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New Zealand - Glow worms to Geothermals

Auckland to Hamilton to Waitomo (glow worms) caves, Tirau (sheep dog sculptures and lunch), Rotorua, Hell’s Gate

Thursday 28th January 2016 Waitomo and Hells Gate, Rotorua

We left Auckland after a nice breakfast, making sure it was after 9am to avoid the rush. The drive on State Highway 1 took us quickly out of the Auckland area and into less dense suburbs. This part of NZ was noticeably more modern and wealthy. Past Mt Wellington and Mt Richmond (not high, but still obvious) we could see both the Tasman and the Pacific as we passed the thinnest part of North Island. Then on SH1 past the Bombay Hills to the main body of North Island. The road took us down almost the centre of the island past Lake Waikare and on alongside the Waikato River to Huntly. At Huntly we drove out of flat arable land and across a small mountain range (Hakarimata) to emerge the other side into a flat area again, the Horsham Downs. This quickly entered into the generously sized town of Hamilton. Here we continued in a valley with the high extinct volcano of Pirongia Mountain to our right (these mountains are limestone and contain many caves). Keeping the mountains to the side we continued down SH39 to Otorohanga town where we had a set of roundabouts to move us onto SH3. This road skirted the mountains and forests until we arrived at Hangatiki where we turned off towards Waitomo. Waitomo is a Maori word of two parts. 'Wai' (water) and 'tomo' (entrance or hole), so Waitomo is the 'stream that flows into the hole in the ground'. Waitomo District encompasses the main town and service centre of Te Kuiti and the townships of Waitomo, Mokau, PioPio, Awakino, Marokapa and Benneydale. The prosperous local economy is built around tourism, farming, mining and forestry. The road led fairly directly up into the hills with a pretty drive towards tree covered limestone mountains. After a few km we arrived at Waitomo village which looked like it had done well out of the caves. At 39 Waitomo Caves Road (500m west of town centre) we parked the car and crossed under the road to redeem our tickets. Slow service, but finally we were waiting outside the entrance for our guide.

Waitomo Caves
We'd time for a quick coffee, then it was inside (no cameras sadly). The cave is still owned by a Maori family who have decided on the no photos rule and are the only ones allowed to marry there. The first cave was quite open and still receiving lots of light. There was clearly a lot of movement in the rocks here with evidence of fairly recent falls internally.
The Tomo is one of the wonders of Waitomo, it is a 16 metre vertical limestone shaft which marks the course of an ancient waterfall which today flows only during heavy rains. The dramatic vertical drop is carefully lit to show the scalloped walls and layers of limestone. The Tomo was the last feature of the cave to be formed and links the upper level to Waitomo River below. The guide said that due to the recent rains the lower exit was flooded so we would be returning the same way we went in. She told us the story of how the cave was discovered and developed. Waitomo Glowworm Caves were first explored in 1887 by local Maori Chief Tane Tinorau and English surveyor Fred Mace. Local Maori knew of the caves, but the subterranean caverns were unexplored until Fred and Tane went to investigate. They built a raft of flax stems and with candles as their only lighting, floated into the cave where the stream goes underground. As they entered the caves, their first discovery was the Glowworm Grotto with its myriad of tiny bright lights dotting the cave ceiling. As their eyes adjusted to the darkness, they saw a multitude of lights reflecting off the water. Looking up, they discovered that the ceilings were dotted with the lights of thousands of glowworms. Debris and logs littered the waterway, but by using a pole to push themselves to the embankment they disembarked to explore the lower levels. They returned many times to explore further, and on an independent trip Chief Tane discovered the upper level of the cave and an easier access by land (today's entry point). By 1889 Tane Tinorau had opened the cave to tourists. Chief Tane and his wife Huti escorted groups through the cave for a small fee. In 1906 the administration of the cave was taken over by the government, but in 1989, the land and cave was returned to the descendants of the original owners. Many staff employed at the caves today are direct descendants of Tane Tinorau and Huti. This first, or upper level has recently seen some movement. Formed over 30 million years ago there are two levels to the Waitomo Glowworm Caves which are 16 metres apart. The upper level is dry and includes the entrance to the cave, and formations known as the Catacombs, the Pipe Organ and the Banquet Chamber.
As we descended into the second cavern (the Cathedral) there was abundant evidence of stalactites and stalagmites, with the inevitable naming of some- the best group was probably “The Family”- a stalagmite group that vaguely resembled a mother, father, child and dog. Moving into the centre of the cavern (18m high) the guide pointed out the excellent acoustics with a song- a few musicians, such as Kiri Te Kanawa and Madonna, have visited for just this purpose. The lower level consists of stream passages and the Cathedral. At the far end a viewing platform and very little light gave a view of the glow worm threads hanging down over the slow lake-river just below. Mygalomorphs – tarantula relatives. After this it felt a bit tame until we went down one floor more to a huge flooded cavern where we climbed on board a boat and were pulled through in the darkness to see literally thousands of glow worms- very magical. We were told not to put our fingers in as a lot of biting fish lived there. As you glide quietly beneath the lights of thousands of glowworms, the gentle sound of dripping water reminds you that you are deep underground and not beneath a star filled sky. After 20 minutes we were pulled back to the pontoon and left the cave. The whole tour took about 45 minutes.

