Saturday, 28 December 2013

Rotorua and Taupo - the Central Plateau

Boiling Earth

Rotorua, the geothermal centre of New Zealand, one of the main tourist attractions, turned out to be a rather short stop on our way. Before you even get close to the city, you are welcomed by the unmistakable, ever present odour of sulphur, blown into the air by the many geothermal hotspots along the highway. The most popular one, Wai-o-tapu ('holy waters'), charges you around 35$ for the smelly experience. The colorful lakes must be interesting, but for our taste it was just too much money for something so focused on artificially drawing tourists.
They put up Maori style poles and decorations everywhere, which would be a good thing, if it weren't just for getting more people and money there and forcing the towns popularity just a bit more (quite small and not soo remarkable by itself, but with what felt like thousands of rather pricy hotels and motels lined up everywhere). To keep the tourists' good mood up, they even 'help' the geyser with some chemicals to spout off at exactly 10:15 each day.
Long story cut short, for us it was all a bit too artifical and too smelly.

A bit further along the road, we had our own small (and free) geothermal experience: A hot bath in 'Kerosene creek' a naturally heated river that has carved a little pool in the forest, not too far from the highway. Quite an interesting experience, lounging in a hot pool in the middle of the forest!

Lakes and Mountains 

Near sunset at Lake Taupo
Following the Highway further south soon brought into view the quite large Lake Taupo and behind it the promising dark shadows of the central mountain ranges. Following the lake's shoreline we saw them getting closer and closer in the soft warm light of the evening. When we reached the National Park, the peaks were hidden by clouds, but the way there already gave us a taste of Tongariro alpine looks: the trees get sparse, plants get smaller and everything has a brown and greyish color to it. It seems the saturation is soaked out of everything the closer you get to the mountain. That doesn't make the view less impressive, though.
Giants like Tongariro or its brother peak, Ngauruhoe (starring as 'Mount Doom' in the Lord of the Rings movies) don't need a lot of color to be stunning.
They don't seem that high if you are close to them, the plains around them already being 1000m above sea level, but still, the 1900 /2300m peaks dominate the views from afar.

Finding the 'Tongariro Crossing' parking lot bursting with cars at our arrival, we spent the day relaxing on one of the camp sites in nearby Kaimanawa Forest Park and hoped for better weather and less people at Christmas Day. Unfortunately it was a lot more cloudy then, we couldn't even see the lower parts of the mountains from the start of the track. We heard some stories about the amazing view (you can see both oceans on a very clear day) and the Emerald lakes up there must be great to see, not to speak about the exciting experience of walking next to still active, steaming volcano craters. But it is a ca. 6 hours walk, and we want to make sure the views are worth the effort. So we will hopefully find a nice clear day when we are back at the North Island. For now, it was impressive enough to see them from down below and we, again, felt like being right in Middle-Earth.

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