Full Steam Ahead

Sunday, October 05, 2014 Road Junkies 0 Comments

Day 33:  Rotorua
After yesterday's disappointing dry hole geothermal experience, we dived into some serious research on Trip Advisor last night.  As the grandfather of New Zealand's tourist industry, Rotorua has no shortage of attractions eager to draw their share of area visitors' spending money.  Based on our study of reviews, we winnowed the profusion of possible sites to two.  Perusal of their web sites resulted in elimination of one attraction, leaving us with only the Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland.

In our research, we had learned that Wai-O-Tapu boasted the Lady Knox geyser, which erupted daily at 10:15 a.m.  Since Daylight Saving Time started last week, we speculated that the eruption would probably occur around 11:15 today.

Arriving a little after 9 a.m., we forked over $65 for two tickets to wonderland.  At the ticket counter, we asked if the eruption was predicted for 11:15 today.  No, 10:15, like always, we were told, and that set us wondering.  When we inquired whether the geyser had some mechanical assistance, the ticket agent informed us that chemical stimulation was used, rather than mechanical. 

After perusing the Wai-O-Tapu map and brochure, we calculated that we had just enough time to explore the one-mile circuit of the "top features" and make it to the geyser eruption site by 10:15.  Off we went on the paved trail, soon encountering the first of a number of craters—Devil's Home, a crater collapsed by acidic action underground (pictured on previous page).  Not a place you'd want to stumble into, whether the devil was home or not.

On we went around the circuit, passing a variety of signed features, certainly with more geothermal activity than we saw yesterday, but still mostly steam.  At Artist's Palette, we did see a bit more color than at the landmark of the same name we saw yesterday south of Rotorua.

Artist's Palette
The star of the Wai-O-Tapu walking circuit is the Champagne Pool, the largest geothermal spring in the area at 200 feet wide and about as deep.  Formed by a hydrothermal eruption, the pool contains a variety of minerals which leave colorful deposits along its surrounding ledges.
Champagne Pool
Keeping our eye on the time lest we miss the 10:15 eruption, we zipped past most of the craters until we reached the Devil's Bath, a large crater with a striking chartreuse pool created by the reaction of excess water from the Champagne Pool, with its unique minerals, mixing with the sulphur and ferrous salts in the crater.
Devil's Bath
Just past this unholy pool, we reached the end of the circuit and hopped in our car to drive to the amphitheater where we would see Lady Knox erupt—on schedule, no less.  When we arrived, a crowd was already gathered, all but filling the 300 or so seats.  Most had cameras in hand, poised for the anticipated geothermal action.
Ready for action
Still pondering how the chemical stimulant had been set up for a precise 10:15 eruption, we enjoyed the people watching and jostling for camera position as we all awaited the gusher display.  At the appointed hour, a ranger stepped over the railing and took his place next to the geyser—not wearing an asbestos suit or any other type of protective gear.  When he began to speak, excitement mounted as we all wondered whether he would be able to escape the danger zone before the eruption began.

Look out, Mr. Ranger!  It's 10:13!!
As we nervously listened, the ranger related the history of Lady Knox Geyser.  In the early 1900s, an experiment was conducted which brought some of the better behaved inmates from area prisons to work on the land.  When they were washing their clothes in a hot spring in this clearing, they discovered that the addition of soap to the spring generated an eruption.

Of course, this turned out to be a rare source of entertainment for the isolated prisoners, so they built up rocks around the opening of the spring to enhance the eruption.  And then we realized why the ranger had a package in his hand—and why he was not concerned about stepping next to the geyser at its anticipated eruption time.  Since 1931, a tourist attraction has operated here, with daily deposits of a substance which reacts with the spring the way the laundry soap did.  Silica from those eruptions has built up on the rocks, creating a cone-shaped structure.
Lady Knox erupts
Despite the artificiality of the event, when the ranger dropped his package into the cone, the crowd waited with bated breath and erupted in oohs and ahhs when water began to spurt from the spring, The cameras were clicking, the videos were rolling, and the tourists were happy.

Later in the day, we walked a bit around Lake Rotorua, where the steaming hot springs were on view with no admission fee.  With its iconic place on the New Zealand travel map, we chose not to skip Rotorua.  But the duck rides, the innumerable souvenir shops, and the efforts to promote itself as "RotoVegas"—not to mention the ubiquitous sulphur odor—should have informed us that it might not be not our favorite kind of town.

Tomorrow we'll hit the road again, driving northwest to Auckland, New Zealand's largest city and our final stop in this beautiful country.

Daily Stats
  • Started in Rotorua, ended in puzzlement
  • Mileage -  45   (Trip total: 15,554)
  • Natural geyser eruptions - 0
  • Artificially induced eruptions - 1
  • Happy tourists - 12,839
Steamy Wai-O-Tapu 
Rotorua Museum of Art and History, located in the old bath house building