The life of a glowworm
Glowworms are in fact the larval stage of the fungus gnat (similar to a mosquito). The worms are common in caves and moist shaded areas. Their scientific name is Arachnocampa luminosa. The bioluminescence of the grub comes from small tubes round its anus as a byproduct of execrations. A reaction between the luciferase enzyme and other chemicals produces a blueish-green light. This light is used to attract insects (including other glowworms) in the dark, which the grub then eats. The hungrier it is, the brighter the light. The grub hangs dozens of sticky threads that trap the insects it attracts. It feels the vibrations and sucks the insect dry or even eats it whole. The female retains the ability to bioluminesce as an adult to attract the male for mating, but the male loses his. After about 9 months the grub pupates and in 2 weeks is a mouthless adult. It has 2-3 days to mate before it starves to death. Cave spiders (actually harvesters) will eat glowworms. Fungi often infect them, giving them a fluffy white look.
The unique New Zealand cave spider, Spelungula cavernicola, has features intermediate between mygalomorphs and araneomorphs. Discovered in 1957, it lives in the twilight zone near the mouth of caves, and feeds on cave wētā and blowflies. Some cave spiders hang from the roof of caves on draglines, and feed and moult in this position. There are records of a cave spider grabbing a wētā, then letting itself down on a dragline, wrapping the prey in silk and eating it.

We left Waitomo towards lunch and knew we'd need to find somewhere to eat, but the prices locally were outrageous! So we headed back to Kihikihi on the SH3, then cut across to Cambridge to catch the SH1 again. The pretty winding road eventually led to a deep gorge that we crossed over at Piarere (Arapuni Gorge and River), past Matamata (Hobbiton) and eventually we arrived in the small town of Tirau. Great start to the town was a giant corrugated metal building in the shape of a sheepdog and a sheep. Shortly along the high street was a nice looking cafe, Poppy's cafe, http://www.poppyscafe.co.nz/ so we headed out back for a Caesar salad and cool drink under a shade.
Tirau is a Maori word - the translation being: Ti - Cabbage tree, rau - many ie the place of many Cabbage trees. Tirau has claimed corrugated iron art as it’s own, and now Steven Clothier's works line the streets!
The North Island robin (toutouwai) is a friendly and trusting bird and is found in both native and exotic forests. North Island robins often come within a couple of metres to people, and occasionally stand on a person’s boot. They measure 18 cm from beak to tail and weigh 35 grams (sparrow size). They have long, thin legs and an upright stance. The North Island robin is one of three sub-species of the New Zealand robin, each found on one of the main islands. They are all New Zealand robins although, the North Island robin is a different species from the other two subspecies (South and Stewart Island). North Island robins are dark slaty-grey with a pale greyish-white lower breast and belly. The upper dark feathers have pale shafts and so the birds appear faintly streaked. Exact colouration depends on age and sex. Males older than three are black, while females and young males are pale to dark grey. Both sexes have a small patch of white feathers at the base of the beak which is covered much of the time, only flashed when interacting with other robins. The North Island robin is found in native and exotic forests, from Taranaki to the Bay of Plenty. Their diet consists mainly of invertebrates; aphids, tree weta, stick insect, or earthworms. Items too large to swallow whole are flung from side to side against the ground or a log until broken into pieces. Although robins are unable to eat large prey items all at once, the excess is not wasted. Uneaten portions are stored in crevices or depressions on trunks and branches to be retrieved and eaten later. Male robins are renowned songsters of the forest, loudly singing from high perches in the canopy, especially in the early morning. Bachelor males also spend much time through the day giving full song in an attempt to attract a mate. Full song consists of a variety of simple notes strung together and sustained for up to 30 minutes with regular brief pauses.

