Thursday, March 18, 2010

pt 18 - Wai-O-Tapu; Lunch at the skyline restaurant; Wingspan Birds of Prey Centre; Rotorua Museum

Tuesday 2 March 2010 - Wai-O-Tapu; Lunch at the skyline restaurant; Wingspan Birds of Prey Centre; Rotorua Museum

Departed 8:30. The countryside between taupo and rotorua is green and pretty farmland. A coherent landscape and soothingly cool under an overcast sky today.
We arrive at Wai-o-tapu just before 10 past 9. A few cars here already but not huge crowds. Plentiful steam rising from the thermal area. This is looking promising. We head in to buy our tickets and are advised by the ticket lady to head in and do walk 1 before heading up to the geyser at 10 am. I ask whether there’s any need to get there to get a good seat and she says no as it’s pretty quiet today and there’s plenty of seating over there. We decide we’ll follow the advice and head on in.

This site is more like what we expected coming to a thermal area. It looks more like a wasteland. More apocalyptic. We pass a crater lightly encrusted with a greenish yellow oxide that our guide map says is Colloidal sulphur/ferrous salts… it is accompanied by a sign saying “the Devil’s Home”.. well I guess that’s one way to keep people on the path!

A treacherous landscape of craters is soon followed by a group that has been christened “the devil’s ink pots”. In each of these craters is a lot of black inky liquid. ..we decide this area is well named.

An impressive amount of steam is rising from the Artist’s Palette.

The Artist’s Palette is a large flat area of overflow from the Champagne Pool and that leads onto the “primrose terrace”. There are some yellows and oranges in sprays of colour in the palette, but the terraces just look grey to us, with a bit of additional colour from the “Opal Pool”. This doesn’t look much like opal today.. just a more intense yellow... but it is pretty.

There are a number of interesting interpretive signs placed at strategic intervals along the path. I find geology generally intensely boring, but these signs are really rather interesting. We enjoy learning about the placement of the various thermal features across the region and out into the Bay of Plenty... and hoping like hell that they don't choose the next few days to blow their stack!

We are obliged to walk through a thick cloud of sulpherous fumes as we head around the Champagne Pool. We don’t find the smell particularly offensive, but the fumes are thick and we’re not keen to be breathing them. As we walk past there is a continual fizzing sound coming from the pool where masses of small bubbles are breaking the surface… this effect is obviously the inspiration for the name.

The Champagne Pool is held by a substantial encrustation of deposits which must have been developed over a long long time. Here and there are occasional brightly coloured fumaroles that add some life to the mostly drab colours of the volcanic deposits under foot. They are interesting but not terribly spectacular.

Heading back around the loop to the visitor centre now, we come to another crater called Inferno Crater.. there is also a feature of this name at Waimangu Thermal Valley.. this one my guide map says has a bottom of violently boiling mud… Ok.. but the crater is deep enough that we can’t see it, so that’s a bit of an anticlimax isn’t it.LOL

The Birds nest crater apparently hosts nesting starlings and mynahs (oh great! LOL) and swallows (well at least someone local is getting some use of it LOL). The heat of the ground helps to incubate the eggs. There are no birds hanging around today though. While this is interesting to know, visually this is like other craters. A bit bigger perhaps.

The most spectacular feature of the day is soon upon us. The Devil’s Bath. Wow! It’s a large and bright yellow pool, shaped a little like an old fashioned bath. haha no photo.. got to leave you some incentive to visit for yourself!

We finish walk 1 at just the intended time ie about 5 to 10, and make for the car to relocate to the geyser site a few minutes up the road. Visitor activity at Wai-o-tapu is increasing dramatically as people arrive in time for the display. I have an anxious time as we relocate in a steady stream of traffic, but find on arrival that there are indeed plenty of seats for today’s crowd. Phew.

The site is arranged with a low fence around the geyser and an amphitheatre of bench seats and steps arranged so as to maximize viewing opportunity for everyone.
Slightly after 10:15 the presenter emerges and primes the geyser with surfactant (soap). He goes on to explain what the geyser is, how it was found, why they prime it and how the priming works.. it’s all very interesting. As usual he is also rather amusing with several jokes along they way. I read on a sign earlier that they shoot any kiwi who is not at least mildly amusing. ;o) (for the gullible among us... that's a joke joyce... as my father would say).

The geyser starts to bubble and froth and finally with a rumble and whoosh of escaping pressure, thar she blows! The Lady Knox Geyser is not an enormous geyser, but it is amusing to watch and we have learnt a thing or two along the way. The display keeps up for quite a while, at times it ebbs a little then picks up steam again and continues on.

