Thursday, December 5, 2019

The best of Taupo and Rotarua in One Day

After passing through the desert road we ended up near the town of Taupo and New Zealand's largest inland lake with the same name.   Taupo itself was quite crowded and a bit too "touristy" for our

tastes.  However we were interested in a few spots just North of the town so we stayed at a nearby AirBNB and headed out the next morning.  First stop was the Huka Falls.  They are described as horizontal waterfalls and that's pretty much accurate.

 Huka Falls

All the flow leaving Lake Taupo heads down the Waikato River in a wide, deep, and fast channel.  At Huka Falls this fast-flowing river gets squeezed into a channel that isn't much more than 20 feet wide.  We walked out onto a little observation footbridge to see it roaring underneath, faster than any river we've seen.  It was quite noisy and fascinating to watch.  Like a gigantic sluice box.  Looking upstream and downstream you could clearly see the elevation drop was perhaps 100 feet in the short distance.  The water is a gorgeous teal/sea foam green and totally white in sections from all the entrained air bubbles.
Looking upstream you can see a significant elevation drop. 

Looking downstream you could see the exit pool in the distance
The water color is so pretty.
The bridge over the falls

This jet boat took people past the downstream end of the falls where they end in a large pool.

Here is a short video of the falls taken from the overlooking bridge.

Geothermal Power Station

One of New Zealand's geothermal power stations is located right near Huka falls. Since we are both power industry engineers we simply had to check that out!

The Wairakei power station is the 2nd geothermal plant ever built. The region is an active volcanic area. They drilled 50 wells down to 2000 feet and they have been drawing out hot steam and water since the early 60's. The hot water flashes to steam at the surface and is run through turbines to generate electricity.

The insulated steam lines were quite familiar to us - but little else resembled the fossil power plants where we've spent our careers.

Rich climbing higher to watch maintenance work in the plant.  He likes to say: "I love hard work, I could watch it all day"

"Craters of the Moon" Geothermal Area

Our next stop was kind of a bust. We read that "Craters of the Moon" was a large area with bubbling mud pools and steam jetting out of the ground. We pictured a mini-Yellowstone. When we got there we found we couldn't get near it without paying a $20 fee in a gift shop/guard house. Uh-oh, this was looking like a tourist trap. Walking out the back of the guard house and down through some shrubs we finally got our first look at the steam field. It was a nice field but there wasn't much steam. And no pools of bubbling mud. "Yep, tourist trap. Oh well, let's go for a walk and make the best of it."

We walked along a looping, weaving path for over a mile around the site. There were some occasional wildflowers and a distant stand of pine. And at some points you could stop and smell the sulphurous steam and let it fog up your glasses. So it was an OK walk.

The steam is coming out of the ground where the vents are located.

To the left and right of the wood path was pretty scruffy looking.

Yellow flowers among the scrub.

At the very end a sign led steeply up a slippery, unpaved path to a newly built platform overlooking a new steam vent. This is where all the action was. That vent was screaming! It looked and sounded like superheated steam at several hundred pounds pressure was shooting out of a 3 inch diameter hole in the ground. Superheated steam is invisible until it cools down a bit - making it quite dangerous. It was such an odd and incongruous sight to see live steam roaring out of the ground instead of a pipe.

Rich on the platform viewing the superheated steam vent.  (holding his ears closed, it was loud)
All in all we ended up paying $20 apiece to see a steam leak and smell farts. When we worked at power plants we used to get paid to do that!

The Garden of Glass

Our final stop in the Taupo area was a glass blowing studio recommended by our new friend Prue (Our AirBNB host in Wellington). I love anything to do with art and that includes blown glass. This place exceeded our expectations. All of the work was beautiful and unique. Some pieces were incredible, like nothing I had ever seen. Unfortunately, the prices were pretty incredible also - averaging $3,000.  No cameras were allowed in the shop, so no pictures.

We bought tickets to go through their glass garden - where cameras are allowed.

The garden was filled with glass flowers, balls, rainbows and all sorts of fanciful shapes. The pieces are big and bright. They told us that some of the larger pieces required four glassblowers working together.

The garden is another amazing bit of NZ landscape.

Glass flowers



Maori symbol for fern leafs. You see this in jewelry alot. 

This looks exactly like the New Zealand Lancewood tree which we encountered later the same day.  See the next photo.

These Lancewood trees were in a redwood grove 50 miles North of the glass garden.

Light Bulbs maybe?
Glass balls

Rotorua Redwood Forest

Our final stop of the day was in another tourist-centric town that is "ground zero" for the geothermal sites.  There are so many vents and other geothermal features that the whole town of Rotorua smells faintly like sulfur. 

The only sight we wanted to see at Rotorua was a redwood forest on the outskirts. The forest was part of a timber cultivation experiment.  New Zealand was testing trees from all over the world to find which would grow best in their climate.  This forest of California Redwoods grew so well and so fast that the wood was not dense enough for any practical purpose.  We couldn't believe the whole forest had grown to this size in 100 years.  Some of the trees were over 3 feet in diameter and 200 feet high.  They would take 1000 years to grow that big in California.

As we approached Rotorua from the South the road was lined with large fir and pines.  The yellow wildflowers were abundant as well.

The jagged topped pine trees lining the roads.
Ooodles of the yellow wildflowers.
As we approached the Redwoods from the parking lot.
Looking up at these wonders the sun was shining through them.
I was captivated with their rugged thick bark. 
The coloring on this tree was lovely, a warm brown contrasted with trails of blue/grey streaks. 
It wasn't budging.
The forest has a walkway system above the forest floor about 30 feet high.  It is a swinging bridge system anchored to the giant trees.  The walk takes about 40 minutes to complete and you pay a fee to do it.  There were a few (very few) interpretive signs.  The overhead walk would have improved by being half as long.  But it was nice having the overhead view looking down on the huge ferns growing below.

After the walkway we struck out through the forest grove.  It was a really majestic and peaceful place.
These whimsical bathrooms were interesting.
This spiral ramp leads to the overhead walkway/tourist trap.
A section of a 2000 year old giant sequoia tree with some info was at the base of the ramp.

Some of the bridges are grating.
Some of the bridges are wood planks.
Looking down at the forest floor.
Looking over at one of the other bridges.
Black Fern tree
Nice views as you walk along.

At night there is a light show as you walk along the walkways.  A local artist made wood lanterns that hang amongst the trees.  Our friends said it was really pretty to see it at night.
An artist makes these wood lanterns.
I loved seeing the brand new brightly colored leaf tips.

After completing the overhead walk, we ventured into the forest floor for another perspective of the forest.  
It was wide open as we entered.
Eventually we came to a trail.

Tiny leaves starting to grow on this monster tree!

Look at that massive tree!
The fern trees look like Umbrella trees.

Looking up at one of the bridges and platforms from below.
To view all the photos click Here
To view all the photos of the Redwood Forest click Here  (See viewbox below the first one)

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