Our camping spot was only a short drive from Hell's Gate so we arrived shortly after 9am to undertake a tour of the Geothermal Reserve before our little treat. It was believed to have formed around 10'000 years ago and until 300 hundred years ago was habited by the Maori people. It has been a visitors attraction for 150 years and it was clear why, with lots of pools of mud and water bubbling away and steam rising in every direction you looked.
Most of the pools had a little sign next to them telling us the name of the pool, the reason it was called that and some statistics, such as how deep the pool was, the temperature and the pH level.
Some of the pools constantly change their levels of activity. Some dry up completely and then reform after a length of time, others change temperature and levels of acidity. The Maori people believe the water and mud can be used as remedies, for example the water in one pool was used as a lotion to treat septic wounds.
We reached what we thought was the edge of the Reserve but actually wasn't and we were amazed to find a wood growing right next to the Geothermal activity. It's amazing how some plants strive in these environments! We walked through the trees along a boardwalk until we came to a little waterfall. We thought it was slightly odd, although scenic it's not what you would expect to see in this type of location. How wrong we were!! Upon closer inspection we could see steam rising from the water as it flowed down to a pool below and we were amazed to learn it was indeed a hot waterfall! Kakahi Falls in the largest hot waterfalls in the Southern Hemisphere with the temperature averaging 40 c. The site used to be sacred to the Maori people and warriors would travel to the waterfall after battle to bathe in the sulphur water to heal their wounds and to remove the "Tapu" of war before returning to their families. This was certainly something you don't see every day, and helped make New Zealand very unique!
We walked back down the board walk and continued along the circular path back to the start, passing a mud volcano! It was indeed a volcano, a small hill of mud, reaching 2.4 metres high and continuing to grow, with mud bubbling inside and steam rising through the top. Around every six weeks the top of the hill hardens and pressure builds up for two to three days after which an eruption occurs over an area of five metres in diameter. Now that is quite sensational, I'm sure you'll agree!
We passed the hottest pool in the reserve, Steaming Cliffs, named because of the cliffs behind this boiling pool of water and mud are rarely seen through the steam. At the surface the temperature is 122 c and one metre below it reaches a staggering 144 c.
There was a body of water named the Cooking Pool, where the Maori people could cook a whole pig in two hours at a constant temperature of 98 c. Although the smell of sulphur is unbearable at times apparently it doesn't taint the taste of the food.
We finished the loop circling the Reserve and changed into our bathers to climb into the mud bath. It was very hot (40 c) but pleasant and we soaked for twenty minutes, spreading mud all over. I made a conscious effort to keep my shoulder caked in it as I had read that the mud is great for helping scars. We lounged around, very happy until our time was up, which is when we had to wipe the excess mud off and have a cold shower. That was also welcoming as we were starting to get a bit too hot! Afterwards we were allowed to spend as much time as we wanted in the two sulphur pools. One was around 38 c, the other approximately 40 c. We floated in the hot water while staring at the beautiful blue sky and baked in the sun, as both the mud bath and the pools were outside. We got out before midday and had a shower. As I was changing I looked at my scar and already noticed a difference in its appearance. If only we had Geothermal mud pools at home! On our way out we were given information on how to get the smell of ammonia out of our bathers, something I feared we would need!
We drove along the highway towards Taupo and decided to stop at Huka Falls just North of the town. We had lunch quickly before walking down to the river and the said waterfalls. The Waikato river was very full and very blue and the longest river in the this country rushed fiercely over the rocks creating a very beautiful series of rapids and waterfalls through the narrow gorge. You could see why white water rafting was popular here! There was a marker along the path below the river that showed where the waterfall had been twenty years ago and the rate of erosion was extraordinary!
Back in the campervan we went and we drove a short distance before we were able to see Lake Taupo, the largest lake in Australasia, which was created by one massive volcanic eruption, stretch for miles before us, like the sea. It was a beautiful day and the sun was shining, which made a spectacular view. Sadly we weren't able to stop and enjoy it as we wanted to get to Whakapapa, the village closest to where we would walk tomorrow, before it closed at 5pm so we pressed on.
There was one small mishap when we were driving from Taupo towards Turangi , a distance of 50 ks, when the petrol light came on. The road atlas we had did not mark the location of petrol stations and although we thought we might make it to Turangi we weren't sure and we knew we were closer to Taupo so we we made the decision to turn round. Of course, we later discovered had we persevered we would have passed a local village petrol station just a few kilometres further from where we turned round. Sod's law isn't it?!
It was so lovely driving beside Lake Taupo. There were very few waves as the wind was none existent and the green mountains in the distance completed this postcard heaven. When we left behind the lake we travelled through the Tongariro National Park, which is New Zealand's oldest National Park and is a World Heritage area. We were very at home in the green countryside with the peaks towering above us and could have quite happily driven a lot further.
We made it to Whakapapa by 4:45pm and ran into the visitor centre to pick up a couple of maps and purchase some gloves and an emergency blanket, just to be on the safe side. The ranger informed us there was still snow up on some parts of the track but the majority of it was clear. The forecast was not brilliant but there was not to be any snow until Saturday and the wind was not due to pick up until later in the afternoon, by which time we should have dropped below the highest points. I think she thought we were slightly mad though turning up in flip flops and shorts and we both got the distinct impression she thought we didn't know what we were doing.
We checked into our camp site and then had a drive around the village. There was no supermarket or shop and we had to buy a couple of things from the camp site shop, which cost a small fortune. We decided to eat at the local pub, which wasn't up to much but it gave us a rare break from cooking. Whakapapa is one of the largest ski areas on the North Island and this was evident in the pub with a few ski instructors chilling with a pint after a busy day. They would welcome the snow forecast over the weekend!
Early to bed as the shuttle was picking us up at 7:30am so we settled down to watch the second LOTR's movie before turning lights out at 10pm.