|Thurs 9th Dec 2004.
Day 64: Taupo to Rotorua.
Taupo lies on the shores of it's huge lake, formed in the crater of an extinct volcano. New Zealand is being formed, as we speak, by two tectonic plates on the earth's surface rubbing together. The Pacific plate is sliding against the Indo-Australian plate, and the rubbing and grinding action is turning the material at the meeting point into red-hot magma, molten rock. This lies not far below the surface of the earth and occasionally finds a weakness and erupts into the open as a volcano. The whole of the Pacific Ocean is encircled by the Pacific "Ring of Fire". The San Andreas fault running through San Francisco and Los Angeles is a well-known example of the Ring of Fire. The rocks along the 2 tectonic plates in South Island are extremely hard, and the result is a mountain range, the Southern Alps. In the North Island the material of one plate is softer and the result is volcanoes and thermal activity. Taupo and Rotorua lie at the heart of the Thermal area.
On my way from Taupo to Rotorua, I first visited Huka Falls which is on the river draining the huge Lake Taupo. The river is forced into a very narrow channel, and then drops about 10 metres. It's no Niagara, but the sheer narrowness of the gorge, and the speed the water comes through make it a very beautiful sight. I never discovered whether white-water rafters use the falls as a major adrenalin spot, I think it would be seriously scary. However, Jet-boats come right up to the foot of the falls.
Next stop, on to the "Craters of the Moon" thermal area, which is very similar to Yellowstone Park in the US, but much more concentrated. It is also very new, the first Fumarole only appearing 50 years ago. The area continues to expand, as more vents and mud-holes appear almost daily.
Another thermal area a bit further along is Volcano Valley, formed only 120 years ago. On 10th June 1886, along a line 16kms long, a series of volcanoes erupted in a night of violence. 120 people died and the area changed forever. Lake Rotomahana, a small affair, disappeared into the magma erupting from the earth. It instantly flashed into steam, expanding almost 1000 times. This had the effect of a nuclear bomb, and acted as a monumental explosion, rising 11 kms into the air, and destroying all around as it fell to earth. The ground then collapsed back into the crater formed by the explosion. So much material had been ejected by the explosion that the lake became at least five times larger than before. From a geological perspective, one of the saddest losses were the White and Pink Terraces, formed by 2 very active thermal springs. The water was full of silica which over 1000's of years deposited into rock terraces which created pools looking rather like paddy fields of rice on a hillside. A vigorous Victorian tourist industry had developed, with visitors braving a rugged journey along unformed roads to the area. Of course, after the initial curiosity to see the changes, tourism died completely. Nowadays, it is a Scenic Reserve and Wildlife Refuge, with extensive boardwalks and lake cruises, meaning that tourists can view the natural history, while considering what it must have looked like before that awesome night. It has a unique position in that it is the only Hydrothermal system in the world where the commencement of surface geothermal activity can be pinned down to an exact day.
I had spent the day wandering around steamy places, but I had not encountered the bad-egg smell that I been warned about. Was it only in Rotorua, or has the smell disappeared for some reason? I will find out.