Thursday, February 2, 2017

Adventures in New Zealand Part Two

As we were driving to Rotorua, I noticed signs along the highway said we were driving along the 'Thermal Explorer Highway'. So when we arrived at our motor lodge, hopped out of the people mover, took in a nice deep breathe of fresh air, and immediately heard complaining from the kids, I was not totally surprised. Just like South Carolina 'marsh fart', Georgian natural sulfur baths, Hawaiian volcanoes, Rotorua geothermal wonders....it seems anywhere Mother Earth 'blows kisses' to us earthlings it smells like rotten eggs. Our next morning, we got an early start to explore the heart of New Zealand's geothermal activity. We went to Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland! It is similar to Yellowstone National Park in the US, but ironically much more attainable for us to visit (since whenever we are stateside, we visit family/friends/doctor appts/etc and never make it out west).


The fantail (the Maori name is pīwakawaka) greeted us as we entered the park. The fantail is one the few native New Zealand bird species and were were lucky enough to spot one. We didn't hear it's call, but it apparently sounds like a squeaky toy. The orange growth you see on the tree branches is a type of green algae called Trentepohlia.


The Devil's Home was one of the first collapsed craters we came upon.


The yellow/greenish colors are caused by volcanic vapors coloring the walls. Yellow colors are associated with sulphur compounds and green colors are associated with "colloidal sulphur" (aka fine sulphur particles) and ferrous salts (Iron (II) salts). Oops....I think my chemistry teacher/geek is showing.


Lots of craters and constantly changing landscapes. You can see the recently exposed shrub roots.


Aptly named Rainbow Crater. Due to the sulphur crystals and the "mineral veins exposed in the kaolin clay walls". The red-brown mineral color is associated with Iron oxide and some of the purplish areas are associated with Manganese oxide (the park didn't specify the charge on the metals and it is driving me nuts. By the way, all the info I'm giving you about the different compounds is from the park guide map).


Another view of the rugged terrain. It was just neat and colorful and steamy.


Warning us to stay on the trail....as the temperatures quickly rose when straying from the trail.


In case you were curious....the rotten egg odor was a little stronger here than in in town!


I think this is Thunder Crater which was just formed in 1968....so relatively new geologically speaking.


Devil's Ink Pots - a series of mud pools. The dark color is due to small amounts of graphite and crude oil being forced up to the surface by the water.


Artist's Palette - you see the steaming Champagne Pool, water overflows from the pool here and as the water cools the minerals are exposed to the atmosphere and present in a variety of colors. The colors depend on the water levels and wind directions.


Rare vacation family photo with all four of us! Note the low bridge across the artist palette we will be crossing soon. As Clarissa said "the water is starting to creep me"...her current expression for freaking me out.


Opal pools - there is sulphurous spring on the edge of the terrace feeding the area and giving the pools their greenish color.


Ann & Jim in front of the Opal pools.


Due to the rainy/overcast/cool weather the Champagne pool was quite steamy, so it was not very photogenic at this angle....note due to grandparents being on the trip no kids fell into the 74°C water during the selfie taking/photobombing.


Up close, if you were patient and waited for a breeze to blow the steam away, you could quickly snap a photo and get a neat shot of the top of the embankment by the trail. It is full of minerals from the water that have been deposited, such as gold, silver, mercury, suphur, arsenic, thallium, antimony, etc. The bubbles you see in the water are due to carbon dioxide.


Another angle so you can see the orange mineral stretch is under the water.


At this point the trail forked towards two longer trails. The rain was starting to come down a little more frequently and we had about 10 minutes to get to the big Geyser eruption, so we opted to bypass the longer routes. Hopefully the other things were not really cool....as we continued along, looking out of the park the tree line on a neighboring mountain was real cool looking.


I just though the rock formations were very different/distinct here.


The kids were amazed at all the different colors in one small area, especially the rare purple.


You should of heard all the wooooohs coming out of our mouths! The water was unnaturally highlighter green! I added people to the photos just for perspective so that you can see that they are normal colored so the water was that color!


It is called the Devil's Bath and contains water from the Champagne Pool that has mixed with sulphur and ferrous salts. The color will change from green to yellow depending on the cloud cover....so rainy days...you get highlighter green!


Rub-a-dub-dub a dead bird in the Devil's tub.....


Yeah, we took a lot of photos of this crater because it was so out of this world amazing!


This was the last stop before the visitors center. We then had to get in the car and drive to Lady Knox Geyser. Everyday around 10:15 they have a presentation about the Geyser.


Apparently before this was a park, the nearby grounds were a prison. Where this geyser sits was a hot pool. The prisoners came to pool to wash their laundry. A few minutes after they started using soap the geyser went off sending their clothes flying into the air and the naked prisoners running in fear. The science behind it....the water towards the top of the geysers is around 100°C and further down the temperature is closer to 300°C (I think that is what the park ranger said....it's has been almost though....so if I'm wrong please don't get mad at me). The laundry soap broke the surface tension between the two water temperatures, relieving the pressure that had been building up, and immediately made the geyser erupt. Naturally the geyser will erupt every 36-48 hours. That does not do much for tourism, so every day at 10:15 a park ranger tells the story of the prisoners, who the geyser is named after (the daughter of Governor Knox), and then explains how they placed some rocks to help direct the geysers eruption and how they use an environmentally friendly soap to pour down the geyser to break the surface tension. He then pour the soap in, stepped aside, and about 3-4 minutes later:


The geyser can get up to heights of 20m depending on how much water has built up in the last 24 hours which can vary day to day. It was raining while waiting/it was erupting, hence the umbrellas (not from the geyser itself).


