondola up there. On the way up, I remembered how much I hate heights, but on the way down, after tasting five different fantastic wines, I did a lot better! I wish I could have brought back several bottles but I was running short on time before my Maori cultural performance and dinner and I didn’t want to carry bottles for the next two weeks. However, I am now regretting that decision. Oh well, the view, the wine, and the person leading the tasting all contributed to a lovely if short experience.

I headed back down the hill, rejoined the German girl I’d met on the shuttle to Wai-O-Tapu, and we headed a little down the road to Mitai, a Maori cultural performance and dinner (a hangi, where meat and kumara – sweet potatoes – are steamed in the ground).

It was a great experience, very polished and aimed at tourists but still well worth seeing. The dances were similar to what I had seen in Auckland. They had us delegate a “chief”, who was designated since he called himself out as the only vegetarian there! (Both Australia and New Zealand are such meat-loving countries!) He was such a good sport! Part of the tradition (incorporated into the show) was that the Mitai tribe would offer a song, and then our “tribe” would as well. There was a college group there who was ready and apparently prepped to sing, but our “chief” actually had a Native American flute and decided to play it! At the end of the performance, before dinner, they also had us practice part of a haka (war dance).  It was a lovely performance and a lot of fun, and the dinner after was tasty.

I had sprung for the additional night walk through a zoo/sanctuary to see the kiwis, who are nocturnal. I figured it might be the only chance I had to see live kiwi birds, and I’m glad I went. I also saw some glowworms at the beginning of the walk, tiny blue pinpricks of light over a pond. If (hopefully when) I return to New Zealand, I want to see the glowworms in Waitomo Caves. These whetted my appetite to see more!

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