Boiling Lakes and Gloworms

Trip Start Jan 15, 2009
Trip End Mar 07, 2009

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Flag of New Zealand  , North Island,
Thursday, March 5, 2009

My day today was not really well planned out unfortunately.  My plan was to drive to the Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland south of Rotorua and then to the Gloworm Cave at Waitoma.  For starters, Rotorua is not that far from the Coromandel Penninusula, so it would have made more sense for me to spend the night there after kayaking instead of driving back to Auckland last night.  But, I didn't do that.  So I had to drive 3 and 1/2 hours to get to Rotorua. I had hoped to get there by 10:00 am, so I could see the Lady Knox Geiser erupt at 10:15 am as it does every day.  It is kind of like Old Faithful in Yellowstone National Park in the US.  However, I underestimated the amount of time it would take to get there and I ran into a construction project that slowed me down as well, So it was about 11:00 am by the time I got there.

When I arrived, I bought a ticket and made my way into the park.  As I walked across a bridge near the entrance to the park, I saw the first geothermal feature:  the Wai-O-Tapu Hot Stream.  It is a stream that runs with near boiling water.  Then I followed the trail into an area known as the craters. This is an area with lots of sinkholes.  Some of these have bubbling cauldrons of sulfurous liquid at the bottom of them.  Some have steam and sulfurous fumes rising up from the hole.  Others have bubbling mud at the bottom of them.  A few are filled with toxic water colored by different minerals; ferrous salts produce green colors, antimony turns it orange, manganese oxide makes it purple, sulfur creates a yellow color, and iron oxide turns it redish.  Next, I crossed a bridge acrross the Primrose Terrace--which is a large silica mudflat with vapors emminating from it. On the other side of the bridge, and off to one side, is the most impressive spot in the park--The Champaigne Pool.  This is a spring which is 65 meters in diameter and 62 meters deep.  It has steam and vapors rising from it and it is bubbling at the surface giving it the appearance of a boiling lake.  In fact, the bubbles are from carbon dioxide coming up from the bottom of the spring and the water temperature is only 74 degrees Celsius (well short of boiling).  The minerals in the water produce brightly colored deposits around the ledge at the rim of the spring, which adds to the mistique of this spring.  Next, I walked a series of nature trails.  These meander through scenic areas of the park taking you to places like the Wai-O-Tapu geyser, Frying Pan Flat, the Oyster Pool and Sulfur Cave.  Also there are a couple of educational nature trails with native plants and trees of of New Zealand.  Overall, it is a colorful and amazing place to see, but after a while the sulfurous vapors which permeate the park started to get to me and I decided it was time to go.  I made made my way to the snack bar and had some lunch and then went back to the car park.

As I sat there looking at a map in the parked car at Wai-O-Tapu, I realized that there was not a direct route from where I was to where I wanted to go--Waitomo.  I was going to have to backtrack towards the city of Hamilton and then cut across on some smaller country roads to get to Waitomo.  I started driving, but eventually I had to stop and get directions to find one of these smaller roads.  The directions I got were good and found the route I was looking for.  Eventually I came out ont a larger road headed to Waitomo.  I arrived there at 4:30 pm, just in time for the next tour of the caves.  A tour guide ushered us through the locked gate into the cave.  At first, it seemed like every other cave I have toured.  Lots of stalagtites and stalagmites, interesting caverns and strange rock formations with the occasional drop off into the depths of the earth.  After a while, we were led back into the back of the "Cathedral" cavern and into another cavern behind it.  Here you could see tiny blue-green lights coming from the ceiling of the cavern.  These lights are bioluminescence created by tiny insects called gloworms (Arachnocampa luminosa).  The larval stages of these insects live attached to the ceiling of the cave.  They produce dozens of long, sticky, "fishing" strands that hang down from the ceiling of the cave.  They produce light from a light producing organ on their head.  This light attracts flying insects that fly into the cave.  They fly up towards the light and then get stuck in the "fishing" threads and are then eaten by the gloworms.  The most amazing part was when we took a boat ride through the "Gloworm Grotto" though.  This is the part of the cave where the underground river flows through.  In this area you can look up at the cave ceiling and it looks like millions of stars on a dark night.  Each point of light is a little gloworm larvae.  It was quite a magical experience!  A couple minutes after we emerged from the grotto we emerged from the cave at the dock and the tour was over.  I was not allowed to take photos in the cave, but I have a few photos that I purchased on CD that I am including as well as one I took at the dock.

After I left Waitomo, I headed back towards Auckland. The roads through Hamilton and back to Auckland are of pretty good quality and I made good time.  I arrived back in Auckland at about 8:30 pm.  I went down the street to a little Chinese restaurant and got some carry out (take away as they say here) and ate it in my hotel room.  I can't believe it, but this is my last full day in New Zealand.  I catch a plane tommorow for San Francisco.
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