Then it was on to Rotorua. The terrain became markedly more bumpy and volcanic looking, through the Kuranui Wilderness (woods and hills), along SH5 Thermal Explorer Highway, and into the Bay of Plenty region. We travelled around part of the lake with the odd whisp from a vent as we drew nearer, but not the smell everyone kept on about- just a faint occasional whiff as we got close to the lake. Our motel, Fenton Court, was perfectly sited close to Te Puia park where we could see quite a lot of rising steam. We gave in our breakfast order, then decided to head to Hells Gate Geothermal Park as we had open tickets.
Te Puia from the road
large_hells-gate-rotorua_49919071011_o.jpg Hells Gate

Arriving in Rotorua the region’s geothermal activity was evident with steam rising from the roadside and surrounding hills. Our hotel was right next to Te Puia thermal park (Whakarewarewa geothermal valley) and we could easily see the famous Pohutu Geyser on the sinter terraces (Geyser Flat) - the largest active geyser in the Southern Hemisphere; Te Tohu 'Prince of Wales Feathers' Pohutu’s neighbour geyser; Kereru Geyser named after New Zealand native wood pigeon due to a fan-shaped 15m plume resembling a bird tail on black sinter, Nga Mokai a Koko (Toys of Koko) mudpool where steaming bursts of mud reach 90- 95 °C, and Purapurawhetu Star Dust pool- named for small clusters of boiling mud like constellations. Its thick mud, formed by acidic breakdown of rocks/ soil by steam/ gas is kaolin and black sulphur.

Hells Gate Geothermal Park http://www.hellsgate.co.nz
We headed 15 mins east to Hells Gate, Rotorua’s most active geothermal park, with boiling hot pools and erupting waters with temperatures over 100°; steaming fumaroles; hot water lakes; sulphur crystal deposits; New Zealand's largest active mud volcano, a hot waterfall, and even land coral. See and touch the 3 unique geothermal muds of the park – hot black, ice cold white that changes from solid to liquid and back; warm silky grey. Some 2 tonnes of mud are produced every day. Follow the footsteps of warriors through swirling clouds of steam, past the pool where Maori Princess Hurutini died; see the violent "Inferno" with 2 erupting pools (Sodom and Gomorra) and on to Kakahi Hot Waterfall, where warriors returned after battle to remove ‘Tapu’ of war and heal their wounds. Hells Gate is the only Maori-owned geothermal park in New Zealand. Set in 50 acres Hells Gate is unique as it is the only acid sulphate geothermal system. As a result it does not have the beautiful colours of other geothermal parks, which are alkali chloride systems. The local Maori have owned the reserve for over 800 years. It is the site of many unique thermophiles.

