We drove inland to explore the volcanic region around Rotorua, exchanging sea air for something a lot more eggy.
The geothermal areas here are very much alive and kicking: the whole city smells strongly of sulphur, and even the local park has bubbling mud pools and sulphur formations between its flower beds.
Rotorua itself is described as ‘not amounting to much’ by our grumpy Dutch guidebook: too touristy, and some swindling around tricks with geysers. Ignoring these aspects, we very much enjoyed the big lake, redwood forest and volcanic hills. We had a look at some of the most impressive geothermal activity at ‘Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland’, where you can look at some amazing pools and caves with differing colours and consistencies.
The first people who came across this area must have been were superstitious and named the every strangely coloured moving surface after the devil just to be sure. ‘Inferno’, ‘The Devil's Ink Pots’, ‘The Devil's Bath’: Lucifer wouldn't even have had to leave the park to enjoy a full day of work and downtime. One day they could be renamed after modern day evils such as ‘glow stick pool’ and ‘Glastonbury mud bath’.
Having had to skip a parkrun in Auckland (we were vanless and couldn't bring ourselves to wake our hosts) this Saturday we were very happy to line up at the start of Puarenga parkrun. They start earlier here because the whole nation has to go to various sports training sessions from 9am.
The introduction started with the usual: be nice to other park users, keep children close, you'll be running through some areas of geothermal activity… The run director also talked about the upcoming 13 year anniversary of 13 people starting parkrun in Bushy Park, which was strange to hear about so far away from London.
The celebrations did have a New Zealand accent, with runners invited to dress up as their favourite rugby player who wore number 13. The run itself went through part wooded areas, part desolate steaming moon-type areas. It's photogenic, but not very practical: apparently the sulphur makes the scanners used to register runners’ times play up.
We had a look at another dark side of the volcanic area when we went to the ‘Buried Village’, a village in the hills that was obliterated by an eruption in 1896. You can look at pictures and letters of tourists who went there to enjoy thermal baths created by volcanic activity in the years leading up to the eruption. They were very excited about the fascinating steamy heated areas and surreal colours, not unlike us these past few days, without realising they were running around on top of an active volcano.
The museum also shows excavated artefacts to show how complicated daily life was for the Victorians. Women moving to New Zealand around that time were advised to bring a long list of items including two morning gowns, 12 dresses and 45 chemises. A lot of layers to deal with when running away from lava! ’Will it happen again?’ asks one of the plaques in the museum. ‘Yes!’. One consolation is that there are more early warning systems in place. Also, according to the museum quite a few people said and wrote things like ‘it's the most awesome sight to behold’ just before they were killed by the last eruption, so that is something to hold on to.
Next up we're off to Lake Taupo and then to get back to the gloomy theme we're hiking past Mount Doom (real name Mount Ngauruhoe) of Lord of the Rings fame. See you on the other side!