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New Zealand Thermal Areas

This page brings together information on the major thermal areas we have visited in New Zealand. The major areas are centred round Rotorua which is introduced as a good centre for visiting them.

Rotorua Town - a base for the Thermal Areas

Introduction Rotorua is in the centre of the thermal areas and forms an excellent base for touring. Rotorua and the surrounding thermal areas sit right on the pacific "Ring of Fire". There are often small shakes and on a recent visit there was one whilst we were eating breakfast out side on a picnic bench. They occur two or three times every day although this one was slightly more noticeable and we were told it was about 4 on the Richter scale. There are a number of thermal areas of interest in the town itself as well as plentiful accommodation, economic restaurants and Internet Cafes, which are usually prepared to provide a phone line for our own computers. We come every time in New Zealand and often end up staying for two or three days and on one ocassion stayed four days - Rotorua and the thermal areas is a must on a first visit to New Zealand. We have our own favourites for accommodation, food and activities, some of which we cover in the following paragraphs to give you a start.

Rotorua Accommodation

The Regal Geyserland During our first visits to New Zealand when we were short of time (and less restricted in budget) we used to stay for a few days at the Regal Geyserland hotel. The Hotel is right on the edge of the Whakawerawera thermal site and is excellent for special occassions such as Pete's birthday. The first visit we were lucky and we had a room which looked straight down on the biggest and best area of bubbling mud we have yet found - one could and we did watch for hours the mud with the changing pattern of geysers in the background. The next year we specified the same room but as repeat visitors we were upgraded to the one next door with a spa pool - quite an experience when as it always came on at full blast. The hotel is on the edge of town so it is difficult to walk in during an evening but both the Maori Arts and Crafts centre and the hotel next door do a Hangi. If you stay there you must book and ensure they commit to providing a room looking down on Whakawerawera as the views are what makes it exceptional - without the views it is just a slightly expensive and rather ordinary hotel.

Rotorua Top Ten Holiday Park (Acacia Park). For a while we made the Rotorua Top Ten Holiday Park our home in Rotorua and even booked in advance to get our favorite units! . We usually had one of their Tourist flats which at the time were excellent value - the names of the various options can get quite complex in holiday parks and they can get quite annoyed if you call their latest building project by the wrong name! It has almost the full facilities of a motel room including shower, toilet, fridge and sink, it only lacks a full cooker but has electric frying pan, microwave and toaster - you also supply bedding (or pay $5 extra). The Rotorua Top Ten is about 10 minutes walk from the centre of town and has every facility one could want including swimming pool, Petanque free barbecues, laundries etc. We have camped and had various rooms there many times, not only is it very good, but it is the only camping area within walking distance of town. Beware in booking you get the right one of the Top Tens in the area and make sure you buy a Top Ten discount card from them when you arrive - it gives reductions on many of the local activities as well as the Top Ten accommodation itself and quickly pays for itself.

The Kiwi Thermal Holiday Park on the Old Taupo Road is an alternative (2009) . It had been recommended by family, although was a long walk from the town centre being by the golf course. We had a choice of kitchen cabin, with the only surprise being the absense of a fridge. There were none in the kitchens either. It was later that we were told there was a Cool Room and we could book one of the lockable cages in there for our food. The reception and shop also had a large chest freezer where people stored bags of proper frozen food. This was not a place to freeze water to make ice, but freezing chilly bin blocks was OK. Pete went and soaked in one of their nice hot pools while Pauline examined the state of her blisters - not something she wanted to put into a communal pool. We booked for one night but stayed for two. Our kitchen cabin was a detached new modern box whereas most were older with lots of bunks. It is a large sheltered site and would be very good for camping, except there was too much shade to dry a tent in the morning. There were also cheaper log cabins, without kitchen, which our family preferred. It is a very nice typically kiwi family holiday park and we will go there again if we want to camp.

