There’s a story in my family that my parents really enjoy telling when it’s time to demonstrate how adorably nerdy I was as a child. I was eight or ten, we were on summer vacation in Michigan visiting the Great Lakes. The beaches were very rocky, but all of the rocks were round and smooth, sparkling with quartz and polished from being tossed by the waves. When we arrived back home, my dad was unloading the bags and nearly fell over when he tried to lift mine. My parents promptly discovered that I had filled my bag with stones from the beach, the ones I had deemed the prettiest, some as big as grapefruits, the smallest the size of golf balls. Some kids collect seashells, I had gathered heaps of rocks.
My fascination with all things geology related didn’t exactly fade with time. When Adam and I visited Cafayate, Argentina, I enjoyed visiting the wineries, pedaling our bicycles through the vineyards, but I was really fascinated by the strange layered rock formations and canyons outside the city. When we climbed Volcan Villarica in Chile, I had a wonderful time climbing and sliding back down the volcano, but after the fact, I had one regret–that we didn’t manage to get any pictures of the solidified lava floes at the peak of the volcano. When we went ice climbing in Franz Joseph glacier here New Zealand, Adam could only laugh when he reached into our daypack after the hike and found a small rock (pumice on one side, shiny metallic rock on the other–very cool). Yes, I’m still at it.
Hi, I’m Megan and I’m a nerd.
Knowing all this, it should come as no surprise that our visit to Rotorua, a town in the heart of New Zealand’s geothermal activity, was a real highlight for me. Wandering through the strange landscapes created in these geothermal zones, I really felt like I had been transported to the far distant past, when the earth was still forming. Steaming waterfalls; pools of bubbling mud, spurting and tossing globs of soupy clay in all directions; steam vents escaping from the ground everywhere you look, reeking with the acrid smell of sulfur from the volcanic gases in the steam; huge silica terraces formed by mineral-rich water pouring out of the ground–all of this set amongst gigantic fern trees and thick native bush left me wondering what prehistoric creature I might meet around the corner.
Happily for budget travelers, my favorite geothermal experience was free. Outside of the Wai-o-Tapu geothermal park, there are mud pools on Department of Conservation land. They don’t show up in the guidebooks, but are well signposted. They were the largest mud pools we saw in New Zealand, and certainly the most active. The still photos above of the pools are cool for capturing the flying mud, but video can’t be beat for listening to the sounds of the constantly bubbling pools. Luckily for us, Adam was on the job.
Overall, New Zealand was a great place to visit and a nice respite from the chaos we sometime experienced on the first part of the trip. Despite our love of it and its beauty, New Zealand sometimes gets the short end of the stick when reminiscing about the trip. It’s almost like we don’t consider it part of the trip, as it was so much different than the other regions we visited. It was almost like a vacation from our trip. We had our own ride, we worried much less about how much we were spending (despite it being the most expensive country by far), and we just really enjoyed the ease of travel comparatively.
The geothermal parks of New Zealand were unlike anything I have seen anywhere, and they were a major highlight of an incredibly diverse and beautiful country.
*When we arrived in New Zealand, we were surprised to be met with recognition when we mentioned that we were from St. Louis. Turns out that Kiwis are aware of our fair city, thanks to none other than Nelly. We even got a “St. Louis? Do you know Nelly?” I couldn’t resist the opportunity to give a little hat tip to Nelly for getting St. Louis on the map with the Kiwis. I’m sure he’ll be thrilled.