Another morning. Another brisk walk planned. This time it will be at Wai-O-Tapu a thermal area that is part of a Scenic Reserve. This area is called the Taupo Volcanic Zone and this is the largest area of surface thermal activity around. The morning is chilly but the sun is shining again. Yesterday afternoon’s rain seems to have passed and we are promised a good day by the morning show’s weatherman. As we drive to Wai-O-Tapu we pass through areas that are foggy due to the thermal activity. It is a bit like driving through the Smokey Mountains only these clouds are full of sulfur smell and come from the ground up.
It is almost nine when we arrive and we have an hour to walk around the park and explore before we need to drive a few minutes down the road to the Lady Knox Geyser. The points of interest on our map are explained and creatively described with their names. Devil’s Hole. Artists Pallette. The list goes on. Rock formations are unique and the colors that are forced up by the thermal pressure running through the minerals beneath give them varying colors. Yellow is prominent in many spots because of the high sulfur content.
There are three tracks to follow, all nicely marked and in good condition. We don’t linger in the lookout spots and are able to cover all three trails in the allotted hour. We don’t want to miss the geyser and it is scheduled to go off at 10:15. We follow a line of cars and find a parking lot filling up fast with people ready to view this natural phenomenon.
Several hundred people sit on bleacher seats that are arranged like an amphitheater around a cone shaped rock structure that sits on a flat bed of shiny white stone. The information we have says that the geyser is seeded so that observers can be sure to see it go off at a certain time. Otherwise it could take a wait of 2 to 72 hours before it goes off again.
At the appointed time, a park ranger with a microphone stands next to the cone shape and explains a little history. The area was once a place where convicts were sent to plant trees. Several of them found a thermal pool and decided to do their laundry. They wet their grimy clothes and then worked some soap into them to get them clean. They put them back into the pool to rinse them out and within a few minutes, they got a big surprise. The pool erupted with a geyser and sent their clothes flying into the air.
The cone, he says, was formed when people put rocks around the geyser area to indicate where it was. Eventually the rocks were sealed by the minerals deposited over the years as the geyser erupted. Now it is surrounded by an amphitheater full of people expectantly waiting on a good show.
The ranger explains that the mixture he puts into the geyser is not soap but an ecologically safe compound that will accomplish the same thing—break the surface tension of the water below allowing the hot water to build into a force that will send it shooting into the air. He steps up to the cone and empties his sack into the opening. A few minutes later we begin to see bubbles and then a few spurts and suddenly the geyser gushes up into the air amazing all of the observers. The eruption lasts quite a while before it peters out—maybe 15 minutes. By then half of the observers have already bailed and are trying to make it through the congested parking lot.
Most cars turn left at the road to go to explore the thermal pools but we’ve already made our trek so we head for the mud pools. They sound like a lot of fun. They are. There is something fascinating about hot mud glurping periodically. We stand for a few minutes and watch and listen. Then it’s time to move on. There is lots to do this afternoon. We have kiwi to see—the feathered kind.