The Manhattan Motel. These days (2011 - 2015) we mostly stay at the Manhattan Motel – we usually get a slight discount to $80 as regulars. The Manhattan is the old style motel that we prefer. It only has a small number of rooms and has the big advantage of being very central – the are always lots of motels seeming to offer good rates up Fenton Street but then you need to drive into town. The Manhattan has large well set up rooms with a big screel TV and Sky if that is your scene. It has its own hot pool which we use, last time it was very hot (46 degrees) and relaxing but beware, do not stay in too long the first time at that temperature or if you have eaten or drunk alcohol. We thoroughly recommend it.

Food and Drink - The Pig and Whistle We perhaps know Rotorua too well and tend to go back to places which have served us well in the past and the Pig and Whiste is one of our favorites. The following extract from our travel notes shows why! "We went straight into town to the Pig and Whistle for a beer from their own brewery (snout dark ale) and we also had a snack of Kumara chips whilst deciding what to do about eating. The snack turned out to be a massive plate heaped high with a couple of bowls of dips - we did not have a measure but it was definitely heaped higher than a pint glass on a huge plate. We just struggled through it with the help of a few more Snouts and gave up any thought of supper whilst wondering how they did it for $10.95."

The Pig and Whistle used to be the police station and was built in 1946 very much in Art Deco style but with some addition Maori themes in the decoration. It used to have the brewery on the top floors but it has now moved to another building. We usually have the good, if a little fizzy, Snout Dark Ale. They also have Verdict Bitter, a traditional brown beer, batch brewed and incorporating pale and dark malts from fine NZ barleys with an addition of NZ hops, (regarded in NZ as the best in the world) and Swine Lager, which we have never sampled.

Rotorua Activities - Hangi and Cultural Experiences: A Hangi is a Maori way of cooking which in most places involves cooking in a deep pit into which stones heated in a fire are dropped the food is wrapped and put on top and the whole covered with soil for a few hours to "steam" the mixture of meat and vegetables and blend all the flavours. In Rotorua and other thermal areas the hot stones are not needed as the pits are made over natural steam vents which cook the food. They usually come with an evening of Maori entertainment sometimes dressed up as a "Cultural Experience" and you should take time to go to one - they are good value as you usually have an unlimited buffet from the hangi as well as the entertainment.

We have been to the Hangi at the THC (possibly now renamed) hotel which is next door to the Regal Geyserland near Whakawerawera several times and found it first class. We have also tried the one at the Maori Arts and Crafts Centre in the Whakawerawera complex in 2001 as they claimed it was also a Cultural Experience. Before we started the main part of the experience at the Maori Arts and Crafts Centre we were taken round the replica Maori village and saw such things as bird traps and stores which were intersting but the main part of what was billed as a "Cultural Experience" was disappointing and they missed many opportunities - even the food was mostly European with no explanation of what was typical. If it had been billed as entertainment it would have been acceptable but that was not the case. We have had much better experiences in the THC hotel in the past which made it even more disappointing. We walked out before the end and had a lengthy, and hopefully positive, discussion with some of the hosts/organisers. In the meantime we suggest that the ones at hotels, such as the THC, may actually offer a better overall experience.

Rotorua Activies - Trips on Lake Rotorua: The last visit we decided to indulge in a boat trip on Lake Rotorua for lunch. They have a stern paddle wheel boat on the lake which does a lunch trip with unlimited buffet for $30 (further discounted with a TT card!) which seemed a good way to stock up. The boat is fairly new but is actually driven by the paddles, unlike some, making it the only stern drive paddlewheel boat still in operation in New Zealand. The lake is extremely shallow - it is not the usual volcanic eruption crater found in the area but a shallow bowl ten of kilometres across caused but subsidence into an old volcano.

The lake is mostly under 10 metres deep and the channel out from the landing stage is narrow and only one metre deep so the use of a flat bottomed paddle wheel boat drawing 80 cms is sensible. It also has powerful bow and stern thrusters which can drive it sideways almost as fast as the paddle wheel takes it forwards, not that they prevented us going aground due to high winds on our trip! The lunch was however plentiful and good and it made a pleasant trip round with an introduction to the wildlife and the surrounding volcanic and thermal areas.

