Wednesday, January 6, 2010

How the World Began

I saw this as we came into the valley to begin our self-guided tour - “How the World Began”.  I was skeptical at the title – what do they mean?  James went with the primordial ooze route with the bacteria that lives in the hot pools.  Then again I wondered if this is simple what it looked like in the beginning – when all was formless.

We are in the Waimangu Valley south of Rotorua.  In geological terms this valley was born yesterday since it was only created in 1886.  There was a massive earthquake in April that year that set off explosions and geothermal activity where there had never been any before.  While the earthquake may have only lasted seconds, the geothermal activity lasted for nearly 4 hours. What makes this particularly significant is that this is the only time in recorded history for this to happen.  We know the date and time rather than making guesses from carbon dating. 

That night a 6 km long rift was created in the top of Mount Tarawera, 7 craters were also blown along the valley, the pink and white terraces (the eighth wonder of the world) were destroyed, and Lake Rotomahana exploded to 20 times it’s original size.  All plant and animal life was destroyed.  Entire villages were buried.
The landscape has been changing ever since.  The largest known geyser in recorded history was in this valley and was active between 1900 and 1904.  It was reported to throw water, rocks and steam up to 400 meters in the air.  In 1917, another lake is formed out of hot blasts from a crater.  This time the accommodation house is destroyed killing 2 people.  The lake is now the largest hot water spring in the world. 

Vegetation has grown back but different species were required that could handle the higher temperatures of the soil and the steam. Here’s an example of the before and after.  The first is in 1886 after the earthquake and then the picture from 2010.  All of this vegetation is from recolonization.  A great deal has happened in a relatively short period of time.                                             image image The geothermal activity was impressive, but not all that surprising for what we had seen in Orekei Korako and Rotorua.  What was different this time is that these were created within recorded history.  This was not the time of the dinosaurs or the tuatara.  People were here, people died, people survived.  It brought things a little closer to home.  These other places were wonderful, but the danger was in a way played down.  Here the theme rang home - this could happen to us today!
imageHere is one set of silica terraces.  The color is from the algae.  This is different from what we’ve seen before since it flows here into the creek.  The look of the creek is nice and cool – but believe me this is not!image Further down the stream the terraces continue along both edges.image Here is the Warwick terrace with a large pool at the top.image Finally at the end there is Lake Rotohamana with swans and ducks.  It was quite refreshing at the end of the valley.image
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