Claimed to be the “beast” of all the geothermal parks, Hells Gate lived up to its’ name on the day we visited this sprawling 50 acres of rumbling and steaming activity.
There were many warning signs along the way, but we were quite happy to stay on the paths as we walked through swirling clouds of steam where we saw pools of boiling mud and water erupting from the hottest of one of many pools, with a surface temperature of 122 degrees Celsius.
We looked in awe at the “hell like” landscape and could understand why playwright George Bernard Shaw gave the reserve its famous name of “Hells Gate”.
This was followed by a bush walk, in stark contrast, containing many of New Zealand’s native trees and plants leading to Kakahi Falls – the largest hot waterfall in the Southern Hemisphere, with a temperature of approximately 40 degrees Celsius. The sulphur in the water aided the healing of wounds of warriors returning from battle and the first Europeans used the waters of the waterfall for the purposes of healing many ailments, such as arthritis, rheumatism, skin diseases and muscle disorders.
Massages, mud and sulphur spas were on offer but as that day was rather cold, I opted for the warm waters of the foot mud pool instead.
After exploring the park, it was lovely to relax my feet in the warm, silky smooth mud of the foot pool.
Mt Tarawera erupted in the early hours of the morning of 10th June 1886 followed by the explosion of Lake Rotomahana which buried Te Wairoa village under a blanket of mud nearly 2 metres deep. Around 150 lives were lost.
A walk around the popular archaeological site reveals parts of the excavated village which lay undiscovered for around 130 years. Several of the houses have had their entrances dug out and you can go inside, which gives a good idea as to how deeply they were buried in mud.
Scenic paths lead to the Waterfall trail where we descended 117 steps to stand beside Wairere Falls, very impressive. Some of the steps were carved out of rock and quite steep but we took our time as we were walking right next to the waterfall and they were slippery with moss and spray. We stopped often just to take in the beauty of our surroundings and glimpses of Lake Tarawera.
The Te Wairoa Stream where trout swim in season
Only 100 more steps to the top …… and a coffee break!!!
There is a very informative museum with various items discovered during the excavation and you can learn about the fate of the pink and white terraces, a natural landmark, popular with tourists in the day and completely destroyed in one of New Zealand’s greatest natural disasters.
Lunch at the café was a nice finish to a very enjoyable morning. I highly recommend a visit.
Rotorua is a place of myths and legends and we enjoyed hearing some of them whilst we travelled around, as a way of understanding the local way of life. Here is a legend about the boiling lake in the local public park. In case the writing on the sign is hard to read, it basically goes like this:
Back when the lake was cool enough to bathe in, it was called Lake Tawakahu and a beautiful young lady named Kuirau used to swim there. Kuirau’s husband said that the lake belonged to her, but a large Taniwha (sea monster) lived in this lake and one day seized her. It’s not known whether she died of fright or was taken back to Taniwha’s lair, but she was never seen again. The Gods were so angry that they made the lake boil to get rid of the Taniwha.
From that day on, the lake was called Lake Kuirau in memory of the beautiful lady who used to swim in its waters.
On our first day in New Zealand, we were driving around Rotorua with the intention of stocking up at the supermarket, when our attention was drawn to steam rising from the park. This was Kuirau Park, a free site where you can stroll along the boardwalk quite close to the steaming, hissing, bubbling activity, located surprisingly close to the city centre.
As we were driving off, we noticed steam rising from a few backyards nearby and steam puffs from gutter drains on the edge of the road. A very unusual sight.