Friday, April 27, 2018

Explore NZ - Day 8 - 15 April - Rotorua to Taupo and return

Last evening many visits to the laundry in the hostel proved futile. Of the two washing machines, one was out of order and the other was continuously in use. The working time for laundry was displayed as 8 am to 10 pm on the door. When I woke up this morning at 4 am I went over to the laundry room and found that empty and ready to be used. I put in a full load and started it after inserting $3 for the wash. Later when Hetal came back to put the load in the dryer she found the machine switched off and $4 put in the machine never brought the dryer to life. We waited till after 6 am to get the dryer working after gathering some more coins from the reception. The first dry turned out to be a damp squib. It was only half dry; another round had to be done because there wasn’t enough place in the room to spread the clothes to dry. This delayed our departure from the YHA by nearly an hour.

Our program for the day was to visit active geothermal areas on the way to Taupo, where we were to be guests for lunch in Roy Vellara’s house. As we drove out of Rotorua we came across Te Puia, which houses the Maori Arts and Crafts Institute and is almost 100 years old. The center was established with the objective of preserving Maori arts and crafts. At the center one can experience traditional Maori way of life, architecture, food, entertainment and incredible earth forces. The star of geothermal activity here is the Pohutu geyser. We took a boardwalk and saw some bubbling mud pools and smoke let out from cracks in the earth. The center did not seem to be open at the time as many visitors were seen returning from a locked gate. We too took the same route and went back to the car.
Rotorua is considered to be the world’s most spectacular geothermal wonderland. Heat seethes from cracks in the streets, steams from hot pools, burst through geysers in the area and bubbles in mud pools like festering wounds. This is the result of hundreds of years of volcanic activity in the region, which has created terraces, valleys and lakes beyond compare. The beauty, sounds and smells challenge one’s senses as it can never in any other part of the world.

There are five main Geothermal Areas in Rotorua where geysers, mud pools, hot springs and hissing craters can be seen up close. Te Puia was one of them. We reached Wai-O-Tapu in a short drive of 25 minutes. The mud pools on the way to the main center were absolutely mesmerizing. Boiling mud and shooting geysers in an environment of stench is an experience that is very different. After parking the car we bought entrance tickets to the region’s most colourful geothermal park. The park offers three routes to walk around the attractions there. Route one takes 30 minutes, route two 40 minutes and the last one about 75 minutes. Factoring in the visit to Roy’s house we chose to ignore route three. The absolutely glorious experience made us experience hot pools of different hues from turquoise blue to rich green to burnt orange to sulphuric yellow and black devil’s ink pots. The ‘rich’ smells emanating from some of the pools and craters needs a strong stomach. The major attraction of the park is the Champagne Pool which also has a board walk across it. The feel of an active geothermal area so close is unnerving as it is exhilarating. The edge of the Pool is ringed by a brilliant orange and it flows through a falls on to the Primrose Terrace and ends up in the Bridal Veil Falls. The parrot-green Devil’s Drink pool is riveting too.

It was after 1 pm that I got to the address Roy had given me. We were worried that we may have delayed the star of the party. We need not have worried at all, we were almost the first ones to get there. The rest of the guests started trickling in well after we had reached. There were nine families from Taopu and Hamilton, which is nearly 150 km away. It was a wonderful get-together of Malayalees from all walks of life – from the film field to automotive to medical. All of them were brought together by the large hearted Roy and his energetic wife, Leelamma. Drinks and food flowed. My friends were welcomed by the group as well and they were served special vegetarian food. Roy lives in what is termed a lifestyle house in over 11 acres of land. A lifestyle house lies between an apartment and a farm. He has two houses in the premises. He lives in the smaller one with his wife since the grown up children have built their own nests and moved. He told us about the permissions required to keep cattle – in a lifestyle house one can have 30 heads of sheep or 10 heads of cattle or 2 horses. The property has to be fenced as per Council rules and Roy mentioned how a Council official had inspected his property and given him an ultimatum to improve the supply of feed for the cattle! The fines can be pretty steep. Cattle are reared exclusively for meat and hence, they are either heifers or steer – unable to produce an offspring. The cattle reared in homes are not milked either. Another interesting information that Roy gave us was that all the table grapes are imported into New Zealand, while those grown in New Zealand are used for making the lovely wines that the country produces.

Before lunch was served Roy gathered everyone together in the living room and gave a brief account of how this meeting came to be held. Once that was done there were many questions from those assembled, most of them curious about what had happened on the tour to London. They were keen to know my account of how the group broke up and controversies surrounding that. I was not new to such discussion because that is what people everywhere wanted to know and I am asked this almost everywhere I go. The rather lengthy discussion pushed lunchtime to much beyond the normal. the audience listened with rapt attention to what I had to say and private discussions followed over lunch.

The food was superb. The Prime Beef was so juicy and succulent that it melted in the mouth. It had been cooked in just pepper and salt with nothing else added to it. It was the best beef I had ever had in my life. Roy told me that the grass and rain in Taupo produce the best beef in the world, which is mostly exported. The blackberry cake and ice cream were just desserts too that wound up an excellent afternoon.

After bidding farewell to new friends we had acquired Leelamma took us on a whirlwind tour of the famed Taupo Lake, which can be seen from Roy’s house. She speeded to the Huka Falls – with the closing time nearing ­- which is another attraction of the town. Close to the entrance to the Falls we were diverted by Police cars which indicated that the place is closed. All of us were disappointed, but Leelamma took us to the lookout point where we bid farewell to her. We could not stay at the lookout point for long as it had become extremely cold because of strong wind.

Lake Taupo is in the caldera of the Taupo Volcano and is the largest lake in terms of surface area in the country. It is also the largest freshwater lake in New Zealand. Over lunch I learnt that the entire region is full of active volcanoes and they are specially monitored. Drones are the means by which samples are fetched, which are analysed and actions initiated. The drive back to the YHA was largely uneventful, but the day had been packed. After the heavy lunch no one was in a mood for dinner. We stocked up on some provisions for the next day and decided to rest. Departure for Gisborne was set for 9 am the next day.

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