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|New Zealand Thermal and Volcanic Areas|
|This page brings together information on the major thermal areas we have visited in New Zealand. The major areas are centred round Rotorua which is introduced as a good centre for visiting them. The information has primarily been extracted and consolidated from the Touring Diaries.|
Accommodation - Rotorua Top Ten Holiday Park (Acacia Park). Recently we have made the Rotorua Top Ten Holiday Park our home in Rotorua and even book in advance to get our favorite units! . We usually have one of their excellent value Tourist flats - the names of the various options can get quite complex in holiday parks and they can get quite annoyed if you call their latest building project by the wrong name! It has almost the full facilities of a motel room including shower, toilet, fridge and sink, it only lacks a full cooker but has electric frying pan, microwave and toaster - you also supply bedding (or pay $5 extra over the $49).
The Rotorua Top Ten is about 10 minutes walk from the centre of town and has every facility one could want including swimming pool, Petanque free barbecues, laundries etc. We have camped and had various rooms there many times, not only is it very good, but it is the only camping area within walking distance of town. Beware in booking you get the right one of the Top Tens in the area and make sure you buy a Top Ten discount card from them when you arrive - it gives reductions on many of the local activities as well as the Top Ten accommodation itself and quickly pays for itself.
Accommodation - The Monterey We stayed at a Motel several times before we started camping and a few times since. The Monterey is very close to the lake and the centre of town and has a pool and its own thermal water bath as well as a guest laundry. Last time we had one of the simplest rooms without full cooking but even that turned out to have a microwave so it was perfect for a takeaway from the Mexican down Fenton Street. It is run by an ex German couple who immediately recognise us and give us a discount as regulars - try telling them you found them on our website and ask for a discount. It is certainly a place we can recommend if you are looking for accommodation right in the centre of town.
Rotorua Accommodation - The Regal Geyserland During our first visits to New Zealand when we were short of time (and less restricted in budget) we used to stay for a few days at the Regal Geyserland hotel. The Hotel is right on the edge of the Whakawerawera thermal site and is excellent for special occassions such as Pete's birthday. The first visit we were lucky and we had a room which looked straight down on the biggest and best area of bubbling mud we have yet found - one could and we did watch for hours the mud with the changing pattern of geysers in the background. The next year we specified the same room but as repeat visitors we were upgraded to the one next door with a spa pool - quite an experience when as it always came on at full blast. The hotel is on the edge of town so it is difficult to walk in during an evening but both the Maori Arts and Crafts centre and the hotel next door do a Hangi. If you stay there you must book and ensure they commit to providing a room looking down on Whakawerawera as the views are what makes it exceptional - without the views it is just a slightly expensive and rather ordinary hotel.
Food and Drink - The Pig and Whistle We perhaps know Rotorua too well and tend to go back to places which have served us well in the past and the Pig and Whiste is one of our favorites. The following extract from our travel notes shows why! "We went straight into town to the Pig and Whistle for a beer from their own brewery (snout dark ale) and we also had a snack of Kumara chips whilst deciding what to do about eating. The snack turned out to be a massive plate heaped high with a couple of bowls of dips - we did not have a measure but it was definitely heaped higher than a pint glass on a huge plate. We just struggled through it with the help of a few more Snouts and gave up any thought of supper whilst wondering how they did it for $10.95."
The Pig and Whistle used to be the police station and was built in 1946 very much in Art Deco style but with some addition Maori themes in the decoration. It used to have the brewery on the top floors but it has now moved to another building. We usually have the good, if a little fizzy, Snout Dark Ale. They also have Verdict Bitter, a traditional brown beer, batch brewed and incorporating pale and dark malts from fine NZ barleys with an addition of NZ hops, (regarded in NZ as the best in the world) and Swine Lager, which we have never sampled.
Rotorua Activities - Hangi and Cultural Experiences: A Hangi is a Maori way of cooking which in most places involves cooking in a deep pit into which stones heated in a fire are dropped the food is wrapped and put on top and the whole covered with soil for a few hours to "steam" the mixture of meat and vegetables and blend all the flavours. In Rotorua and other thermal areas the hot stones are not needed as the pits are made over natural steam vents which cook the food. They usually come with an evening of Maori entertainment sometimes dressed up as a "Cultural Experience" and you should take time to go to one - they are good value as you usually have an unlimited buffet from the hangi as well as the entertainment.