Rotorua Activies - Local Lakes The Blue and Green lakes are worth a look if you are passing - they are almost adjacent but very different not only in colour but in character. There is a viewpoint and there are some walks along the lakeside. Lake Rotorua is well known for its fishing, both from the shore and from chartered boats.We have also visited Lake Tarawera which reputedly has some of the best fishing and is full of 4 kg trout. You are not allowed to buy trout or even have it in a restaurant in New Zealand unless you have caught and supplied it - one day we must try one of the fishing trips on the lakes however they are not cheap and one could easily spend several hundred dollars to catch supper so we settle for the Pig and Whistle.

Rotorua - Kuirau Park

Last visit we spent the first part of the morning round Kuirau Park, an area with a fair amount of thermal activity although right in the centre of town beside the hospital and almost alongside our favourite Top 10 campsite. It looked as if one area had been very active and was fenced off - we heard that it exploded and showered the centre of Rotorua with hot mud a year before. The previous year we had been told one of the geysers had been playing for muck longer than usual so it looks as if Rotorua is livening up - even the Polynesian Pools were a little brown in colour when we had an early morning dip on the same visit.

Rotorua has been extracting a lot of thermal energy and water for heating houses, pools etc., and the council has been trying to restrict people from drawing out too much private enterprise thermal energy for their hot pools and heating as it was believed that it was causing some of the major attractions to be muted. The results of keeping the thermal power constrained were unexpected to the planners, if perhaps predictable to everyone else in a town where steam comes out of drain covers and holes beside the roads

Rotorua - Lakeside Trail

A very pleasant walk has recently been opened up round part of the Lake at Rotorua. It is almost in the middle of town but takes you past little beaches, through bush, through thermal areas on board walks and through various nature reserves, all with orientation boards. It provides a very pleasant hour and a half walk on nice evening to get ones appetite up before supper. It has never been well publicised, perhaps because it takes you through some interesting thermal areas that are free. The best access is from beside the Polynesian Pools. More recently it has been extended and more boards added as we found a few years ago when we obtained a brochure called "Rotorua Walkways" which showed that a walk has now been extended to feature geothermal areas, native wildlife and local historic sights.

We eventually persuaded the information office to provide an extra copy of that and two other brochures covering walks round the centre for the motel - they had never seen it and they were not on display in the information centre! The extra sections after the Kurua Park, Pukuroa Hill, Lakefront and Motutara bay sections that we have written before continue the walk up the Puarenga stream so you can now reach Whakawerawera and continue in an extended loop past the golf course, through the Rotorua Tree Trust and down the Utuhina stream back to the town centre giving a total distance of 26 kms. This seemed slightly too far even after our excesses at the 'Pig' so we joined the loop at the Polynesian Pools

We walked out on the familiar route through the quite active thermal area along the lake an then onto the new section up the Puarenga stream named for the patterns of sulphur particles which float on it's surface - hot and cold springs feed it on its journey from Whakarewarewa - we did not go in and the next section past the golf course on a main road looked a bit boring so we returned the same way.

It seems to us that a good days 'outing' would be to follow the walk through Kurau Park, down to the waterfront then follow the lakeside thermal path past the Pools up to Whakarewarewa, spend a couple of hours including their guided tour before returning the same route back as far as the Polynesian pools where one could spend an hour or so in the new spa. Once rejuvenated one could look round the Blue Bathes/government gardens area, the subject of another rare brochure, before returning to the Monterey.

We were economical and just walked straight back and round Government Gardens where we watched the bowls and Petanque. It was Waitangi day and everywhere was unusually quiet and our other favourite source of food, the Mexican Cantina was closed and we ended up with an Avocado Dip Pete made from the last of our bargain fruit from when we left Auckland and latter a Pizza from Hell - adequate but not in the same class as the Mexican.

Rotorua - Polynesian Pools

The Polynesian pools have 8 natural pools of thermal waters at various temperatures from 35 to 46 degrees from two different springs. They leave you greatly refreshed and cured of many ills you never knew you had and with an aroma of Rotorua which survives all known cleansing methods for many days. They also dissolve or tarnish all metals other than pure gold. The therapeutic powers however are such that even the locals use them.

