Where do you start when you’re wanting to do a bit of sightseeing for a day in the Taupo region? There is SO much to do…
We only had the one day, so decided on the Huka Falls (you just can’t go to Taupo and not visit there – it’s like eating pies without tomato sauce!) and Orakei Korako, the Hidden Valley thermal area, which we picked as it’s one of my favourite places, and it doesn’t smell too putrid which is a benefit to those with more “delicate” nostrils hehe!
The Huka Falls are just beautiful. The most stunning shades of turquoise blue, mixed with frothing white water. They are on the Waikato River, which drains Lake Taupo. A few hundred metres upstream from the falls, the river narrows from around 100 metres across to 15 metres. The canyon was created during the time of Taupo’s massive Oruanui eruption, which occurred approximately 26,500 years ago.
A huge volume of water rushes through, sometimes as high as 220,000 litres per second! The flow rate is regulated by Mighty River Power through the Taupo Control Gates. All part of the hydro system planning that the Waikato Regional Council dictate.
At the top of the falls is a set of small waterfalls, which drop over about 8 metres. The final stage is a huge 6 metre drop, which actually raises to 11 metres by the depth of the water.
It’s a hugely popular place, and being the first day in a week that wasn’t raining, every other tourist in the area had the same idea as us, make the most of the sun! The carpark was full but having 4wd utes, the lovely carpark attendant allowed us to drive halfway up a bank and perch precariously on the side.
We wandered down, batting aside the seething mass of tourists, and wedged ourselves on the first bridge. What a special place this is!!!! Just glorious….. We took our time and I have to say that for the amount of people there, every single person was courteous. It was great!
Next stop was Orakei Korako. When I worked at Flight Centre in Greymouth, many many moons ago (because I am the ancient vintage of 40 after all….!) I used to drive every day from Hokitika to Greymouth to go to work, and would listen to the radio. There were these ads about Orakei Korako, advertising that it was a hidden valley, accessed only by boat. I always remembered those ads and had a vision in my head of what Orakei Korako was about (I was completely wrong by the way – I tend to have a rather vivid imagination).
You’re going to have to bear with me here, I LOVE this place and you need to read all about it…..
Orakei Korako is Maori, meaning “The Place of Adorning”. It’s a highly active geothermal area, most noted for its series of fault-stepped sinter terraces. In the early 19th century, the Maori population congregated here, probably attracted by the hot springs, which they used for cooking and bathing. We don’t know when they left the area but it’s been suggested that they left after the eruption of Mount Tarawera in 1886, because of great changes in the hot springs.
The earliest known route from Rotorua to Taupo for early European travellers passed right through Korakei Korako, and it was the last two remaining Maori families in the area who provided a dugout canoe to get people visitors across the then-swift Waikato River. In the 1930’s, a wire strop and pulley system was erected. The tourist resort was officially opened on 15 December 1937.
In 1955 the proposal for a power development was fianally approved (it had been first proposed in 1904). By May 1960 an earth-filled dam, rising 49 metres above the river level was placed and consolidated. The filling of Lake Ohakuri began on 19 January 1961 and was completed in 14 days. Two of the world’s largest geysers were sadly drowned by the lake, one used to erupt up to 90 metres high (the same size as the Steamboat Geyser in Yellowstone National Park), and the Orakeikorako Geyser which blew to 55 metres, the geyser from which the whole area was named. Also flooded were 200 alkaline hot springs and 70 other geysers. Some of these features still discharge and are evident as gas bubbles rising from vents in the lake bed.
The lowest terrace is the jade-green Emerald Terrace. It’s the largest of its kind in NZ since the presumed destruction of the famed Pink and White Terraces in the Mount Tarawera eruption of 1886. The Emerald Terrace continues down 35 metres under the lake.
Even with the loss of two thirds of its thermal features under the artificial lake, Orakei Korako remains the largest geyser field in NZ with up to 35 active geysers. The most famous is the Diamond Geyser, totally unpredictable with eruptions that can last from minutes to hours, ejecting boiling water as high as 9 metres.
The three terraces above the lakeside Emerald Terrace are great fault scarps formed by a massive earthquake in 131 AD, around the time when Lake Taupo was last erupting. The are mostly covered in hot water algae with different species presenting in different colours.
At the top of the third terrace is the Artist’s Palette, a 10,000 m2 silica sinter terrace covered with clear blue alkali chloride pools and irregularly erupting geyers. To one side of this terrace, a new geyser began to erupt in 2001, possibly the beginnings of a further terrace. Cool aye!
There are plenty of other features at Orakei Korako, such as the Ruatapu Cave, one of only two caves in the world known to exist in a geothermal field. The cave extends 45 metres, with a vertical drop of 23 metres, to a shallow pool of clear, sulfate-rich, warm acid water. The pools chemical composition gives it the unique ability to clean jewellery.
We wandered around the well formed paths for a couple of hours, soaking in the exquisite scenery, and as we walked back down towards the boat, the heavens opened. It was such awesome timing that we had seen all we had set out to see before it started raining.
We took the wee boat back across to the visitors centre and decided to have a late lunch there. Prices were really reasonable and we had sandwiches, pies and sausage rolls with some cold drinks. I really am impressed with pricing up in the North Island. I think places like Queenstown are just taking the mickey with their costs, you’d think up north you were in a different country!
More pool time this afternoon and a yummy home cooked meal of Spaghetti Bolognaise followed by a night swim! We are in Paradise…..