We have been to the Hangi at the THC (possibly now renamed) hotel which is next door to the Regal Geyserland near Whakawerawera several times and found it first class. We have also tried the one at the Maori Arts and Crafts Centre in the Whakawerawera complex in 2001 as they claimed it was also a Cultural Experience. Before we started the main part of the experience at the Maori Arts and Crafts Centre we were taken round the replica Maori village and saw such things as bird traps and stores which were intersting but the main part of what was billed as a "Cultural Experience" was disappointing and they missed many opportunities - even the food was mostly European with no explanation of what was typical. If it had been billed as entertainment it would have been acceptable but that was not the case. We have had much better experiences in the THC hotel in the past which made it even more disappointing. We walked out before the end and had a lengthy, and hopefully positive, discussion with some of the hosts/organisers. In the meantime we suggest that the ones at hotels, such as the THC, may actually offer a better overall experience.
Rotorua Activies - Trips on Lake Rotorua: The last visit we decided to indulge in a boat trip on Lake Rotorua for lunch. They have a stern paddle wheel boat on the lake which does a lunch trip with unlimited buffet for $30 (further discounted with a TT card!) which seemed a good way to stock up. The boat is fairly new but is actually driven by the paddles, unlike some, making it the only stern drive paddlewheel boat still in operation in New Zealand. The lake is extremely shallow - it is not the usual volcanic eruption crater found in the area but a shallow bowl ten of kilometres across caused but subsidence into an old volcano.
The lake is mostly under 10 metres deep and the channel out from the landing stage is narrow and only one metre deep so the use of a flat bottomed paddle wheel boat drawing 80 cms is sensible. It also has powerful bow and stern thrusters which can drive it sideways almost as fast as the paddle wheel takes it forwards, not that they prevented us going aground due to high winds on our trip! The lunch was however plentiful and good and it made a pleasant trip round with an introduction to the wildlife and the surrounding volcanic and thermal areas.
Rotorua Activies - Local Lakes The Blue and Green lakes are worth a look if you are passing - they are almost adjacent but very different not only in colour but in character. There is a viewpoint and there are some walks along the lakeside. Lake Rotorua is well known for its fishing, both from the shore and from chartered boats.We have also visited Lake Tarawera which reputedly has some of the best fishing and is full of 4 kg trout. You are not allowed to buy trout or even have it in a restaurant in New Zealand unless you have caught and supplied it - one day we must try one of the fishing trips on the lakes however they are not cheap and one could easily spend several hundred dollars to catch supper so we settle for the Pig and Whistle.
Rotorua has been extracting a lot of thermal energy and water for heating houses, pools etc., and the council has been trying to restrict people from drawing out too much private enterprise thermal energy for their hot pools and heating as it was believed that it was causing some of the major attractions to be muted. The results of keeping the thermal power constrained were unexpected to the planners, if perhaps predictable to everyone else in a town where steam comes out of drain covers and holes beside the roads.
A very pleasant walk has recently been opened up round part of the Lake at Rotorua. It is almost in the middle of town but takes you past little beaches, through bush, through thermal areas on board walks and through various nature reserves, all with orientation boards. It provides a very pleasant hour and a half walk on nice evening to get ones appetite up before supper. It is not well publicised, perhaps because it takes you through some interesting thermal areas that are free. The best access is from beside the Polynesian Pools.
Perhaps the highlight of Waiotapu is it's Champagne Pool. The Champagne pool is always gently steaming with thousands of tiny bubbles rising to the surface from the very blue water and is surrounded with a shelf of bright orange-red deposit before it plunges far too deep to see. Words alone can not do the area justice, even pictures can not convey the sound and heat but they are better than nothing. The following picture show some details of one of the terraces where water flows down from the outflow from Champagne pool and the evaporating salts have left a series of miniature pools.
There are many other features at Wai-o-tapu - the picture shows how the sulphur from one of the vents has condensed into a myriad of tiny crystals gleaming yellow in the sun. There are a number of longer walks for those with time and they have recently been extending the walking tracks.