Whakawerawera

We have put Whakarewarewa first in this list as it is so close to Rotorua and because it has such a wide range of thermal activities including the best bubbling mud. It also shares the site with the Maori Arts and Crafts centre and entry covers both. The major disadvantage is that it is by far the most popular area with the tour operators, expensive and it is impossible to enjoy it without being interupted by load mouthed tour guides with their parties who are never allowed time to anything justice. The best way to see it is from the Regal Geyserland hotel which is right on the edge so you can watch the geysers and bubbling mud in peace at dawn or dusk when the local kids swim in the hot pools. A main feature of Whakarewarewa is a geyser called the Prince of Wales Plumes which used to erupt randomly a few times a day - it is now playing all the time which is another example of the continual changes in the thermal areas

Wai-o-Tapu, The Lady Knox Geyser and Bubbling Mud Pools

Wai-o-Tapu Thermal Area: One of our favourite thermal areas is Wai-o-tapu (Sacred waters) - we have been to most of the thermal areas several times as they are always different and Wai-o-tapu, or Waiotapu as it is often written, still remains the top of our list because of the range of features, good documentary boards and longer walks which take one away from the masses. One needs to allow several hours to start to do Wai-o-Tapu justice even if one misses out the Lady Knox Geyser (see below).

Perhaps the highlight of Waiotapu is it's Champagne Pool. The Champagne pool is always gently steaming with thousands of tiny bubbles rising to the surface from the very blue water and is surrounded with a shelf of bright orange-red deposit before it plunges far too deep to see. Words alone can not do the area justice, even pictures can not convey the sound and heat but they are better than nothing. The following picture show some details of one of the terraces where water flows down from the outflow from Champagne pool and the evaporating salts have left a series of miniature pools.

Update in 2015 The highlight for us is still the Champagne Pool, which has such wonderful colours and is always gently steaming with thousands of tiny bubbles rising to the surface from the very blue water and is surrounded with a shelf of bright orange-red deposit before it plunges far too deep to see.

We then continued through Taupo town, it is only too easy to take the new fast bypass and miss the town and part of the lake Even so we did not stop until further down the lake where we had the remainder of our coffee from breakfast and some biscuits for lunch whilst we picked up some of the pumice from the lakeside.

There are many other features at Wai-o-tapu - the picture shows how the sulphur from one of the vents has condensed into a myriad of tiny crystals gleaming yellow in the sun. There are a number of longer walks for those with time and they have recently been extending the walking tracks.

Lady Knox Geyser: We often prefer not to drive to watch what many see as the major attraction of a visit to Wai-o-tapu, The Lady Knox Geyser which always erupts at 1015, but instead walk round in the quiet - the place is completely empty for 45 minutes. We then return to see it the following day as the tickets are not dated. An alternative is to get to Wai-o-tapu early enough for a quick work round before going to see The Lady Knox Geyser. The geyser is provoked to erupt by the addition of a little soap - it was discovered by prisoners doing their washing in a nice warm pool who got up a nice lather then had it all blasted 20 meters into the air. On a good day it goes at least that high and can play for up to half an hour. When we do everything in one day we quickly return to Wai-O-Tapu and, by walking round the wrong way, often manage to avoid the worst of the rush.

Bubbling Mud: The bubbling mud on the loop road to Wai-O-Tapu is always worth a look and is free so we either have a look whilst waiting for the 1015 spectacle or go back when we have finished. On leaving we usually take time to look at the bubbling mud on the loop road - it is always worth a look and is free.

Update in 2015 We stopped on the loop road to look at the bubbling mud pools which were unusually active with high water levels this year - there was more of the big splashing and less of the little soft eruptions.

Waimangu and Lake Rotomahana

Whaimangu is a long valley down which takes one a couple of hours to walk down past A visit to Waimangu involves a walk down through a long and active valley with huge hot lakes. The walk down takes a litle under two hours and there are buses available to bring one back. The walk takes one past Frying Pan lake and many other feature to Lake Rotomahana. One of he lakes is a magnificent pale blue and slowly fills and empties changing its level by many meters over a 17 day cycle. There is much to see and the area is very active so it is always different. A new boiling spring has just started which covers the old path so you are now on an elevated wooden walkway through that section. The main walk ends at a picnic area overlooking the Warbrick Terrace, one of our favourite features.

