Dave's Photo & Travelblogue

Photo shoots. World travel advice. Tips on Munich & environs.

Rotorua – Thermal Everything

I realized that a post from last month didn’t publish properly. So here’s a break between Thailand and Malaysia: a short flashback to New Zealand! On June 15th I woke up refreshed (and a bit cold) at the Cosy Cottage Holiday Park, in the thermal-spring town of Rotorua.

For those not familiar with such places, a holiday park is a combination of campgrounds, camper parking, and cabins / backpacker rooms. Like many places I’ve stayed in New Zealand, the heating in my backpacker room was not very good, so it pays to have a good sleeping bag if you travel in the winter. I didn’t, so I froze my arse off for two nights.

Cold room aside, his holiday park is pretty awesome. It has access to a beach on Lake Rotorua where you can dig a hole that fills with hot thermal water. Or you can soak in the thermal springs-fed hot tubs. For dinner you can cook food in a thermal-vent powered steam oven (more on that below).

Rotorua is all about bubbling, steaming hot thermal features – beaches, hot water, and boiling mud.

Boiling mud in Rotorua, New Zealand

By the way, try taking a picture of something that’s boiling. It’s not so easy! Boiling is all about motion, seeing bubbles rise and burst. A still frame of anything boiling is about one tenth as interesting as you might think.

Besides Rotorua town, I checked out two attractions: the Skyline area with a gondola, a tires-on-cement luge, and several other adventure activities; and Rainbow Park, a forest conservation area that helps raise kiwi birds and release them into the wild (among other things). Here’s a green tree gecko, a native of New Zealand:

A green tree gecko in Rainbow Park, Rotorua

To be honest, Skyline was a disappointment (seeing as I live near the Alps). The view was nothing spectacular. And I didn’t realize I could have hiked to the top of the gondola in about 15 minutes, rather than pay >$20 to ride in the (painfully slow) cabin. The luge was pretty cool – I would have done it a second time to try the “advanced” course if my gloveless hands hadn’t been nearly frostbitten from the cold.

I went back to Rainbow Park at night to get pictures of the kiwi birds. Unfortunately, just one was out and about, and he stuck to the darkest area in the whole enclosure. Since using the flash on nocturnal animals is strictly out, and I’d forgotten my tripod, here’s the best I could do. It’s a crop of a hand-held 2s exposure of a frenetic pecking bird. But it is a photo of the elusive kiwi!

A kiwi bird at Rainbow Park in Rotorua

It strikes me that “kiwi” can refer to a fruit or a bird, and is a friendly nickname for New Zealanders. So if you say “I had a kiwi last night,” it’s not certain if you ate fruit for dessert, broke a conservation law by eating endangered animals, or got lucky with a local hottie. Hmm…

Now, on to steam ovens! Here’s the rack of lamb before cooking:

Pre-cooking rack of lamb with rosemary

The lovely steam oven itself:

Volcanic steam oven at Cosy Cottage Holiday Park in Rotorua

And finally, the lamb after four hours of steaming in a volcanically-powered oven:

Rack of lamb cooked in a thermal steam oven

It’s very tender and moist, with a texture just like pulled pork barbecue! In fact, I’d recommend to use a lower grade of meat than prime rack of lamb, because I suspect this oven would make even the toughest pork or beef flake apart in moist tidbits. By the way, the cost of this hunk o’ lamb in New Zealand: $5 USD! I love this country.

Tomorrow, (a.k.a. 4 weeks ago) I’ll relate my visit to Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland. It definitely lives up to its name!

Posted 10 years, 7 months ago at 3:47 pm.

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A Wonderland of Volcanoes

Wai-o-tapu Thermal Wonderland sounds pretty cheesy, like something Weird Al might parody a la “The Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota.”

It’s not.

Just 700 years ago, thermal/volcanic eruptions blew up this whole area and sprayed rock and ash all over the region.

Today you can see the remnants: a hotbed of thermal activity which somehow results in all the colors of a kid’s chemistry set, sprayed on the ground and leaking from various acidic pools.

The edge of the Champagne Pool at Wai-O-Tapu

Another strange feature is that visitors are constantly dosed with hydrogen sulfide gas, with very little warning about the dangers. At Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, I was constantly reading signs about dangerous volcanic gases; but on June 16th at Wai-O-Tapu, people were wandering around with toddlers (not recommended). Breathing a gas that converts to sulfuric acid when it dissolves in the moist membranes of your body (think nose, lungs, and eyes). So, if you’re pregnant or have small kids with you, think twice about visiting this park.

Since I have so many pictures and stories from Wai-O-Tapu, I’ll probably do a full article about it sooner or later. For now I’ll leave you with a picture of Lady Knox geyser, which would naturally erupt every 24-72 hours. In order to allow everyone to view it, they “seed” it with surfactant daily at 10:15. This basically forces the geyser into a regular schedule. The photo is a bit tweaked to bring out the rainbow:

A rainbow in Lady Knox geyser at Wai-O-Tapu

After Wai-O-Tapu, I decided to head to Coromandel Town. This turned out to be a much longer drive than I anticipated, because the last 50km of it is a super-windy coastal road going through a dozen tiny towns. But it did afford me a few classic (and sunny!) views of New Zealand’s beautiful coast.

The Coromandel coast near sunset

After arriving in Coromandel, I found a lovely Holiday Park where I could view the sunset from a beach. Here’s one of the best shots:

Sunset over Coromandel, New Zealand

For those who’ve been following me since Hawaii, you might remember the Green Flash, a strange atmospheric effect at sunset just as the sun disappears below the horizon. It only occurs when conditions are right, and just over the ocean (but apparently some very low and distant islands don’t disturb it). Here’s my latest flash:

The Green Flash over Coromandel, New Zealand

This flash was about 2 seconds long. I set the exposure compensation to –2 stops, so that I could capture more of the green color than last time. Success! This is a 100% crop (meaning this is zoomed in to show the actual camera pixels, and not resampled). The photo is not modified in any way! Now, I need some extension tubes to magnify my view a bit more. Mu-hahaha.

In the evening it was clear and a bit darker than I’m used to, so I tried some nighttime photography. However, it wasn’t anywhere near as dark as in the Peruvian rainforests. You can see the effects of even minimal light pollution in the bottom half of this photo.

Night Sky over Coromandel Town

I could barely see these trees; even after my eyes adjusted to the light they were just silhouettes. But in a 30s exposure, a few lights from nearby houses and roads washed out the horizon on an otherwise beautifully dark sky. I did see a shooting star – it was just a few degrees out of my camera’s field of view on one of the photos. So close.

Tomorrow I finally get on an Auckland ferry, and find a good spot for night shots of the city!

Posted 10 years, 8 months ago at 3:27 pm.

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