Lady Knox Geyser: We often prefer not to drive to watch what many see as the major attraction of a visit to Wai-o-tapu, The Lady Knox Geyser which always erupts at 1015, but instead walk round in the quiet - the place is completely empty for 45 minutes. We then return to see it the following day as the tickets are not dated. An alternative is to get to Wai-o-tapu early enough for a quick work round before going to see The Lady Knox Geyser. The geyser is provoked to erupt by the addition of a little soap - it was discovered by prisoners doing their washing in a nice warm pool who got up a nice lather then had it all blasted 20 meters into the air. On a good day it goes at least that high and can play for up to half an hour. When we do everything in one day we quickly return to Wai-O-Tapu and, by walking round the wrong way, often manage to avoid the worst of the rush.
Bubbling Mud: The bubbling mud on the loop road to Wai-O-Tapu is always worth a look and is free so we either have a look whilst waiting for the 1015 spectacle or go back when we have finished. On leaving we usually take time to look at the bubbling mud on the loop road - it is always worth a look and is free. Last visit it was especially good and I have some digital video from which I hope I will be able to extract some spectacular stills.
You can then return by bus or continue for a 15 minute bush walk and take a boat trip round the crater lake Rotomahana which was formed along with the rest of the area in the 1886 eruption which destroyed the fabled Pink and White Terraces. The 4 hour eruption blasted 22 new craters along a 17 km fissure line.
The boat trip is relatively expensive but a worthwhile extension to the day and gives a scale to the magnitude of the eruption. The new lake Rotomahana which was blasted out covers 7 square kilometres and is up to 200 meters deep and an area of 15,000 square kilometres was covered up to 22 meters deep in mud and ash. There have been many less major eruptions since then, the last significant one being in 1951.
We found an old picture on a wall of one of the Pink and White terraces which gives some indication of why they were regarded as one of the wonders of the world.
Our last visit was on a gloriously sunny day in 2001 and it was definitely an Orakei Korako year. The whole area looked as if it had been washed - all the silica faces were gleaming white like icing sugar and the usual bits of stick and junk seemed to have vanished from round the pools, perhaps there had been very heavy rain. The geysers were more lively than usual and the pools were all crystal clear.
There are long sections on slightly raised wooded walkways with the ground too hot to touch and covered in small hissing steaming vents either side. It does not have any geysers at present but currently has some bubbling mud and hot pools. It is well worth visiting but is poorly signed - it is on the main Taupo Rotorua road where the 1 and 5 are merged about 5 kms from Taupo.
Mount Ruapehu is still a very active volcanic area which last had a major eruption in 1995. We have had a couple of flights over the area in the seaplane based in Taupo, one before and the other just after the lasr eruption. The flights take one all round Mount Ruapehu and Mount Tongarero. There were major changes the second year and many of the ski fields were still covered in thick ash. The hot lake had been blasted away in the eruption but was just starting to fill back up with water.
We made our trip to White Island whilst we were staying at Ohope (near Whakatane) - we had only intended to stay for one and then travel on but ended up staying for three days. They delay came about partly because we liked the area as a base and partly because we were determined to take a trip to White Island. White Island is an active volcanic island about 30 kms off shore. It was certainly a memorable visit. The trip by the PJ boat took about an hour and a half and we were then issued with hard helmets and gas masks, the latter are always needed, one hopes the hard hats are required less often! We were landed by inflatable jet boat 6 for a guided tour lasting a couple of hours. The overall impression was that the description of it being "the most awesome experience in New Zealand" was not that much of an exaggeration. It certainly makes even Hells Gate look restrained and we certainly needed the gas masks at times as the swirling clouds of steam and sulphur caught up with us.
White Island has been inhabited at times by sulphur extractors for fertilizer manufacture and some of the buildings and kit remain - the extreme corrosion and the way some of the equipment has been distributed bear witness to the power of the fumes and the sea. At least one party of minors were completely lost in an eruption and only the cat was ever found. A very good visit well organised by Peter and Jay who are real enthusiasts and one we would happily recommend. Once back to the boat snorkels appeared for those who wanted to see the rich underwater life - no fins unfortunately but Peter still had an enjoyable 20 minutes and regretted he had not had the grease for sealing the video camera underwater case with him.
| Copyright © Peter and Pauline Curtis
Most recent significant revision: 8th October, 2003