Thursday 16 May 2019

Skiving off

Despite complaining in the last post about the relentless pressure of business hours, business people, and business, I have to concede that the TRENZ organisers are well aware that some of us attendees are delicate flowers, and they timetable an afternoon of activity for us all, away from the halls and their every-20-minutes appointment schedules. My choice from the media selection was the Tarawera Experience, which started with something familiar but then entered literally new territory.
It was as well that I've done a floatplane flight over Mt Tarawera before because, irritatingly, the cloud was too low for us to head over that spectacularly huge split in the mountain from when it erupted in 1886, killing 100+ people and wrecking the local geography. It was disappointing for the others though. We were flying with VolcanicAir, who are very efficient and friendly, even if their choice of "the three lightest people" for the small plane was brutally brisk. The rest of us, and our hurt feelings, piled into the 9-seater, each with a window, and took off across the lake, flying over the lushly green Mokoia Island. 
We hopped over to the next lake, Tarawera, and landed there super-smoothly, in a cloud of spray, and taxied to its edge. We paddled ashore, shoes tucked under our arms, and wandered along to Hot Water Beach, which I had thought only existed on the Coromandel, but no, here was another. It was hot, too - boiling, in fact, and I scalded my big toe briefly.
Then we met Karen of Totally Tarawera, who welcomed us with a karakia and led us on board Sophia, a nice old boat in which we glided across the lake. It was named after the famous Māori guide from back in pre-eruption days, who took tourists to see the world-renowned pink and white terraces. If you think tourism is a relatively recent phenomenon, and also that New Zealand is much too far away for you to even contemplate flying to, consider that in the mid-1800s people came here from Europe by sailing ship - taking at least a couple of months - and then spent a week bumping down-country in a horse-drawn carriage to Rotorua, to hike, in their clunky Victorian clothes, through the bush to see these famous and beautiful glistening silica terraces.
They do look spectacular in paintings from the time - but now, post-eruption, there's no sign of them. After trailing across an isthmus through native bush decimated by Australians - possums chomping the leaves and shoots in the treetops, wallabies gnawing at their bases, and wattles pushing in and crowding the native trees out - we got to Lake Rotomahana where we boarded another boat and were taken to where the terraces used to be, now hidden under the water. All is not entirely lost, since these days there is of course an app that allows you to see, moving the phone around, what would have been the outing's highlight. To be honest, it was a bit underwhelming on a titchy phone screen, and I was more taken by the delicious packed lunch they gave us. There was plenty of good thermal activity along the lake edge to enjoy though, including a small but helpfully reliable geyser.
The last phase of the outing was in a bus along the Waimangu Volcanic Valley, which I might have been to before, but too long ago to remember. It's worth a visit, with an inviting walkway along the valley past a series of pretty impressive thermal lakes. There's a good bus service for shuttling back and forth. Steam wound up through the trees, swirling across lake surfaces, parting and then concealing again the milky turquoise waters. Fumeroles spattered, hot streams splashed over rocks coated red and yellow with minerals, there were hollow gurgles deep inside cracks and caverns. Just your regular Rotorua scenery, then.

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