Fumeroles, Volcanoes and Dolphins

On Tuesday (20th Feb) we hired a car and took a leisurely drive to Rotaroa, the centre of the geothermal and volcanic area on North Island. We had a look around the local park when we arrived, which is littered with hot springs and fumeroles. It’s quite weird to just see steam and sulphur emanating from a hole in the middle of the park!  Keen to see more we then headed for the Wai-O-Tapu geothermal park for a look at the geothermal features there. It’s an absolutely amazing area with hot lakes, steaming rivers and the heady smell of sulphur. Well worth a visit.

Fumerole, Wai-O-Tapu
Champagne Pool, Wai-O-Tapu
Champagne Pool, Wai-O-Tapu
Debi found us a nice old hotel in Rotarua called, Princes Gate, just next to the government gardens. The hotel was built in 1897 in Waihi,  about 150km north of it’s current location during a gold mining boom. The hotel went through a number of booms and busts in Waihi until in 1917 it was decided to move the hotel to the expanding tourist town of Rotarua. So nail by nail and board by board the hotel was dismantled and transported by horse drawn wagon to the Waihi station and then by rail to Rotaroa. Amazing effort and it is still in great condition. I suspect they may have had some bits left over though!

On Wednesday we had a typical “Debi holiday” day, where we attempted to do and see everything there was to do in the area in a single day! First we did a walk through some beautiful bushland up to the peak of Mt. Ngongotaha. At the summit we were rewarded with a beautiful view of the cellphone tower and not a lot else! The trees were too tall to see the view of Lake Rotarua. A sign at the bottom did warn of this and the walk through the trees was very rewarding with a very tropical feel and lots of information boards about the wildlife and the trees.
Rimu Tree and all it's epiphytes
Fungi everywhere
The summit of Mt. Ngongotaha
We got back to the car in the late morning and then it was off to the Whakarewarewa Maori village which was fascinating.  By the way Whakarewarewa is the short version of the name! The full name is "Te Whakarewarewatanga O Te Ope Taua A Wahiao" meaning "The gathering place for the war parties of Wahiao". These guys could certainly show the Welsh a thing or two about spelling. They apparently only have 15 consonants in their alphabet!

This is a village built on a geothermal area, where a group of Maori people have lived for over two hundred years and welcome visitors to explain the Maori culture and to show how they use the geothermal resource. They basically cook and bathe outside in the geothermal pools, but surprisingly don’t use it to heat their houses in winter. We had a traditional Hangi pie for lunch cooked in a geothermal oven. Pie for lunch is always good especially after a walk up a mountain. We saw the cultural show, took a tour and finally did a walk through the village and surrounding area. Just when Pat thought we were heading back for a rest in the hotel, it was off to the Government Gardens for another walk! The gardens were impressive and we finally got a view of Lake Rotarua. Then it was back to the hotel and a soak in the geothermally heated spa at the hotel.


Cooking sweetcorn Whakarewarewa style
Whakarewarewa Village
Bath time Whakarewarewa Village
Apparently the locals are very friendly
Relaxing at the end of a "Debi Day"
On Thursday we managed to get a late check out and headed to the Polynesian Spa across in the government gardens. The spa is beautifully set out on the shores of the lake. They channel mineral waters from two geothermal springs through a total of 28 different hot mineral pools. The pools range in temperature from around 37 degC up to 42 degC. Debi was in heaven. After an hour of being gently poached it was off back to the hotel to check out and then get breakfast. We then both had much needed trips to the hairdresser. When Pat sat down in the barbers chair the first thing the guy said was “you’ve been to the spa”. Apparently the smell of sulphur was quite strong!

Replenished with haircuts, spas and lots of culture we then headed back to Tauranga and X-Pat, picking up provisions along the way. Debi has decided that we will be going meat free for the next three weeks and so bought only vegetables. Pat’s challenge is to catch fish if he wants meat!

Back on X-Pat all was fine. The worst of Cyclone Gita missed Tauranga, with maximum winds in the marina around 30 knots. 

Friday was an early start. We left Tauranga at 6am and drove south for just over an hour to Whakatane, where we joined a boat trip out to White Island to visit New Zealand’s most active volcano. The trip out to the island took about an hour and then we had a couple of hours on the island breathing in the sulphur and viewing the old sulphur mine processing buildings. We were even issued with gas masks just in case the sulphur laden steam got too much. Fortunately we didn’t need them. After we had been on the island about fifteen minutes the heavens opened and we all got soaked. Our enthusiastic guide thought this was a good thing as she believed that the landscape looked more colourful in the rain! The rutted landscape certainly came alive with streams pouring down the hillside. It was quite weird to see steaming sulphur mounds with streams running across them. 

Apparently someone tried to anchor on an active volcano!
The main crater on White Island
Sulphur in the rain
The remains of the sulphur processing factory
Delicate operations transferring off White Island
Back on X-Pat we got things tidied up ready for departure and then headed off for a meal at Phil’s Place, a very good restaurant at the marina, which is owned by the ex AC/DC drummer, Phil Rudd.

On Saturday (24th Feb) we left our berth at Tauranga Bridge marina, refuelled and then started heading north for Slipper Island. It was another windless day and so we were motoring the whole 30 nm. The water was crystal clear and we had a fantastic encounter with a pod of about ten Long Beaked Common dolphins. They saw us from about 500m away and headed over to play in our bow wave for about ten minutes. Magical.

Playtime

Long Beaked Common Dolphin (we think!)

For most of Sunday we chilled out at anchor in South Bay of Slipper Island. The snorkelling was lovely here, with about 20m of visibility. We took the dinghy to a nearby headland and snorkelled from there. We both saw some small rays and lots of bait fish, all swimming in unison. The wind was due to change to the west overnight, so we left our anchorage in the late afternoon and we are now anchored in a pretty isolated bay known as Tapuaetahi Bay, which on the east side of the Coromandel Peninsular. We had the bay to ourselves overnight. This morning Pat went off in the dinghy fishing and caught two Kahawai in fairly quick succession. Apparently we are having sushi for supper! The snorkelling here was also quite good, but the visibility was not quite as good as on Slipper island.

Later today we will be heading north again to change anchorages as the wind is expected to go SE tonight. It’s tough this!


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