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Taupo Rotorua

18th February 2012

A Day of Falls, Rapids, Fumaroles and Geothermal Activities

Huka Falls
    A number of Taupo's scenic attractions flanked the Waikato River. Making my way along the riverside, my first stop off point was the Huka Falls. Here, the voluminous Waikato narrowed down from a 100m-wide river to a 15m gulley, before plunging over a 10m ledge. The slow deep waters were seemingly transformed into a sleek sinuous serpent which snaked over the shelf to dissolve into a seething cauldron of frothy, churning whirlpools. The rush of white water was mesmerising. It was impossible to discern a pattern in the heaving, roaring maelstrom, but the sheer power of 400 tonnes of water per second cannot be ordered or contained. Standing on the Huka Falls bridge, the roar of the Waikato River below was deafening, and the ground vibrated as the mass of liquid thundered through the narrow rock chasm. This awesome spectacle absorbed all the senses.
Fungi in Wairakei
    A short distance further on lay a turnoff to the geothermal area called Craters of the Moon in Wairakei Tourist Park. Wairakei is the largest geothermal field in New Zealand. I am always a sucker for geology. The area came into existence in the 1950s, when the underground hydrodynamics changed due to the shifting water and pressure levels generated by the construction of the Wairakei geothermal power station. A pleasant trail around the perimeter took me past roaring, stinking fumaroles and blooping pools of hot mud, reminding me of the Mud Volcano section of Yellowstone Park. With the warm sun on my back, and the whiff of hydrogen sulphide in my nostrils, I was quite content. Beyond these steaming lunar landscapes lay the ice cold, clear lake and high, cold mountains.
    Further out from Taupo I came across the Wairakei geothermal power station, the world's first (1958) to use steam from discharging hot water. Huge, gleaming steel pipes kept each other company as they snaked across the landscape and converged on the plant, carrying steam from all across the Wairakei geothermal field. Occasionally a pressure release valve would allow excess to be vented in a hissing cloud of steam. Sadly, the power station did not have a visitors centre, nor did they allow organised tours.
Fumaroles at Craters of the Moon
    A few kilometres further downstream from the Wairakei power station the river broadened at the hydroelectric Aratiatia Dam. Just below the dam are the Aratiatia Rapids, which are only rapid during three or four fifteen-minute periods each day. Then the parched watercourse becomes a raging torrent while the floodgates are open, before returning to a trickle. From here, the river lost its fury and took a more sedate journey down to the Tasman Sea just south of Auckland.
A Panoramic View of Wairakei Geothermal Power Station      (please use scroll bar)

Steam Pipes Feeding Power Station
    The Aratiatia Rapids are one of the river's outstanding scenic features. Lying 4km downstream of Wairakei, where the Waikato River descends 100m across a series of hard ribs of rhyolite, the foaming torrent of the Aratiatia Rapids is now harnessed by the 90MW Aratiatia Hydro Station situated at the foot of the rapids.
    The station is supplied from a tunnel which has been driven through the hard rhyolite adjacent to the falls. The tunnel taps an artificial lake produced by a low dam at the top of the rapids.
    Watching the floodgates open, I expected an immediate surge of water all the way down the rapids, as did the chap standing alongside me. Our expectations were totally wrong. It seemed that the resistance provided by the twists, turns and rocks in the rapids was sufficient to back the surge of water up, and only when the pressure of water at each stage built up, did the surge proceed to the next stage. The chap next to me timed the length of time it took for the surge to cover the 350m from the floodgates to where we stood. It took 11 minutes. I had not expected that at all.
    After witnessing the event, I headed back to camp, dumped my wagon, and walked down to town to meet up with Graham, the artist, who had offered to share a beer with me around 4pm. I reached his gallery 10 minutes early, but he had already packed up for the day, and he had no means of letting me know. Fortunately, his door had a sign with his mobile number on it, so I left him a message.
Aratiatia Rapids Before and After the Floodgates Open
Exactly What Service is this Guy Providing?
McDonald's Children's Play Area
    Undetered, I ambled around to the harbour to look at the craft moored there, then sat on a bench and watched an endless stream of runners and walkers pass by on their way to a finishing line in the park. Once a year there is a relay race around Lake Taupo, 160km or 100 miles, with ten members per team. The start times for the race depended on whether folk were running or walking. Walkers started at 9pm the previous day, runners at midnight. I asked one of the officials what the best times were. "I am not sure of the exact time, but this year has been the fastest ever. The winning team got in shortly after 1pm today," he replied. It was now almost 6pm, and poor souls were still hobbling in. I hoped they had achieved the goals that they aimed for, be they personal, or fundraising goals.
Mounts Ruapehu, Ngauruhoe and Tongariro Far Away Beyond Lake Taupo
    Watching the race took me back to my school days when I ran for the cross-country team. Every year there was a relay race around Derwent Water. I was fit then.
    Watching these noble athletes created a thirst, so I partook in a cool beer. Whilst sipping it in the sun, I got a returned call from Graham. Business had been slack today, so he left early and went for a swim in the lake; brave man. He was working the next day, but asked me to pop down in the morning to share a coffee and have a chin wag.
    I finished my beer in this vibrant town, now buzzing with jubilant athletes, and hiked back up the long hill to camp, enjoying the coolness of the air after the warm day.

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Taupo Rotorua

Uploaded from Top10 Campsite, Rotorua on 21st February at 09:20

Last updated 20.2.2012