With fond memories of our previous night's visit to Hobbiton, we returned South for a couple of days in Rotorua. Our first stop was at the Waimangu Volcanic Valley, an area that was dramatically altered by the eruption of Mt Tarawera in 1886. In this area, lakes became enlarged, mud flats turned into lakes and dramatic thermal features, such as the Pink and White Terraces, were lost.
The walk along the Waimangu Valley is easy, being mostly downhill, and during the approximate 4.5 kms of its length we were treated to some spectacular lakes, steam vents, mud pools and relatively recent rock formations. The Valley is known as the world's newest geothermal region and the extent of the activity bears that out. Most of the thermal interest is in the first 3kms or so, with the last part of the walk passing through a bird sanctuary in pristine, regenerating forest, and ending at Lake Rotomahana. We had the opportunity to take a cruise on the lake, but we couldn't do everything! So we gratefully hopped on the shuttle bus to take us back up the hill; grabbed a coffee and bolted lunch; then headed off to our next bit of thermal magic.
The Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Park has a reputation for being the most colourful park in the region and by the end of our walk, we would certainly agree. The park consists of three loop walks, each with a slightly different focus. The first loop is mainly craters with a variety of activities featured in or adjacent to the craters. The park's famous Champagne Pool is at the junction with the second loop. It is a large pool that is surprisingly deep, at 62 metres, yet its surface is continually steaming, and it has a striking pink border, just under the surface.
The middle loop features forest walks, waterfalls and an enormous mud pool, while the third loop focuses on the river and lake at the end of the valley. But the best feature of all is the incredible Devil's Bath, a large crater filled with a sulphur lake the almost glows green or yellow, depending on the light. Wai-O-Tapu is brilliant anyway, but this really capped off a great day around thermal parks.
For a relaxing finale, we visited The Redwoods, a 15 acre stand of Californian redwood trees within the commercial pine forest of Whakarewarewa, just outside Rotorua. Planted at the beginning of the 20th century as part of a programme to discover the best commercial timber for New Zealand, these redwoods have been protected since 1925, when the stand was declared a memorial site for Forest Service workers who died in World War 1, and later rededicated to include those who died in World War 2.
In December 2015 an eco friendly tree walk - 21 suspension bridges, up to 12 metres above the forest floor - was opened and, in December 2016, 30 large lanterns were installed in the deepest part of the glade. We arrived just as dusk was falling and toured the tree walk twice. The first time, we had a great view of the trees and bridges, while the second time around we saw the full benefit of the lanterns. We strolled slowly and it was a very peaceful way to round out the day. While on the walk, I thought about a recently departed furry friend and how he would have loved to snuffle about in this beautiful forest. Enjoy those redwoods in the sky, Sequoia!
We had a fabulous day, today, and tomorrow is looking just as good! More thermal action and some Maori culture awaits.