Topic: From Napier to Taupo and Back, Overland - 1887 - Chapter 9

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MUD VOLCANOES – DEAD GEYSERS – “STEAM HAMMER” – “A THING OF BEAUTY,” THE “CHAMPAGNE POOL” – ANOTHER BATH – A GOOD DAY’S WORK – WORK FOR OTHER DAYS – FROM TAUPO TO ALASKA – HOME AGAIN.

Front Cover of 1887 book Napier to Taupor

Another class of wonders at Wairakei is supplied in the mud pools before alluded to. Within a few yards of each other may be found small clayey holes from which steam issues, constantly or intermittently, the clay, and the water if any, being differently and distinctly colored in the different holes, yellow, pure white, blue, red or brown, and two or three holes within a yard of each other may be found presenting such widely different colors. One of the most interesting of these mud holes is called the "Pink Porridge Pot" (Burton Bros., No. 3837), a hole about three feet in diameter, with the surface of its pinkish yellow filling of porridge a couple of feet below the margin. Steam bubbles up through the mud continually, all over the surface at random, but every now and then it forms and maintains a small clear pipe of escape in the (probably) thicker stuff near the sides, and issues thence with a strong hiss. The bubbles break very prettily. They swell up to the size of a medium orange; burst; the top is shot up several inches and the sides are blown out like the petals of a flower; commonly the pellet shot up falls plum in the centre, and the mud has just enough consistency to require several seconds for the flower thus curiously formed to fade away. If the pellet falls to one side it splashes out a flower of another shape. These mud flowers are extremely interesting, and they are continually being produced. The margin of this "Porridge Pot" looks as if at times the steam is more active, and throws the mud clean out of the hole. There are several of these curious mud "volcanoes" close together, and beside them is a considerable pool of scalding thick blue water, - blue from the suspension of clay continually stirred up by steam escaping from the bottom. At one point there was formerly a pretty miniature terrace of sinter a chain or more square, where a hot spring spread its waters over the ground, depositing silica as they flowed. The surface is now covered with a cake of dull white stone, on which the vegetation is encroaching. - Not that the vegetation need have waited for the extinction of the spring, to judge by the hardihood the manuka exhibits today in spreading over the ground.


The "Steam Hammer" is a great curiosity to most visitors, but finding a simple explanation for it, right or wrong, I thought little of it. At a large and deep pool in the creek a heavy regular thud is heard and the ground around vibrates with the shock that produces the noise - not enough to be distinctly felt through one's boots. There is nothing to be seen as the cause of either noise or shock. The "simple explanation?" Merely this: that there is an escape of steam under the water, and the latter being cool condenses it, and the water occupies the place of the steam bubble in such a hurry as to come into violent collision with itself, causing a shock and a thud.


I have reserved till last, mention of one of the most remarkable things in the valley - the most interesting and beautiful in my opinion (but this is a question of taste) - what is called the "Champagne Pool." This is a deep pool, about thirty feet in diameter, of hot, almost boiling hot, perfectly clear, intensely blue water, which is continually, but with regular variations, bubbling and effervescing - like champagne - with bubbles to match its dimensions. It appears to be a multiple geyser (by geyser, meaning an intermittent steam spring). Toward one side of the pool there seems to be a wide vent-pipe, up which large quantities of steam and gasses rise. Round the sides are several smaller vents, up which rises steam of somewhat greater pressure. The larger and smaller vents alternate in their activity. The water swells up over the large vent, with an uprush from below, into a mound three or four feet across, that flows away as fast as it can, but swells and swells until the surface can no longer maintain itself, and what with the violence of the uprush of water, and the quantity of vapor coming up, the mound breaks into a fountain, that continues shooting upwards for the space of a minute or so, the water, as it falls, raising little wavelets that go splashing over the lower margin of the pool. This fountain is pretty but not nearly so pretty as what follows its subsidence. By the time the uprush has ceased, the water throughout the pool is full of large bubbles of vapor, and the rising of these to the surface through the rich blue water, is a most beautiful sight. Before they have disappeared, the small lively vents under the cliffy bank come into play, and provide a further, but smaller supply of bubbles, which lasts until the large vent is ready to erupt again. The splashing of the larger vent has built up beautiful coral-like masses of silica above the water level, and the lower lip of the cavity is being built over with a sheet of silica deposited by the splash of the wavelets from the fountains adding to the inner edge. The older portion of this is decaying, but the fresh inner margin presents wonderfully pretty coral-like forms and delicate filagrees, pure white in color. Notwithstanding that the springs in the pool are so active, but little water flows away; as far as I could see; only what was splashed over the coral margined lip. For my own part I am inclined to place the "Champagne Pool" first among the beauties of Wairakei. Standing on the high banks above, one can look right down into it and watch the million silver spangles rise sparkling through the water. The pool is very deep, would make a splendid bath, and the point of view is a suitable place to dive from; but it would not be easy to get out again. Besides, one would get into hot water with the proprietor, who does not want it converted into a culinary utensil.


