The Champagne Pool is one of the major attractions at Wai-O-Tapu Geothermal Wonderland, which is located near Rotorua. When I came across a photo of the multicoloured pool in the travel guide, I knew that I had to somehow include this in my compressed itinerary. So, just a day after visiting Milford Sound, I took the earliest flight back to the north island and drove about 300 km from Auckland, passing orchards and farms, to arrive at Rotorua on the same day. Just another mad, exciting day in New Zealand for me.
I could have driven through the quaint town of Rotorua to reach Wai-O-Tapu that late afternoon, as it was just over 20 km away. But I would only have a few hours to complete the trail and less time for photography. That wouldn't do justice to the wonderland. So, I decided to do that the next morning instead. I stayed in Rotorua for the night and managed to visit the beautifully restored Elizabethan museum of Rotorua, which used to be a bathhouse. Here, I'd learned quite a bit about Rotorua and the Maoris. The award-winning Polynesian Spa was just a few steps away, so I thought I should treat my worn body to a dip in the alkaline rock thermal pool. Sitting in the minerals-rich water, enjoying the serenity around the lake spa, with a pretty sunset view of Lake Rotorua and the cool breeze of late spring was most relaxing...until a large group of noisy tourists entered the compound. I ended the day with a dinner at the popular Capers Epicurean cafe. I had one of the day's specials - a creamy, citrus-scented dish of fettuccine with smoked salmon and prawns. It was a brilliant combination, I must say. So was the dessert of coconut and passion fruit cake crusted with almost flakes and served with a dollop of yoghurt. What an enjoyable night it was. Perhaps I should have more slow-paced, relaxing days like this when I'm on vacation ...... Nah.
The next morning, I reached Wai-O-Tapu just minutes before the doors were opened. Yes, I was really excited.
Walking around the living geothermal spot was like revisiting a science class. Though unpleasant, the first smell of hydrogen sulfide had me chuckling as I recalled the day when our science teacher, Mrs Yong, tricked us into inhaling that strange, resultant gas emitted from a test tube. The colours of the rocks represent the different compounds spewed from the earth's core. It's amazing how the deadly, violent movements of the earth had shaped such unique formation of pools, craters and geysers. They were magical. It's no wonder that they'd inspired the locals to christen them with imaginative names such as the Devil's Ink Pot, Artist's Palatte, Oyster Pool and Bridal Veil Falls.
It was nearing noon when I'd watched Lady Knox Geyser erupted and visited the nearby boiling Mud Pool. I had only a few more hours in Rotorua before driving back to Auckland. Tomorrow, I'd be returning to Singapore. There was only enough time, barely, to visit one more attraction in Rotorua. It was between a Maori village and the Waimangu Volcanic Valley.
Unlike Wai-O-Tapu, there was much less visitors at Waimangu. I’m guessing that it’s due to the more challenging trail, which may not attract certain groups of visitors. Eco-tourists, however, will fall in love with this relatively untouched, young geothermal valley. I had two hours to complete the easy-walking trail, in order for me to reach Auckland before nightfall. But I couldn’t resist the longer, tougher Mount Hazard trail. So, I had to move really fast.
Waimangu was a teaser. With every step of the trail, there’s something interesting that’s worth one’s attention. The climb to the top of the first hill was rewarded with a clear view of a black-water pool covered almost completely with red algae. Descending the hill, the ethereal Echo Crater and Frying Pan Lake await. The steam arising from the lake was such a spectacular fairyland-like sight. I wished to have spent more time here, to enjoy this view, but I was still far from the end of the trail. I had to move faster. The steep climb along the Mount Hazard trail is not fun – when one’s in a hurry. Patches of sweat began to appear on my shirt and I was gasping for breath as I’d reluctantly overtaken the slower climbers. But I was thankful for two things – my trusty pair of trekking shoes and good signage. There must be a reason for the creation of this difficult trail. Indeed, it’d led me to the steaming, azure Inferno Crater Lake. Seeing this beautiful lake for the first time was unforgettable. The vastness of the lake was not meant to be captured on my limited lens. So, instead of trying hard to get a good shot of the lake, I just stood there for awhile and enjoyed the view. The few German photographers standing next to me must have had better luck shooting the lake with their telescopic lens. Descending Mount Hazard to return to the main road was easy. I’d doubled my speed and finished the trail, passing the stunning Marble Terrace, Buttresses and Warbrick Terrace, within my targeted time. Waimangu was a living fantasy and it certainly looked better than in the guide books. I was glad that I’d chosen to come to here.
A collision of two sedans had slowed the traffic along the highway tremendously. It took me more than 4 hours to reach Auckland. The number of cars increased as I entered the city center. At the major shopping belt of Auckland where my hostel was located, neon signs and headlights filled the night. Streams of locals and tourists were gallivanting around the main streets. Restaurants and shops were buzzing. I had returned to familiar grounds.
Auckland was very different from the small towns that I’ve visited in the past 8 days. The noise and chaos made me miss the more peaceful and beautiful side of New Zealand. I returned to the hostel after having a hot bowl of chili from Wendy’s that kept me warm for a few hours. I decided to sleep earlier as I had to return the rental car before catching my flight back to Singapore the next morning. But before that, like every night throughout this vacation, I would lie in bed to recall and view all the beautiful sights of New Zealand on my camera’s LCD. The only difference was, tonight, I had no new adventure to look forward to the next morning. But I still slept with a big smile on my face as I reminded myself that I’d gained some incredible experiences in this journey across the land of the long white cloud - bungy jumping in Queenstown, walking on ice at Fox Glacier, cruising the majestic Milford Sound and living a fantasy at Wai-O-Tapu and Waimangu.
Here’s the link to my set of photos of New Zealand.