Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Mean, Fierce and UGLY

Rotorua is known for it’s geothermal activity here in the central plain of the North Island.  We did see some of the activity on our first pass through the region at Orakei Korako as we headed down to the catch the ferry to the South Island.  There were the largest silica terraces in the region.  Here further north in Rotorua, the mudpools and geysers are more prevalent.  The ever present smell of sulphur reminds us where we are.
Our first stop was at Hell’s Gate Geothermal Park.  George Bernard Shaw stood in awe at the landscape calling it “hell like” and giving birth to the name.  There are 50 acres of pools, streams and falls of water that is heated just 1.5 to 2 kilometers below the surface of the earth.  Most other geothermal areas are heated from 10 km below the surface.  Hell’s Gate is therefore considered the most active geothermal area in Rotorua. 
The hottest pool at the steaming cliffs is 122C at the water’s surface, but 145C at just 1 m deep.  The minerals in the water allow it to boil above water’s boiling point of 100C.  The pool boils constantly and can erupt  up to 3 meters high.image Most pools are below 100 C, but can range from 68C to 98C.  The ph also varies significant;y due to the sulphur and mineral content.  All are acidic with one pool at a ph of 1 and another at a high of 6.  The presence of steam and the sound of something bubbling is constant.  It’s a great place to go to get warm (and clean out your sinuses)!imageYellow sulphur is readily seen, but there are also black areas from the reacting sulphur.  A pool could be yellow from the sulphur or black from the sulphides.  There are some areas where the sulphur condenses from the steam to form crystals.  In these areas, the crystals can reach 120C from the sun and the ground heat.  At 120C the sulphur will ignite and burn at 380C which causes the silica to melt and flow. In turn all is that area turns black.image What is mind boggling is how nature and humans interact with this hellish landscape.  The Maori created baskets from the harakeke (flax) and lower food into the pools for cooking vegetables, eggs, and meat.  Supposedly, the sulphur would not alter the taste of the food….  The minerals and heat of the pools and mud would be used for medicinal purposes.  One pool may be good for arthritis, another for skin diseases and muscle disorders.  The falls would be used to wash away blood from battles and as an antiseptic for any wounds.
Insects also flock to the heat of the pools in February and March, but are eventually cooked.  The winds carry the meals to the native hawks that wait on the shores of the lake.  We also saw this water bird (any ideas on what kind?) that day picking at the edges.  I’m not sure what he was going for, but the green is a hot water algae. image At 4:30 pm we began our guided tour of Te Puia, home of New Zealand’s Maori Arts and Crafts Institute.  The entrance began with a wonderful sculpture complete with a number of carvings and a pounamu fountain in the center.  There were twelve of these towers to represent their twelve gods that reach into the sky to remind them of the one god of the sky.  The pounamu is to remind them of the the mother earth.  Under these carvings we began the tour by dipping our hands into the fountain and rubbing the pounamu stone.image There are a number of places to check out a Maori cultural experience, but we chose this one because it does house the Arts and Craft Institute.  Here there is a master carver and a master weaver on site that accept 4 students at any given time from the various canoes around New Zealand.  These come for a period to learn the traditional ways of all the canoes.  For example, even if one was from Gisborne, the student would still learn the styles of the South Island.  The student is sent back to their village to teach others the same.  The hope is to keep the traditions alive.imageimageTe Puia also guards a number of geysers.  Below is the Puhutu Geyser which generally erupts once or twice an hour and can reach heights of up to 30 meters (90 feet)  Walking past the geyser one can expect to be rained upon.  The Maori consider this to be a blessing from the earth mother.  This mineral water is pure from the depths of the earth.  Not far from here is a set of terraces where one can sit to extend the blessing, and enjoy having one’s bum warmed from the geothermal currents under the rock face. image After the tour, we did stay for the indigenous evening experience – a mixture of food, storytelling and entertainment.  It begins with a welcoming powhiri or the warrior’s challenge.  One of us was picked to be chief and represent our tribe.  The Maori warrior comes and makes all sorts of mean, fierce and ugly faces at our chief along with a number of aggressive swipes of his wooden staff.  (No tourists were harmed in this.)   The warrior leaves a leaf on the ground.  Our chief is to face the warrior, walk forward and pick up the leaf, and return without turning his back on the warrior.  This is a sign of acceptance.  With that we are welcomed onto the land and are now part of the family.  Do I have to get the chin tattoo?  Hmm… Oh yeah – that’s only for the women who bear a son for the chief.imageThe night begins with entertainment in the highly carved Meeting House.   James did volunteer to learn how to become a warrior.  The picture is awful, but I just thought you needed to see him trying to be mean, fierce and ugly!                                                     imageHe says it’s harder to do than you would think.  Give it a try – make your eyes as large as possible while you stick you tongue out towards your chin.  Note sticking out one’s tongue is an act of defiance – seems kinda universal doesn’t it?   In fact, the national professional rugby team, All Blacks makes the face at their opponents before a game.  Maybe Clemson needs to gives this a try?
The hangi meal was cooked in the ground in a semi traditional way – it was a stainless steel vat rather than a dug pit.  We started with a number of cold salads consistently mostly of fish.  Then the lamb, pork, chicken, kumara (sweet potatoes), and corn all from the pit.  THEN a buffet of desserts complete with pavlova.
We ended the night by the geyser with a cup of hot chocolate.  I personally made sure there was a bum warming time in there also!
For more pictures, check out:



K Spoering said...

Oh man, I really wish I could be there and breathe that sinus-clearing steam!

Looks like you are having a glorious adventure.

charlotte said...

Thank you for this extremely interesting post! I didn't even know there were hot springs and geysirs in NZ. It is amazing that is gets so hot that the sulphur burns, this sounds really hell-like. And a spring holding pH1... ,it's just incredible! Beautiful pictures!

Theresa said...

Beautiful, wonderful and awe inspiring too!
Those are some amazing places and faces. Love the caring in the one picture. Dinner sounded quite yummy and filling. The weavings are so interesting and beautiful. Wow, what a trip you guys are having!

Thomas said...

The black and white bird you photographed is a Pied Stilt. Common to NZ & Australia.