You can then return by bus or continue for a 15 minute bush walk and take a boat trip round the crater lake Rotomahana which was formed along with the rest of the area in the 1886 eruption which destroyed the fabled Pink and White Terraces. The 4 hour eruption blasted 22 new craters along a 17 km fissure line.

The boat trip is relatively expensive but a worthwhile extension to the day and gives a scale to the magnitude of the eruption. The new lake Rotomahana which was blasted out covers 7 square kilometres and is up to 200 meters deep and an area of 15,000 square kilometres was covered up to 22 meters deep in mud and ash. There have been many less major eruptions since then, the last significant one being in 1951.

We found an old picture on a wall of one of the Pink and White terraces which gives some indication of why they were regarded as one of the wonders of the world.

Update in 2009 In the morning we visited the Waimangu Thermal Valley. Arriving at 1000 we had time to walk slowly down the valley, admiring the lakes, steaming cliffs, and colourful terraces and arriving on the shores of Lake Rotomahana at 1200. This year there was a new path, the Mt Haszard hiking trail, starting from the blue Inferno Crater and passed Raupo Pond crater, Fairy crater, and Black crater before rejoining the old path by the hot stream between Bus Stops 1 and 2. We then waited for the bus at 1235 to take us back to the Ticket Office at the top of the hill.

Orakei Korako - Hidden Valley

Orakei Korako or Hidden valley is accessed by a jet boat across a lake and merits a visit of several hours. It rarely seems to be very full, probably the tourists on coach trips can not afford the time. There is little shelter so it is worth visiting before the heat of the day. The thermal areas all vary year by year as activity starts up and ends and the water tables change in level and it is difficult to say which will be best each year. Orakei Korako has a good range of thermal features and a pleasant bush walk past bubbling mud so it comes high up our list close behind Wai-O-Tapu and level with Waimangu. Recently the displays at Orakei Korako have been very good with the geyser playing almost continuously and The Terraces very fresh and clean looking with many contrasting colours.

Our last visit was on a gloriously sunny day in 2001 and it was definitely an Orakei Korako year. The whole area looked as if it had been washed - all the silica faces were gleaming white like icing sugar and the usual bits of stick and junk seemed to have vanished from round the pools, perhaps there had been very heavy rain. The geysers were more lively than usual and the pools were all crystal clear

Hells Gate

Hells Gate is one of our favourite thermal areas for a quick visit. It has some of the hottest pools - one is at 115 deg C which is hotter than the boiling point because of graphite in suspension being heated by the steam. It is an easy hour visit, fairly representative and never seems to be full of people as it is not on the main tourist coach circuit. We like it but it is probably not the highest priority visit if one is short of time unless one is already passing.

Craters of the Moon

We have been going to the Craters of the Moon since atleast 2001. It differs in several ways from the other thermal areas. Firstly it is free and therefore fairly empty as it gets no publicity and there are no incentives for tour buses to come. Secondly it is a new area of activity which only started when the geothermal power stations disturbed the balance in the area. It is very active with vast new craters and is continuously changing. Sometimes we find big sections are closed and often the paths have to be extensively re-routed to avoid new active areas.

There are long sections on slightly raised wooded walkways with the ground too hot to touch and covered in small hissing steaming vents either side. It does not have any geysers at present but currently has some bubbling mud and hot pools. It is well worth visiting but is poorly signed - it is on the main Taupo Rotorua road where the 1 and 5 are merged about 5 kms from Taupo

When we returned in 2006 to the Craters of the Moon thermal area everywhere was unusually green, a result perhaps of the big storm, and it certainly applied to the Prostrate Kanuka which is an unusual variant of the Kanuka Manuka family which can grow on ground which is unusually hot, up to 70 degrees centigrade. As the temperatures moderate it changes from a fully prostrate plant only 10 or so centimeters high to a more normal shrub. Manuka and Kanuka are sometimes difficult to tell apart and are both members of the same family that gives us Tea Tree oil.

