Geological Disneyland Taupo to Rotorua

At Mount Doom we had seen a dormant volcano, but the next few days in Lake Taupo and Rotorua showcased the decidedly active geological side effects that come with this volcanic region, where the Earth’s crust is about as thin as it gets anywhere in the world.

The first clues were the strange cloud formations we could see from the car – looking like small patches of forest fires sending narrow plumes of smoke into the air. Only once we got close could we see clearly that there was no fire – just the earth smoking. Which is not at all normal where I come from.

We spent the night in a car park overlooking beautiful lake Taupo (prime real estate, for free!), and awoke to see the lake steaming as the sun came up. We took a walk to Huka Falls, a huge, thundering waterfall that gushes at an unfathomable rate. It definitely looked like a fun spot for white water rafting, though apparently others who shared that view never survived to tell the tale. Perhaps we’ll give that a miss.

On the way back, we were treated to a free spa in a geothermically-heated hot water stream that was visibly steaming as it flowed into the cooler river. It was wonderful, a lovely dip in a hot rock pool with mini waterfall. In the end, we couldn’t handle the heat and had to get out, feeling wonderfully spaced out and relaxed as we meandered back to the camper.

The next day took us to Rotorua and Te Puia, home to the biggest geothermal geyser in the world. We began at the beach for a little science experiment – we dug a little hole and, sure enough, it quickly filled with steaming hot water and gave off the most incredible stench. We’d been warned about the smell of sulphurous volcanic gases, which permeates the whole town, but I was surprised just how strong it was up close. Covering our noses, we backed away.

Our visit to Te Puia began with a Haka – a very slick performance of grunting, dancing, stick banging and thigh slapping, traditionally used as a war dance to psyche out potential competitors and as a warm up for the warriors. The main attraction at the park, though, is the geothermal landscape. It is bonkers. It looks like a movie set, complete with steaming earth, rock pools, mud pools and a giant explosive plume of water shrouded in its own huge clouds of mist. The mud pools are mesmerising, creating concentric circles that gradually grow into little mounds and then pop with a gentle splosh – like an advanced game of splat the rat, with little lumps forming all over the surface of the pool.

It took a lot of willpower not to slide in and enjoy a toasty mud bath. Joe kept a firm hold of my hand, given the mud holds the heat much better than the water pools and reaches 90+ degrees. I’d showered that morning though (yay!), so the enjoyment of being clean superseded my desire to play in the mud!