Geo-Thermal Sightseeing

Trip Start Oct 16, 2007
Trip End May 09, 2008

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Friday, January 25, 2008

We woke up at 6am to take a sunrise nature walk. The woman who worked there last night said there was a lovely walk through the thermal valley, so we thought we'd check it out.  The walk was quite nice through the woods, with natural gases steaming from cracks everywhere in the ground.  But the area didn't seem very active.  We picked up our LP guide book to read what it said about Wairakei and it was actually one of the most active thermal areas in the world with at least 22 geysers and 240 mud pools/springs up through the 50s.  But then the nearby geothermal power plant got started and that just killed the activity in the park.  Supposedly 5% of NZ's power comes from this area.

We took a quick stop at the highly recommended Huka Falls to check out 'NZ's Niagara Falls'.  There was an enormous amount of water pouring through it so fast and furious. Upstream from the Waikato River, a space 100m wide and 4m deep is forced into a channel 15m wide and 10m deep! The amount of energy produced around this river provides 65% of the North Island's power generation!!  It was an incredible sight, one  of the most amazing waterfalls we've seen.  We asked one of the caretakers there if there are some people crazy enough to go down Huka Falls and she said there are actually some kayakers who've gone down it (but they're not supposed to), and one guy died recently. He flipped over in the middle and probably drowned before even reaching the main drop of the falls.  She said that some people even come here to commit suicide, a morbid thought. 

We hurried on north to get to Waiotapu Thermal Wonderland before the famous geyser goes off at 10:15am.  The park smelled very pungent of sulphur, and it was a compact area to walk around in a couple of hours. Check out some of the pics. Our favorite areas were the Champagne Pool and the mudpools.  The Lady Knox Geyser spouted out promptly at 10:15am as the park guide adds some soap into it to get it to spout.  They said the geyser can spout up to 20m high, but it looked more like 10m to us.  It wasn't super impressive, especially since it is forced to erupt on command with soap every day at 10:15am.  If no soap were added, they said it would erupt probably every 2-3 days without much predictability.  So I guess if you want to see really nice geysers, better head to Yellowstone National Park in the US.

We continued northbound to Rotorua.  There's a lot of activities you can do in Rotorua, like bungy jumping, jet boating, Zorbing, Swooping, simulated skydiving (getting blasted 5m into the air on an air column). Frank was eager to drop more $ to try out another adrenaline kicking activity. Zorbing sounded crazy and really interesting.  We headed to the Agrodome to check out the Zorbing hill. From afar, the hill didn't seem that steep or long, the ball didn't bounce or go down the hill very fast, and the people in the ball looked pretty static inside the ball without flipping or tumbling.  Check out the video here.   And for another NZ$50 for 30 seconds (pretty cheap compared to other activities for the amt of time), Frank decided it was too boring and passed on Zorbing.  We didn't see anyone trying the simulated  skydiving (called Freefall Xtreme) but did see a couple of girls trying out Swooping.  It basically looks like you're strapped in a heavy duty sleeping bag, hoisted up by a crane high in the air, and then they push you off a ramp so you swing like a pendulum.

We left Rotorua without spending a dime highway 33, and stopped next at Kiwi 360 in Te Puke.  They sold lots of Kiwi fruit products and also did Kiwi orchard tours.  We got there about 5pm, too late for the orchard tours and the deli was closed too, but not too late to buy some pretty darn good Kiwi ice cream Kiwi juice, and Kiwi soap (no, we didn't eat the soap).

It was getting quite late and after driving for awhile, we ended up staying the night in a rest stop close to Katikati.  Wasn't so nice but it was getting too late to drive on.  It was a really long day, can't believe how much we saw today!
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