Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Big Rock Candy Mountain Rainbow Moonscape

Dec. 5, 2012

This is just a small fraction of the photos – you really need to enlarge them to see the formations and the colors, the place was incredible!

We went to Waiotapu (Why-oh-TAH-pooh) today – it means “Sacred Waters” in Maori, and the complex is the colorful and diverse volcanic/geothermal regions in New Zealand.  (The whole region is part of the volcanic plateau that we went by in the train just about a month ago.  The area of volcanic activity stretches
from the actual volcanoes in the center all the way through Taupo and Rotorua and then on into the Bay of Plenty, where there’s a volcanic island.)

Anyway, Waiotapu is an area covered with collapsed craters, cold and boiling pools of mud, water, and steaming fumaroles.  According to the brochure, we only see a small fraction of the geothermal features.  “The area is associated with volcanic activity dating back about 160,000 years and is located right on the edge of the largest volcanic caldera within the active Taupo Volcanic Zone.”  Yup, that’s where walked, through the volcanic caldera.  Which isn’t extinct – no, this is an alive and bubbling and boiling and hissing and steaming mass of mud and water, all heated by magma way below the surface.  Which is just one of the reasons I never quite believe the status of an extinct volcano.

Richard and I started with the Lady Knox Geyser, named for the daughter of an early governor of the island.  This is a cone built up of silica and limestone from the water that gushes out – inside, there are hot and cold water levels that, when the ranger drops in some soap, mix and create the 30 ft high geyser.  The ranger drops in the soap every day at 10:15 AM, so that they can predict when there will be the eruption and thus stage a show for we tourists.  Otherwise, this geyser doesn’t have a schedule, she just blows when she feels like it.

Then on to the walks – there are three loops, interlocking, so that one can take a short, medium, 
or long walk through the park.  I opted for the longest walk so I could see all three loops – Richard opted to read and nap rather than wander this geologic minefield in the rain.  (He didn’t grow up with a geologist father, so he isn’t as fascinated by this stuff as I am.)

First there’s the crater field – creepy collapsed craters, sides full of crystallized minerals that come up with the steam or boiling mud/water and then adhere to the sides of the rocks
in bright yellow, red-brown, green.  Each crater has its own underground bubbling and thundering rhythm, with the heat and the chemicals eating away at the sides and periodically collapsing further.  They all look like gateways to Hades, and have names like “Devil’s Hole” and “The Inferno.”  

Then there are a series of shallow pools, fed by overflowing water drifting across limestone terraces and fed by underground springs, each with its own color from minerals that the boiling water has leached out of the rocks (it’s that hot!).  Yellows, pales aqua, green, red-brown, white – weird and wonderful all in the same large pools, or all one color with bits of other colors burbling up from underground – and called, of course, Artist’s Palette.  

There’s also the Champagne Pool, constantly fed by underwater vents so that the water bubbles so much it seems as if it is effervescent!  One of the strangest parts is that to continue on the trail, we walk across boardwalks constructed on top of the limestone terraces, with pools
 of variegated water on each side – so that it looks like people are walking on top of the water, with steam rising from every angle.  Out on the boardwalk it isn’t as creepy as it sounds, but from a distance it is very surreal.

Up and down hills and stairs, walking around corners where the path disappears and there are only “do not walk here - 100 degree C - HOT” signs, with eroded sandstone cliffs and shallow pools and terraces where you almost walk on water – the entire place looks like outer space.  Or maybe a movie set of outer space.  I can’t even describe some of the places, except to say it’s weird and wonderful.

And then there are the forests – twisted and gnarled 
trees that look as though they’ve been tortured into shape by the noxious fumes, dead and dying trees asphyxiated by the sulphur in the air.  There’s something very eerie about walking through a quiet forest and hearing boiling and hissing water or mud, and seeing puffs of steam drifting out of the ground at random intervals.  Who knows what else might appear with that underground bubbling and the streams of steam?

A waterfall of milky white water flows into a lake of 
emerald green, mixing into a pale green at its entrance.  Another pool is a lurid chartreuse, almost putrid in it’s bizarre color. 

The ground ranges from average dirt color to bright raw sienna, yellow ochre, bright yellow sulphur mounds, and strips of purple (manganese oxide, according to the brochure).

It took two hours to walk the three loops, in the light rain and with time to try to see everything.  Weird, wonderful, unreal.


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