Starting at Waharoa (carved gateway) we passed the Bridge Pools first (Tikitere area); consisting of Hurutini, Devils Bath, Hells Gate and the Ink Pots. This area formed some 10,000 years ago as a series of geothermal eruptions when an ancient lake drained to form Lakes Rotoiti and Rotorua. The removal of the water caused faults in the rock, through which the steam, gases and boiling liquids could escape. Unlike most thermal parks in the area, the heat source for Hells Gate is only 2m below the surface (rather than the normal 10km+).
Hurutini pool is named after a Maori princess who sacrificed herself for her people. These sulphurous waters are 68 °C, pH 3.5 and 15m deep. The large hot pool, Hell’s Gate was in constant motion from gases moving through it, despite not having a visible inlet/outlet. It was named by George Bernard Shaw in 1906. It is 62 °C, pH 3.5 and 25m deep. Opposite was Devils Bath, a shallow pool (6m) of 70 °C, pH 4. In times past the tohunga (high priest) would bath here to gain powers of foresight. The smaller set of pools, the Ink Pots, appear as a black graphite-colour crack from the sulphides. These are 98 °C, pH2 and 20m deep. The last in the area is the tiny Baby Adam, a collection of small pools constantly moving. This pool was also named by GBS after his nephew Adam, wiggling as a baby on his knee. Temperature 68 °C, pH 6 and 1m deep.
Hurutini Pool; Devil’s Bath; Ink Pots; Baby Adam
The next area we walked to was just a few metres further round; the Inferno Pools, comprising Sulphur Bath, Infants, Inferno, Spraying Pools and Sodom and Gomorrah). The Inferno is 3 main pools with temperatures ranging 105-110 °C, pH 3.5 and 8-10m deep. The water comes out at over 100 °C because the minerals in it raise the boiling point beyond 100. Sodom and Gomorrah were again named by GBS. The erupting pools had temperatures of 100 °C+, and spray up to 2m. The Infants (yep, named by GBS due to their constant activity) are a set of small, very active pools. The Spraying Pools were not really pools, but in fact surface water interacting with the super heated ground similar to dropping water into hot fat (hence the geothermic name of the Frying Pan effect).
Sulphur Bath; Infants; Inferno Pool; Spraying Pools
We did not complete the circle round the first area, as from here we headed up the path, past the Maori bird catchers, the beautiful flowers of camellias, azaleas and rhododendrons (over 100 years old) and the cold water pond on the Bush Walk. We could hear, but not see, the bellbirds and fantails. At the top of the walk we could hear the waterfall before we saw it. Kakahi Falls is the largest hot waterfall in the Southern Hemisphere, at around 40 °C. The falls were used by Maori warriors to cleanse their wounds after battle, as the sulphur acted as a good anaesthetic. The Maori name for the falls is O Te Mime O Te Kakaki /Urine of Kakahi (who was a famous warrior).
Entrance; Sodom and Gomorrah; Kakahi Falls; bird catcher
A few more metres brought us out into a desolate landscape with steam everywhere. Turning left we entered the Sulphur Crystal Valley (the name says it all)- an area covered in deposited sulphur from the geothermal activity. The blackened area is a unique phenomenon; the result of spontaneous combustion when the sun/ hot ground heated the sulphur to 120 °C. The sulphur then burns at 380 °C, causing the silica rocks to melt and flow like lava. At the top of this part was the Devil’s Cauldron and Devil’s Throat; areas of black, grey and white mud with temperatures of 120 °C. The ponds were constantly plopping, bubbling and moving. We continued on the “long” walk up to the Mud Volcano, the largest in NZ. Most can only grow to 1m before collapsing, but this one is 2.4m and still growing. We climbed the viewing platform to look down into it. Interestingly the cone is the same shape as Mt Ruapehu and behaves in a similar way. The mud (rather than lava) discharges mud lahars end over 6 weeks these harden. This causes pressure and the top layer of mud explodes (usually overnight). In the distance we could see steaming cliffs, so we headed over to look. En route we passed Ruaumoko’s Voice (the Maori volcano god), a noisy fumarole. These were the Steaming Cliffs with a large boiling erupting pool at its base, the hottest in the park at 122-145 °C. As we watched the water erupted several metres high. To the left and right were two smaller different colour pools from a 2002 eruption.
Sulphur Crystal Valley; Devil’s Cauldron; Devil’s Throat; Ruaumoko’s Voice
Hot Sulphur Lake; Mud volcano; Steaming Cliffs; Cooking Pool
On round took us over the cold water Waiarere stream with the Hot Sulphur Lakes (Koro Koro) to our right. The water in these three large lakes is over 90 °C and feeds the waterfall. Koro is a bird’s throat and refers to the native birds that throng here to eat the cooked insects (from the heat). Two smaller ponds completed the area, Cooking Pool and Sulphur Medicine Lake. The cooking pool (temperature 90 °C) was traditionally used to cook ceremonial meats. The black water actually softens the meat and the heat cooks it. At the edge e could see a rare extremophile land coral; a thermophilic bacteria that feeds on nutrients in the water and over time becomes coated in silica to form a coral. The Medicine Lake, with its yellow-green waters, was used by the Maori to treat skin and bone issues. We felt the soft grey mud (a sign said it was OK) and realised how soothing it would be. It was 38 °C at the edge and reached 68 °C in the centre. The last pool of this area was the Map of Australia (naturally made and actually quite similar) around 48 °C.
Sulphur Medicine Lake and Map of Australia
Then it was back down the path to Tikitere area to finish the loop with its steaming fumaroles. The sulphur was forming stalactites and stalagmites with yellow crystals everywhere. All in all, a very impressive park!
We had a brilliant time at Hells Gate and spent longer there than we thought we would. On the way back we stopped at a huge supermarket and got some fruit, wine, beer and nuts!
Then we parked back at Fenton Court motel http://www.fentoncourt.co.nz and walked 2 minutes down the road to a popular restaurant called Urbanos Bistro. It was getting a little cooler so we sat inside. We'd planned to have water but the owner persuaded us to try a Hawkes Bay red which was ok. http://www.urbanobistro.co.nz/
As we walked back to the motel it was the most glorious sunset, so we ran our private hot tub, put on the bubbles and enjoyed a glass of wine in it.

Posted by PetersF 22:43 Archived in New Zealand Tagged auckland rotorua island cave north geothermal gate worms waitomo glow tirau hamilton hell’s

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