Monday, 7 February 2011

Stinks, treks, and underground adventures...

Our next stop was Rotorua, which is famous for being in a volcanic region full of geothermal activity and sulphurous smells. Dan and I visited Wai-O-Tapu, a 'geothermal wonderland', and I can honestly say that I have never smelled a nastier stink than the devilish stinks I smelled there. It was also thoroughly fascinating, and absolutely beautiful. The geothermal activity and hot volcanic springs create the most incredible natural colours in the rocks and water, as well as many areas where hot, stinky steam belches out of the ground (some of these phenomena have been given names such as 'The Devil's Home'). Here are a few of my favourites:
The 'Champagne Pool', with steam boiling over it:
A lake that has a natural lime green colour because of sulphur in the water:
Bright yellow sulphur:
Dan and I then met back up with Sarah and Stu, and the four of us went round the corner to visit some boiling mud pools (otherwise known as 'The Bog of Eternal Stench'):
That evening we fled the smells and drove to Waitomo, ready for a caving adventure the next day! The Waitomo region has 310 known caves - the majoriy of the caves in New Zealand - and we went caving in the Mangawhitikau cave system. Our group consisted of the four of us, plus two really nice Danish girls and our lovely guide, Scott. Dressed in a fabulous ensemble of wetsuits, wellies and helmets, we started with a 29-metre vertical abseil down into the mouth of the cave to the river at the bottom.
Here is Stu, decescending into the drop:
The huge entrance chamber to the cave:
Once down there, we switched on the lights on our helmets and waded upstream into the dark! There was plenty of clambering and caving, and even some proper spelunking (which is the name given to the 'sport' of squeezing yourself through claustrophobia-inducing rock tunnels)! Some of the tunnels we went through were literally so narrow that you have to shuffle through on your tummy with your arms above your head, because if you had your arms by your sides you would get stuck. It's mostly an exercise in self-control - it takes some serious 'mind-over matter' not to panic in such tiny rocky spaces (but we all succeeded admirably, I hasten to add)! Stu and Dan even managed the very narrowest tunnel (Sarah and I took one look and opted out)!
Stu and I underground:
One of the main reasons we visited the cave was to see the New Zealand glow worms, which hang from the rock celining in their thousands, glittering and glowing like a really bright, close night-sky. The glow worms are actually the larvae of a gnat fly, and they live on the ceiling and hang lots of sticky 10-15cm long 'fishing lines' down to catch any insects in the cave. They glow to attract their food; insects are attracted to the light and become ensnared in the sticky lines. (We also saw some cave eels in the water.) Here is our group sitting in the underground river. If you look carefully, you can see the glittering glow worms in the dark above us:
After having a good close-up look at the glow worms, we each grabbed a big inflatable donut ring to sit in and went 'tubing' (also known as black water rafting) - floating down the river looking up at the glowing ceiling with our lights off. Here is Stu tubing over a mini-waterfall:
After a quick stop for a snack of chocolate and hot squash, we made our way back upstream (taking the time to leap off some rocks with our inflatable rings) to the entrance chamber. We then did a fairly easy rock climb back up out of the mouth of the cave. Here I am emerging, with Stu, Dan and Sarah down below:
Back at base camp, we had much-needed hot showers and a hot mug of soup - aaah! It was an absolutely brilliant day!
After the caving we drove to Taupo, which has the biggest lake in NZ ('Lake Taupo', of course). The views were lovely, and the next day was a bit more relaxing. In the (late) morning we went to The Honey Hive, just outside of town, where we learned about honey bees and tasted lots of different kinds of New Zealand honey, as well as mead and clover honey cream liqueur! We also had honey coffee and honey ice-cream at their little cafe.
In the afternoon, Dan and Sarah went for a walk to a waterfall, while Stu and I went to a hot springs park which was attached to our campsite. The water there is naturally hot from the volcanic springs, and is full of lots of minerals. It was very relaxing, and also fun - they had a brilliant water slide that we went on about twenty times, as well as giant chess!
We then drove to Tongariro, because the next day we had an early start: we did the Tongariro Alpine Crossing! New Zealand is big on treks, or as they call it, 'tramping', and the Tongariro Alpine Crossing is reputedly one of the best one-day tramps in the country. It is 19km through mountainous terrain. For any LOTR fans, the Tongariro National Park is also where Mordor was filmed! We got up in the dark and rain and got dropped at the start with our backpacks and waterproofs. The weather was not good at all, but at least it wasn't too hot! There was a heavy mist, so it looked really eerie. The ascent started fairly easily, trekking through rocky scrubland past trickling streams and waterfalls, but soon it gfot tougher as we approached 'The Devil's Staircase'. Here the track got much steeper and the landscape started looking much more like Mordor - black volcanic rock and less and less vegetation as we got higher up the mountain. Just as we were getting really worn out, we got to the South Crater, which is a huge flat area, and a short break from climbing uphill. The mist was so heavy that we couldn't really see the sides of the crater - it felt like we were in some sort of alien landscape. Then we were out the other side and going up again, with the track getting gravelly and looser so our feet slid out from beneath us as we tried to walk uphill - it was really tough going! The rock and sand was black with chunks of red thrown in as we approached the highest point of our walk: the Red Crater. We stopped for lunch at the top, surrounded by mist. Just over the crest of the hill the fog cleared enough for us to get a view of the reddiush crater behind us and the Emerald Lakes below.
Stu in the black rocky landscape:
In the South Crater mists:
Here I am washing my legs in one of the lakes after tripping over and getting covered in black gravel!:
The downhill part of the walk was longer but not such hard work, and as the fog cleared and the sun came out we really started to enjoy the views:
We tramped down from the Mordor-esque landscape, through scrubland and past some stinky sulphur vents, and finally the last part of the trek was through a forest. By the time we reached the end we'd been walking for six and a half hours, and we were all aching! Nevertheless, we pushed on with a bit more driving to get to Wanganui, where some friends of Sarah's live. John and Judy brought us some delicious cakes and home-grown strwberries at our campsite, which was just the ticket at the end of an achy day!
Here's a slice of van life:

Judy and John kindly showed us around Wanganui the next day, and we were all exhausted and incredibly grateful to them for giving us such a relaxing day. They have a traditional Kiwi 'bach' (beach house) which they let us stay in. It was wonderful to relax and just read a book with a gorgeous view of the sea. And that brings us up to date! Phew!

1 comment:

  1. Oh my that caving looks terrifying! I still have nightmares about doing that at school, being squeezed through a tiny slot called 'The Postbox'... But I never knew it had such a cool name!

    Lots of love from Korea xxx