Buried Village

A major eruption in 1886 which destroyed the fabled Pink and White Terraces and blasted out Lake Rotomahana which covers 7 square kilometres and is up to 200 meters deep. An area of 15,000 square kilometres was covered up to 22 meters deep in mud and ash. Buried Village was covered in a few metres and has since been extensively excavated. It is interesting the first time but we have not been back recently

Mount Ruapehu

Mount Ruapehu is still a very active volcanic area which last had a major eruption in 1995. We have had a couple of flights over the area in the seaplane based in Taupo, one before and the other just after the lasr eruption. The flights take one all round Mount Ruapehu and Mount Tongarero. There were major changes the second year and many of the ski fields were still covered in thick ash. The hot lake had been blasted away in the eruption but was just starting to fill back up with water.

White Island

We made our first trip to White Island was way back in 1996 whilst we were staying at Ohope (near Whakatane) - we had only intended to stay for one and then travel on but ended up staying for three days. They delay came about partly because we liked the area as a base and partly because we were determined to take a trip to White Island. White Island is an active volcanic island about 30 kms off shore. It was certainly a memorable visit. The trip by the PJ boat took about an hour and a half and we were then issued with hard helmets and gas masks, the latter are always needed, one hopes the hard hats are required less often! We were landed by inflatable jet boat 6 for a guided tour lasting a couple of hours. The overall impression was that the description of it being "the most awesome experience in New Zealand" was not that much of an exaggeration. It certainly makes even Hells Gate look restrained and we certainly needed the gas masks at times as the swirling clouds of steam and sulphur caught up with us.

White Island has been inhabited at times by sulphur extractors for fertilizer manufacture and some of the buildings and kit remain - the extreme corrosion and the way some of the equipment has been distributed bear witness to the power of the fumes and the sea. At least one party of minors were completely lost in an eruption and only the cat was ever found. A very good visit well organised by Peter and Jay who are real enthusiasts and one we would happily recommend. Once back to the boat snorkels appeared for those who wanted to see the rich underwater life - no fins unfortunately but Peter still had an enjoyable 20 minutes and regretted he had not had the grease for sealing the video camera underwater case with him.

Second Trip in 2009. We rang ahead to see if there were any possibilities for a trip to White Island. The main road still had no mobile coverage, so we used the Freephone number from the phone box. Trips depend very much on the weather and one year we spent three days in the area, reporting each day to their office in Whakatane and never got a trip. Our previous and only visit there was in 1996. In 2009 the weather was much better and we were lucky and were 'waitlisted' for the following morning and had a firm booking for 24 hours later. With over 50kms to drive to Whakatane for White Island it was too far to use Tirohanga as our base, but we have stayed there several times before and it was an obvious option for our return journey.

We stayed at the Top10 at Ohope Beach about 15kms to the east. Here we got a beautiful camping slot, with power, and a direct view onto the ocean. This was our most expensive camping of the year at $36 a night, and would have been $40 without our Top10 card. It was shoulder season - in high season camping there is $50! The site was excellent, and they had some lovely new apartments which overlooked our tent and had direct sea views, but at a price. We stayed a second night, but in a cabin at twice the price, because we needed a very early start in the morning and the weather was going to be wet overnight - packing a wet tent at dawn is not a joke.

Checkin for our trip was at the White Island Rendezvous - a mixture of motel accommodation, cafe and tour information and booking centre which was built in May 1998 next to the Whakatane Harbour. The tour to White Island on PeeJay IV was timed at 1030, for departure at 1100. There was also an early trip at 0915, on the larger PeeJay V. In 2009 it cost $175 each; with our Top10 card but we did get afree coffee and muffin at the PeeJays Coffee House. It was beautiful coffee and a magnificent white chocolate and blueberry muffin. It was so good we would even pay full price next time! One novelty - the checkin tickets were stainless steel cream separators - they said they were difficult to lose. Departing at 1115 we easily got over the harbour bar and passed the statue of the Maori maiden, Wairaka who is the subject of several legends.

White Island is an active volcanic island about 50 kms off shore. The first European to discover White Island and give it its name was Cook in 1769, but he did not realise it was a volcano. That was only discovered in 1826. It is certainly a memorable and exciting place to visit. The trip across by the PeeJay IV boat took just over an hour and a half and when we arrived at Crater Bay, the only place suitable for mooring, we found PeeJay V was there and loading its passengers after their exploration. There was also what was described to us as a 'cruise ship'. It was the Oceanic Discoverer and was small but looked expensive. They had been using the official guides provided by PeeJay for their tour of the island, and were also about to depart.

