Wai-O-Tapu Volcanic Valley
Our next stop after the Tongariro Double Circuit was Rotorua. We drove there right after finishing our hike.
By the time we got to Rotorua it was already evening. We took a short walk through the city centre and walked to the closest supermarket to buy some food. So many people had told us how bad Rotorua smelled due to the volcanic activity in the region. We didn't find it quite as bad as we had imagined. But of course, there's always a faint smell of rotten eggs.
For the next day we had planned a trip to one of the surrounding volcanic valleys and then in the evening a "Maori Cultural Experience", one of the famour Hangi Dinners.
The volcanic valley we ended up visiting was Wai-O-Tapu. It has all kinds of steam vents, mud pools, hot pools and so on. We thought the pictures of the "champagne pool" looked pretty fascinating, that's how we decided to go there and not some other place.
It's one of the few "natural" attractions in New Zealand that aren't entirely free, and at first we were a bit bummed about the price of 32$ to see the park, but in truth it's really not that much and was well worth the experience.
A walkway leads through the whole area of Wai-O-Tapu in a circuit, walking from one highlight to the next. It starts out with smaller hot pools and mud pools in various colors. All of them have names like "Devil's Inkpot" and things like that, and on the little signs by the different attractions are some details about history and geology that make them happen.
The first real highlight for us was the "Artists Palette", an area of multiple colors that are created by water overflowing the famed "Champagne Pool", depositing minerals that lead to the colorful sediment in that area. The sign explained that the Artists Palette never looks quit the same two days in a row and I really wish we could have gone back to see that for ourselves the next day. In any case, we thought it was pretty beautiful.
Next we crossed the sinter terraces that are also formed by the overflowing water of the Champage Pool, and are constantly growing - they are the largest sinter terraces in the souther hemisphere and they were really impressive.
The absolute highlight of Wai-O-Tapu is the famous "Champagne Pool". It got its name because of the little bubbles constantly surfacing on the top of the water. The hot pool has a constant temperature of 74° C, which leads to a lot of steam. We stood there, taking pictures and taking in the view, and our camera lens was constantly fogged up. That did make it a bit harder taking a good picture. When we finally left the area around the pool, our hair and clothes were almost wet. Also the sulphurous smell is not really all that enjoyable, even though you do get used to it after a bit.
The pool itself is really beautiful. Along the outer edge is an orange ring due to mineral sediments separating from the water. The inner pool is dark turquoise color and makes a really nice contrast to the colorful border of the pool.
Of course it is one of the most photographed motives in the whole are of Rotorua.
On our path along the outskirts of the park we walked along "Frying Pan Flat", an unstable crater with many smaller hot pools, colorful sediments and steaming fumaroles. At the farthes end of the circle trail is the green Lake Ngakoro. On the way back we came across the sinter terraces again, this time with a more detailed view of the structures, and a pretty good impression of its sheer size.
One of the last things we saw, but in hindsight probably one of the most impressive, is a bright neon green lake called "Devils Bath". It looks so absolutely unreal that we still find it hard to belive that we actually saw it. And of course, that it is an actual natural phenomenon - because in truth it looks more like a terrible accident with a lot of paint or horrible chemicals. Or maybe it's radioactive.