On Gollum’s Trail through Volcano Country

February 24, 2016

We had a conscious effort to find where the Gollum of the Ring Trilogy would have liked to hang out. The journey started with mud pots. A few miles south of Rototua was a turn off to the mud. The mud filled pond was bubbling and spurting but only when the camera wasn’t clicking. I think Peggy got a few in mid-bubble. Since every tourist shop sells cosmetic mud I realized that I was looking at a fortune in goo. Too bad I didn’t bring a bucket.

Next stop was at the Kerosene Water Springs at the end of a gravel road. There was a bus full of young folks heading for the hot pond so we settled for standing in a hot waterfall for a picture. Maybe we should have explored this place more but we knew the day would be full. We stopped to check out the Waimamgu Volcanic Valley that was formed in 1887 by the eruption of Mt. Tarawera. It sounded interesting since it was so new. Unfortunately, the place has commercialized to the point where the tour buses were lined up and you need $50 US to see the place with a guided walking tour. I don’t do guided tours very well and the price seemed exorbitant. We passed and I was momentarily bummed.

That all changed a few miles down the road as we reached a spa built around NZ’s largest hot water spring. The Waikete Hot Springs was even better than Hamner Springs. We started with an EcoWalk to the headwaters of the spring where 50 liters a second of boiling water bubbles up. The trail winds through the steam created by the springs and shrouds the ferns and plant life in a permanent cloud. It was indeed Jurassic as had been mentioned in the guide books. We have a few dozen pictures of steamy plants but no dinosaurs. We returned to the improved pools and enjoyed the place with a few other people. Yes, they had infinity pools overlooking the jungly setting. We spent an hour or so getting our muscles rubbery.

The next mini-adventure was the roadside picnic where we watched the bus of kids from the Kerosene Springs retrieve half of their cargo that was strewn across the highway. I am sure nothing was damaged too much, but their sleeping mattresses may have acquired a stockyard scent. We continued down the road and got closer to our destination of Taupo. We wanted to make two more stops. The first was at Huka Falls.

Finding Huka Falls was a challenge. The small brown road signs that indicate sights and attractions do not distinguish between commercial ventures and public facilities. This can lead to confusion and false leads. The signs to Huka Falls were obscured by signs for Volcano Land and the hilarious signs to Prawn Fishing. Yes, the hot water creates tropical conditions for prawn farms. So mixed in with Jet Boats and Prawn Golfing (Yes, there is such a thing.) you can catch and cook your prawns. We finally tracked down the way to Huka Falls and were so excited when we looked down from the view point.

Enough water goes over Huka Falls to fill 5 Olympic Pools every minute. I was more impressed with the sheer beauty and its aquamarine color. It was entertaining to watch our fellow tourists take pictures with selfie sticks while we certainly took our share. It was truly an incredibly wonderful sight. The force of the water and the local geothermal sites provide 15% of Kiwi electrical power. I was not surprised.

We finally found the lair of the Gollum at the Craters of the Moon Volcanic Park. The most recent eruption here was in 2002 and the whole place looked like it was ready to go again at any minute. Maybe that is why there were only a few people out to walk the two mile loop on a mostly elevated wooden walkway. The ground is actually hot with countless fumaroles spewing steam as you walk by them. The craters created a few years ago are still smoking as are ominous bubbling holes in the ground that surround you. We finally found the lair of Gollum in a steamy rift hissing away. It was finally time to call in quits for the day.

Our digs for the night are great overlooking the deep blue Lake Taupo that sits like Crater Lake in Oregon. We survived a trip to the supermarket and its crazy parking lot. It seems so strange that everything else in NZ makes sense except for their parking lots. Maybe it is just driving on the wrong side that is getting to me. Anyway, we are tucked away for the night and the management did our laundry for us for $6 US. It is things like having your laundry done that makes travel much easier.

Heading south to Napier and Hawke’s Bay wine region tomorrow. No more volcano stuff except that I can see Mt. Doom or Mt. Tongariro out our window. This is about as close as we will get. Maybe next visit we can climb the mountain.

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