In my last three posts, W1702 – Unexpected Auckland, W1702 – Wet, wet, wet and W1702 – Gala Dinner I described a walkabout, tour and gala dinner I made in Auckland, New Zealand. On leaving Auckland we sailed overnight along the northern coast of North Island to the commercial port of Tauranga, which was our port of call for the next day.
In Tauranga I had selected an all day 9 hour tour exploring the area around Lake Rotorua, famous for the geothermal activity in the area. This tour I would be doing on my own, as my girlfriend Carol was spending the time with her Aunt Annie that day.
The tour was split into three parts, viewing the geothermal activity, a cruise on the lake while eating lunch, and a visit to a wildlife park. At either end of the day was a coach drive of around two hours to get to and from the Lake Rotorua area.
Tauranga is the most populous city in the Bay of Plenty Region of the North Island of New Zealand. It was settled by Māori late in the 13th century and then by Europeans in the early 19th century. It was constituted as a city in 1963. Tauranga City is the centre of the fifth largest urban area in New Zealand, in June 2016 it had an urban population of 134,400. The Port of Tauranga is New Zealand’s largest port in terms of gross export tonnage and efficiency.
Leaving the port area we headed first along a coast road, while our local driver / guide told us about the city and port. We passed some very nice looking houses overlooking the sea, which he told us commanded a very large price – as is usually the case. Heading inland we then drove for around an hour and a half a little east of south down to the area around Lake Rotorua.
Our first stop was a 10 minute photo stop at the Waiotapu Mud Pools. Here acid water has dissolved the local rock to form viscous pools of mud, which with the heat from the geothermal activity in the area then bubble and give off steam. They made a dramatic introduction to the geothermal sights we were to see that morning:
From there it was just a short drive to our first main attraction of the day, Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Valley. Here a series of paths and walkways lead the visitor around a large area of surface thermal activity, including collapsed craters, cold and boiling pools of mud, lakes and pools of water and steaming fumaroles. This is all associated with volcanic activity dating back around 160,000 years. Beneath the ground is a system of streams which are heated by magma left over from those earlier eruptions. The water is do not that it absorbs minerals out of the rocks, and the different minerals cause the water and surrounding ground to be coloured in a variety of striking colours.
There were three different lengths of walk shown on the leaflets with maps that we were given, and the features that we would see marked and described. We had 90 minutes at the attraction, and I successfully completed all but a tiny offshoot of the longest of the walks at 3km in the time available, taking plenty of photographs as I went around:
I was pleased to spot and photograph a Fantail on my way around, even if it wasn’t displaying it’s famous tail feathers:
Leaving the attraction it was then a fairly short drive back to Lake Rotorua, where we boarded the paddle-steamer for our lunchtime excursion around the lake. Inside the accommodation was on two levels, we were on the lower deck, while people from a different cruise shop where seated and fed upstairs. We were treated to an extensive buffet lunch, with either wine, beer or orange juice to drink. There was also a Mãori group of singers and musicians to entertain us, singing traditional sings and performing the Haka. Once they had finished they first invited women up to join them to try doing the poi ball dance, and then men to try joining in the Haka:
After about a hour we returned to the quay, from which I took photographs of a nearby seaplane, and some black swans, as well as the paddle-steamer itself:
Back on board the coach we then drove a fairly short distance to the Rainbow Springs wildlife park. Here one of the guides took us around the park, where there were many indigenous birds and reptiles in aviaries and glass tanks respectively:
Two of the creatures the guide showed us were models, the latter a Kiwi dressed as an All-black rugby player!
The special attraction at the wildlife park was a facility housing three Kiwi birds – these are nocturnal, so they are kept indoors with lights on at night and off by day, so that they are active when the visitors come to see them. Before we entered their accommodation, we were told that the lighting was very, very low, that we must remain very quiet throughout, and on no account use any phones or cameras as light from them would frighten off the birds. I therefore dutifully switched off my camera and was happy just to have the possible experience of seeing one or more in real life. I could not believe it when one selfish lady took out her camera to take a picture, and then of all things she hadn’t switched off the flash on the camera which went off. Disbelief turned to anger a minute or two later, when despite being admonished by the guide, she tried again this time with a mobile phone, and again there was a bright flash of light in the darkened enclosure. I found it unbelievable that one person was so intent on her own selfish actions that she was prepared to scupper the experience for everyone else on the tour.
Leaving the wildlife park it was then a long drive back to our waiting ship for the best part of two hours. We made one brief stop on the way at the request of some passengers to photograph some kiwifruit growing in a vine – but I couldn’t understand what was so special about that and didn’t bother to descend from the coach.
This was a very good tour, with three very distinct and interesting elements which gave a good insight into this part of the North Island of New Zealand. That evening we set sail for our last port in New Zealand, Wellington, which we would reach after a day at sea. My adventures there will be the subject of my next post.
Postscript: I wish to apologise for the long delay in making this post – a very nasty cold has laid me low for the past week, and which unfortunately caused me to miss out on two epic shore tours in Australia – but more on this in later posts.