Upclose as the crowds started leaving. The geyser will erupt for almost an hour.


So while not as reliable as Ole Faithful in the US....I can now check off - see geyser eruption. After the eruption we headed out the park and back to Rotorua. That afternoon, we went to Rainbow Springs Nature Park. We went with this park since it had the most local wildlife (we have seen elephants and lions before....we wanted to see Kiwi birds!). We were all a bit chilled from the rainy morning at Wai-O-Tapu and while mostly heavily tree covered it was still drizzly when we arrived, so we beelined for the kiwi exhibit.


Kiwi's are nocturnal animals and Rainbow Springs has two exhibits with Kiwi birds. The park is open until "late". On our ticket it said we could return until 10:30pm! So one exhibit has the kiwi on it's natural schedule, the other has the kiwi on the opposite time (so it's like a toddler with bad jet lag and up all day and sleeps all night). So given it's exhibit mimics nighttime, it was very dark and we couldn't take any photos. We did see real live kiwi birds though. They were bigger than I expected (I'd say small raccoon size).


After seeing the kiwi exhibit, the rain had stopped so we walked around Rainbow Springs a bit more. Clarissa befriended a little duck that walked up to her from the pond.


Drinking fresh Rainbow Springs water at the water bottle refill station and drinking fountain....


We found this cute little Duvaucel's gecko in the native reptile encounter. It is the largest native New Zealand gecko and only found on predator free offshore barrier islands.


We went into the Kaka free flight avairy. The Kaka bird is a playful bush parrot and was very used to humans!


We think this might have been the bird that pooped on Bajoo....probably because he wasn't paying enough attention to him....


An extra photogenic native New Zealand kingfisher....


Also within the park, there was a stand of California Redwood trees! In the early 1930s, the original property owner planted 12 redwoods. They have grown quicker than the ones in California, but the wood is not as "good" as the ones in California (but I don't recall why).


It was starting to rain (again), so we headed back to our motel to rest/warm up for fun evening adventure in the Māori village! We went to the Tamaki Māori Village and were really happy with the experience. They picked us up from our motel and our "canoe" (aka bus) had our visiting village name and we choose a chief. There were a lot of similarities to our Luau in Hawaii and our Fijian village visits (since they are Polynesian villages that makes sense), but this village concentrated on strictly Māori culture. The 'tiki men' are slightly different looking.


The women announced the arrival of visitors. The Māori women will only have tattoos on their chins.


The chief and his tribesmen come out to see who are these visitors.


They are purposefully very intimidating. We did learn the traditional tattoos were done with a chisel made from an albatross bone. Ouch!


I especially like the guys eyes to the right of the main guy. We were warned to not laugh. Everything they were doing was very traditional to the Māori culture and to laugh would be an insult.


After all our chiefs, successfully got us invited into the village. We went to different stations. The first was learning about the poi balls. The poi balls were original weighted balls to help increase strength and flexibility in the hands of warriors. Over time they were incorporated into the dances done by the Māori women of the tribe. Several woman from the group were invited down to try our hand at poi. Ann and I both ended up going. Even though I felt like an uncoordinated goon the whole time, this photo appears to show I'm not doing to shabby....


Ann swinging her poi. Clarissa ended up buying her own poi at the gift shop and has been practicing ever since.


Our next hut, we learned about a traditional game. Since it was wet, muddy, and the ground a bit uneven they only let adults play. Richard and Jim both volunteered. They learned the Māori words for left and right. The lady then would yell out left or right, you let go of your pole, run to pole to the direction she called, and grab that pole before it fell to the ground. If your pole fell you were out.


Running. I don't recall who won but Richard and Jim did go out in the same round. Gradually the poles moved further apart so you had to run faster.


The guys were taught the Haka as a group. The Haka is a ceremonial war dance (if you watch rugby, you've seen the New Zealand All Blacks perform it before a game to intimidate the other side).


After a quick tutorial, Richard and Jim were ready for their world Haka debut!


We went to another hut and learned about the meanings of tattoos and how they were done. Clarissa was extra cooperative to sit and listen to that one (the guy was creeping her....). Our last story was from the man on the boat. He actually told us the history of how the Māori got in New Zealand and the legend of Maui (yep....that Maui guy with the fish hook legend....has some Māori origins).


After all this learning, we headed to see the unearthing of the Hangi (the feast that had been cooked underground). We then went inside a theatre to watch them perform a poi dance, a haka, as well as, sing some songs while the food was prepped for serving (having little people with us got an up close seat....score). After the show, we went into the village meeting house to eat. After stuffing ourselves, we returned to our "canoe" (bus) to paddle back to town. The driver we had was very lively and since everyone on the bus was tourists he had everyone sing a song from their home country. The three girls from China did the best job.

When we got back to the motel, we all crashed. After a long, busy day we had to get up early to head out of rotten egg land......stay tuned to found out what happens next.....

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