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Wai-O-Tapu & Waitomo Caves

Having been to various geothermal parks in the world, we were all familiar with bubbling mud, vast steaming hot pools of water, the stench of sulphur in the air, etc. We only had time for one geothermal park in NZ and picking the right one was not easy. Eventually, I decided on Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland. It had colours which none of us had seen at a geothermal park before.

Each morning at 1015hrs sharp, Lady Knox Geyser at Wai-O-Tapu goes off. To be in time for the eruption, we checked out of and left The Lake House in Taupo at 0845 hrs on 16 December 2019. There was a 52km drive to Wai-O-Tapu and we arrived at the main car park close to 0930 hrs. As we had pre-purchased tickets from Klook, the security officer let us through to a second car park closer to the geyser. The geyser was quite a distance away from the main car park, so it is definitely advisable to drive in and park at the second car park. Security officers were stationed at the second car park to check for tickets and online vouchers. We showed them ours and they waved us through.

At 1015 hrs, a staff member appeared at the geyser. She gave an introduction about the geyser, then proceeded to empty a bag of soap powder into it. A chemical reaction took place and hot water started shooting out of the geyser. The whole demonstration lasted a few short minutes. I could sense the disappointment and disapproval in the packed audience. Were they really expecting a a natural phenomenon to occur at 1015 hrs sharp each day?

Pouring soap powder into Lady Knox Geyser
Boom! And up it goes!

After the demonstration, we returned to the main car park and followed signs to a scenic walk. Don't be fooled by those signs. There was nothing picturesque at all. Just cross the road and enter the park instead.

What we enjoyed about Wai-O-Tapu were the colours at the bubbling, steaming Champagne Pool and the brilliant neon green of Roto Karikitea. Champagne Pool is the largest hot spring in NZ. Roto Karikitea is a crater filled with excess water from Champagne Pool; its neon green is due to minerals deposited being suspended in the water and refracting the sunlight.

Steaming hot Champagne Pool
Roto Karikitea

We spent 2.5 hours at Wai-O-Tapu before moving on to Rotorua. We stopped at Rotorua Central Mall and had lunch at its food court. The fish and chips stall had a combo meal which came along with a drink called L&P (short for Lemon and Paeroa). It's a NZ soft drink made with lemon juice and mineral water from the NZ town of Paeroa. It was love at first sip for me and the girls. If you like lemony stuff, this one is seriously good. L&P is bottled by Coke now and is readily available all over NZ.

We didn't stay long in Rotorua, as we had a 139 km journey to make to Waitomo Caves. The drive took 2 hours and we made it there at 1530 hrs, just in time to check in for the 1600 hrs guided tour. My original itinerary did not feature Waitomo Caves. I added it in only after our Te Anau Glow Worm Caves tour was cancelled due to flood.

A Maori guide escorted us into Waitomo Caves, and shared with us some history and information about the Caves, glow worms, etc. When we reached a section of the Caves which had exceptional acoustic effects, he invited my elder daughter (who is in a choir) to sing, and she delighted everyone with her rendition of the traditional Chinese folk song, Mo Li Hua.

We went deeper into the Caves until we reached the portion where the glow worms inhabited. We were helped onto a metal boat and, using ropes suspended above us, the guide moved our boat into the pitch dark space. When our eyes grew accustomed to the darkness, we were able to see the greenish glow of the glow worms all around us. It was surreal. We could not capture any of it on camera, as photography and videography were not allowed in the Caves. At the end of the 45-min tour, the guide broke the sad news that a recent flood had annihilated an estimated 50,000 glow worms in the Caves.

Just down the road from Waitomo Caves was the Big Azz Ice Cream shop. We had passed it on the way to the Caves, and were surprised that they were still open at 1700 hrs. As with many ice cream parlours in NZ, they sold a wide variety of flavours from the Tip Top brand. We loaded up on more ice cream, and bought a whole bunch of avocados from them. 10 avocados for NZ$5.00. Beat that!

Stop here when you see this sign!

From there, it was another 195 km to Auckland, which I'll save for the next post.


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