We were invited to step down and onto the inflatable tender which took us to the landing area where we climbed out onto a sort of set of ladders. We had put our cameras into waterproof bags, but the transfer was no problem for us; it was not a trip for old folks or wheelchairs. Although the PeeJay boats and tenders are larger and newer than in 1996 the landing area is still the same. We asked why there had not been a proper wharf built and were told that the boulders which are beneath the landing area move too much to support a permanent structure. Since 1953 White Island has been a private scenic reserve, owned by the Buttle family trust and part of the income from each visitor ($27 in our case) goes to them.

We were then divided into groups, each escorted by two guides and issued with hard helmets and gas masks; the latter are always needed in some areas, one hopes the hard hats are required less often! The overall impression was that the description of it being "the most awesome experience in New Zealand" was not that much of an exaggeration. It certainly makes even Hells Gate look restrained and we certainly needed the gas masks at times as the swirling clouds of steam and sulphur caught up with us. In June 2000 there was new activity with ash emitted and a plume of smoke. Again as recently as Waitangi Day 2007 there was a small eruption and we were shown the eruption material - so soft you could break it up with your hand. The vivid crater lake varies in depth and was nearly full enough in 2004 to overflow and break its banks. Fortunately it did not. Certainly White Island is different on every visit and will always have its own way of surprising visitors.

Until the 1960s the Maoris visited White Island to collect the young of the greyfaced petrel, or the NZ muttonbird, during November, which they then preserved. We smiled because in Taumarunui we had purchased a Muttonbird from a supermarket which we subsequently boiled three times and then roasted on the barbeque at Tologa Bay - much to the amusement of other foreign tourists.

White Island has been inhabited at times by sulphur extractors for fertilizer manufacture and some of the buildings and kit remain. At least one party of minors were completely lost in a landslide in 1914 and only the cat was ever found. Then in 1923 another venture began which went into receivership in 1933. The outside walls and a few pine timbers are all that remain of their large ferro-concrete factory - the extreme corrosion and the way some of the equipment has been distributed bear witness to the power of the fumes and the sea.

Once back onboard the main boat people could swim. In 1996 there had been snorkels to see the rich underwater life - no fins unfortunately but Peter still had an enjoyable 20 minutes and regretted he had not had the grease for sealing the video camera underwater case with him.This time there was a lot of swell and only a couple of very keen swimmers partook. The vegetarian packaged lunch was extremely disappointing, especially after the most excellent coffee and muffins earlier in the day. Every other aspect of the trip was superb. After lunch our visit continued with a circumnavigation of the island, and as we left we saw a much larger cruise ship approaching. Even without binoculars we could see it had a white funnel, not a red one, and it looked like a small Holland America ship. Our crew were also staring at it, trying to read the name, when a passenger from Holland said it must be the Volendam which was due to arrive in Napier shortly. During discussions about cruise ships we discovered that the brother of one of the crew was working as Maitre d' on one of the Cunard ships. Its a small world. Overall, a very good visit well organised by Peter and Jenny Tait who are real enthusiasts and one we would happily recommend.

Hot Water Beach

Hot Water Beach is on the East coast of the Coromandel and has an underwater hot spring close to the low tide mark. One can dig a hole in the sand which quickly fills with hot water at the appropriate time relative to the tide - very relaxing to lie in. We have did it a couple of times on early visits when we were staying at Ferry Landing and most Motels in the area have spades you can borrow to dig your pit. In 2014 we decided that it was a long time since we had been back to Hot Water Beach where under water springs bubble up through the sand at low water and you can dig big pools to which fill with water almost too hot to lie in. We found there are now huge car parks at the end but beware the last one is pay and display. We were just a little late so it was not worth taking a spade with us but lots of people were still indulging behind their fortifications and the water was still too hot for comfort when one walked across some area. You could see the water bubbling up in some places and it can reach over 60 degrees centigrade and cause nasty burns.
 

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