One could spend a whole day - many days - wandering among the curiosities of Wairakei Valley and gazing at the more active wonders. We had to be content with a hurried run round them, and not all of them. On our way back to Taupo we pulled up at the homestead and dismounted to look at the hot bath constructed in the creek near it. We would not bathe. It was too cold, and damp, and we were damp ourselves. But we would go and look at it, for the credit of the place, so to speak. We looked, and dipped our fingers into the warm grey water, and remarked regretfully what a pity it was so cold a day that damp as our clothes were it would not be safe to go in, - we'd be sure to catch a cold - and as fast as we could manage it, we were up to our necks in it. Bath No. 3 that day for me. What a delicious exercise of homage to cleanliness it was! Certainly no one at Wairakei could ever commit suicide. The most depressed in spirit would surely have "one more" hot bath, and that would make him think life was worth living after all, if only for the sake of repeating such a "dip" as that. The bath is really well constructed, and a large tank of cold water lies beside the hot pool, for the convenience of those who like a chill to brace them up after a warm bath, and if a cold plunge is not sufficient a shower can be had that would make the stoutest quake. It was not pleasant putting on cold, damp clothes afterwards, but habit conquered distaste, and after all it was not so disagreeable as the necessity for quitting the water, in order to get home by dinner time. I never noticed on coming out of cold water as I did on climbing out of those hot baths, how the muscles felt the growing dead-weight of the body as it emerged from the supporting water. It is a curious sensation. Fortunately it does not last long, or one would get weary of his avoirdupois.


After thanking the fair custodian of the place, we cantered home comfortably (except where it was necessary to get off and lead the horses up and down terrace faces with but little more slope than precipices) with another look at Te Huka on the way, and reached the Lake Hotel just as the bell rang for dinner. The five-and-twenty hours that had elapsed since the coach had pulled up in the yard the day before, seemed five-and-twenty weeks, so many and so varied were the experiences, the surprises, the ideas that had been crowded upon me in that brief space. I did not see half the wonders within easy reach of Taupo, but probably I saw samples of every kind of curiosity to be seen in the fire belt, save and except close acquaintance with a volcanic crater and the products of a recent eruption. I was and am quite content with my day's work, and will remain so - until I can find an opportunity to repeat it.


Anyone who can afford the time could, I was assured, spend a fortnight as busily as I spent one day, and still leave many of the curiosities within a radius of twenty miles unseen. And anyone who should make Tokaano, at the other end of the lake, a fresh centre of excursion, would require to multiply that time by a good-sized multiplier, and obtain a similarly incomplete result. "Rotokawa" (the bitter lake) and the solfatara near it, at the foot of Mount Tauhara and about nine miles from Taupo, will become one of the greatest shows of the locality when it is better opened up by tracks. The almost dead sulphur field near the township is bad enough to travel over. The Rotokawa field, all hot and hot, must be a horrible place to be lost in on a dark night - an adventure that happened to one present Taupo resident, he being then on horseback. Then there are blue lakes and green ones, and caves assorted, and goodness knows what, near the township. Away over the river, Karapiti constantly maintains a "pillar of cloud by day," within sight of the town, and visible for ten or fifteen miles. A strong head of steam is employed in the Karapiti works, and if water were in supply it would be a very powerful geyser. Hochstetter found the steam able to blow sticks 30ft high. The ground about it is pitted with mud volcanoes, he says. At Orakaikorako, about 20 miles from Taupo, the banks of the river for a distance of about a mile, leak steam and hot water like a sieve, and terraces nearly as good as the vanished Te Tarata exist there. From Tokaano, one can easily reach the beautiful Lake Rotoaira, Tongariro, and Ruapehu, and find countless hot springs and geysers, including Ketetahi, which Mr Burton declares "constitutes the grandest collection of steam holes to be found on the whole of the Fire Belt of New Zealand." (This paragraph feels out of place, inasmuch as I did not visit these places.)


The evening was spent as pleasantly, and as instructively as the day almost. An English tourist was also a guest at Gallagher's - arrived that evening fresh from an ascent of Mount Tarawera, and his description of the "abomination of desolation" presented by that region was vivid enough to enable one to see and feel it, and he had some interesting specimens to show. He had but recently come from Hawaii, too, where he had looked into Kilauea's marvelous lake of fire. From dealing with scenes of fire the conversation turned to the very opposite, to scenes of eternal from, for the traveler was also as fresh from the glaciers of Alaska as he could well be. He had no hand specimens of these.


I ought before leaving Taupo by pen, to do as I did before leaving it by coach, - thank Mr Gallagher, host of the Lake Hotel, for the kind assistance he gave me to make my short visit as satisfactory and gratifying to myself as possible. I do not suppose he treated me differently from other guests, but he certainly treated me well, and as it seemed to me, very generously for one in his position - whose duty in life it is to make money out of wonder gazers like me. The Lake Hotel is a comfortable house, arranged on a plan that might be copied extensively with advantage - main dining and kitchen quite apart from the rest of the hotel. The latter is handsomely furnished, and travelers or sojourners could be very comfortable there indeed. I did not enter the other hotel in Taupo, so cannot say what sort of place it is.


Of the return journey I shall say nothing beyond this, that not even a single gleam of sunshine brightened our way, but we had less rain, and there were other passengers, and conversation introduces a new feature among the scenery. The two days passed pleasantly enough, despite the unfavorable weather, and on the evening of Friday, the fifth day, I was delivered home in "good order and condition" as per contract, feeling indeed in much better order and condition, and better informed if not wiser, as two invaluable results of my trip TO TAUPO AND BACK, OVERLAND.

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From Napier to Taupo and Back, Overland - 1887 - Chapter 9 by jochubb is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 New Zealand License