FolkestoneJack's Tracks

A hike around the Mt Tarawera crater rim

Posted in New Zealand, Rotorua by folkestonejack on April 8, 2019

Twenty one years ago I came to Rotorua in the depths of winter and booked a four wheel drive trip to see the crater at Mount Tarawera, a dormant volcano. Unfortunately, the day served up thick fog and I could barely see a metre in front of me. The tour still ran, but it was pretty pointless as the closest I got to a view was looking at the scoria at my feet. I thought I would never get the chance to go back and see the view again, however fate has led me back here to rectify that.

The stunning colours and dramatic scenery at the crater rim

Things have changed a little since my first visit. Public access to Mount Tarawera was withdrawn in 2002 so the only way to go up to the summit is through a tour with the licenced operator, Kaitiaki Adventures. Also, one of the three domes of the dormant volcano (Wahanga) is completely closed as it is considered tapu (sacred) having been used as a burial site by the Maori tribe that owns the site, Ngāti Rangitihi.

Our trip with Kaitiaki Adventures took us by road for thirty minutes, then up an increasingly bumpy unsealed road and finally on foot to the top. Once we got up there we could stand by the crater edge and see the challenge that faced us on our crater rim walk. The steep scree slope we would need to descend to get to the crater floor looked particularly daunting from our starting point. However, under the guidance of our guides nothing was impossible.

Our slightly daunting path to the crater floor!

Our walk around the top was pretty straightforward, barring for a bit of wind and the angle of the scree slope, while still sleep, was somewhat less daunting once you got up close. The trick of making a descent was to dig your heels into the scoria and lean back a little, rather than letting your toes lead the way, pulling you forward into a probable tumble. It also needed a little pace – the slower you went the more difficult the descent would be. Everyone made it down safely and enjoyed a little breather before the climb back out on the other side.

The walk around the crater rim was exhilarating with incredible views in all directions, stretching from Taupo in the south to White Island in the north. Up at the top you got a really clear view of the 17km long rift that opened when Mount Tarawera erupted on 10th June 1886. It was striking to think that the landscape in front of us was created in just one night of deadly and destructive explosive force.

The view from the top of Mount Tarawera

Although the access restrictions are understandably not popular with everyone it has allowed the landscape to recover, particularly with the removal of invasive plant species, and it looks gorgeous in its raw natural state.

I was grateful for a bit of luck that was lacking twenty one years ago. Our walk was carried out in near perfect conditions, but the next scheduled walk was cancelled due to the bad weather that was expected to hit mid-way through the afternoon slot. Thanks to our excellent guide and driver, Ben and Steve, for a terrific morning.


Waimangu Valley and Wai-o-Tapu

Posted in New Zealand, Rotorua by folkestonejack on April 7, 2019

The geothermal delights of Rotorua have long been attracting visitors to the central plateau, but the sights on offer today are quite different to those experienced by the more determined tourists of the Victorian age. The reward for travelling to Lake Rotomahana by steamer, horse drawn coach, canoe and by foot would have been the extraordinary pink and white terraces.

The salmon pink siliceous sinter terraces at Lake Rotomahana were regarded as one of the natural wonders of the world. The spectacle had first attracted European visitors in the 1830s but the numbers really picked up by the 1870s after an increase in publicity ensured their existence reached a wider audience. All of that changed on 10 June 1886 when Mount Tarawera erupted.

Waimangu Volcanic Valley

The eruption created the Waimangu Volcanic Valley, the youngest geothermal valley in New Zealand, while destroying the pink and white terraces. It was assumed that no trace of the terraces remained, but a small piece was discovered at a depth of 60 metres in 2011. Today, visitors can take a walk through this young geothermal wonder and take a cruise on the lake. Sights include a steaming acidic crater lake, steaming cliffs, a multi-coloured terrace, geysers and an assortment of steam vents (fumaroles).

On our visit we had a couple of hours to wander along the set route through the valley, followed by a cruise around the lake and a bus ride back up to the entrance. In the afternoon we continued on to another geothermal wonder, Wai-o-Tapu, with some equally delightful spectacles, including extensive sinter terraces and a bright orange edged ‘champagne pool’ that was drawing gasps of wonderment from everyone as they got their first look.

The geothermal delights of Rotorua are astonishing to explore, but deserve a bit of time to see properly. I first visited both sites on a minibus tour in 1998 that only allotted a few hours to the two sites in total, whereas on this trip we were able to devote an entire day. It is perhaps no surprise that my main recollection of that trip were of running down the gravel tracks to try and see everything, rather than the spectacle I was supposed to be enjoying!

Champagne Pool at Wai-o-Tapu

I really appreciated the time on this trip to understand the events that led up to the creation of the natural wonders we can see today and the price paid by some of the unlucky tourists in the late 19th and early 20th century whose visits coincided with the most significant changes in geothermal activity. The most recent of these events took place in 1917 when the hydrothermal eruption of Echo Crater created Frying Pan Lake.

I think this is one of those places that you have to see for yourself, as no pictures can really do the place justice, but I’ve picked out a few shots to give a little flavour of the place.