When we have had our fill of the geyser we head on up the road to the boiling mud. Hubby is very keen to see the boiling mud. This pool is not entirely what I was expecting. Not like those post cards with lots of colliding rings in the mud where the bubbles have erupted. It’s much runnier, mostly a pool like the others, and with only some spots where the pool has accumulated thicker sections of gloopy mud. I guess it stands to reason that the thickness of the gloop is going to vary according to the weather and other factors. Europeans named this pool the frog pool or something like that because the gloop as the bubbles erupt from the mud is like a frog leaping. It really is too! It's seriously nifty. We play for a while taking video and trying to capture the motion in some stills.

From here we opt to defer a return into the walk through the thermal area in favour of heading into Rotorua so we can visit an information outlet to sus out the tours to white island. We find the white island brochure again, but hubby has gone cold on the idea afterall. We decide to head back to the Skyline gondola and the Skyline Cableway Restaurant buffet for lunch. We have just the right amount of time to complete lunch and head to the raptor centre which isn’t far from here.

We have timed our arrival well. The crowds from the tour buses have yet to arrive and we are able to take a seat by the windows. The buffet is $25. I am far from a fan from buffets, they are generally places are designed for people more concerned with quantity than with quality, but I guess I’d have to say this one is a bit better than average. Not fabulous, but better than you often find. The dessert table is pretty reasonable with a good range of choices, most of which look OK.. though the pavlova looks as plain and horrid as pavlovas in similar locations at home. This and a few other things show that they have been in the fridge for a while. I select a small frangipane tart, a scoop of berry compote and a tiny piece of carrot cake. All pretty safe selections. All the serves are small enough that you can try a number of things. My selections are pretty good, if a bit colder than would be ideal. The berry compote was very nice.

The good thing about a buffet is that it is quick. By 12:45 we are on our way back down the gondola admiring the views over the lake as we head to the car, and feeling satisfied that we got our money's worth out of our annual pass! The Wingspan Birds of Prey centre is in Paradise Valley Road, just around the corner more or less. Apart from a couple of banners out the front it looks just like a suburban house so it would be easy to miss.. something we demonstrate before chucking the traditional uey! Uey's and round and round the roundabout are a something of a typical feature of family drives over many years... especially when we are in convoy! LOL ..and believe it or not it's never on purpose, but we always seem to do it.

We are delighted to find that the entry fee at the Birds of Prey Centre is only $20 pp. We’d already put a limit on what we’d pay to go in, but it was higher than that! Everything else around the place costs a lot, so this was a pleasant surprise. We buy a few souvenirs while we’re in the shop. Some anti-bird strike decals for our windows, some fridge freshener mushrooms. One for me, another for a friends’ birthday. Hubby surprises me by buying a haka pen.

With half an hour or so until the flight display we head into the small museum for a quick look. They have a few stuffed birds and a few skins of birds. One of the stuffed birds is called a falconet. It hails from Indonesia and is a tiny sparrow sized raptor! Wow! I had no idea you got birds of prey so small!

The skins are interesting too. I have heard talk of acquaintances accessing skins for this reason or that from the Australian Museum in Sydney. It’s great to finally understand how these are presented.

In another display there is a whole stack of stuff about falconry. Books, hoods, and so on. A poster for the 2009 International Festival of Falconry.. now that would be cool to visit!

Next we wander through the aviary area. Several NZ falcons fly over to us as we pass their enclosures. Beautiful, beautiful birds. One beautiful young captive bred female is named Atareta in honour of the late Atareta Maxwell of Te Arawa Rotorua.

We say hi to an Australian barn owl. A vagrant who had a damaged wing that required partial amputation, it will never fly again and is the only known caged bird of it’s kind in the country… lots of moreporks. A couple of harriers. It’s a really clean well kept facility. Several of the enclosures have information about the most recent hatchings and the history and names of the occupants. It’s all very good.

As time is approaching for the flight show we take our seats outside. There is a small group assembled waiting. With us included it was approximately 10 people. After a while the falconer comes out and explains what he has in his tool belt and what is about to happen. He needs to go and get the bird and he needs us to keep quiet as she comes past. This turns out to be Atareta who we happen to have photographed. That’s convenient for the blog!

The show is a demonstration of the training that is given to the birds. The NZ falcon is a threatened bird and captive breeding is undertaken here. Although not enough is known about their genetics to identify species or perhaps subspecies there are three recognized sorts of NZ falcon. Atareta is a bush falcon which is found on the north island. The dialogue accompanying the demonstration is really informative and interesting. We learned so much while having a fabulous time watching this awesome raptor demonstrate her skills.

After a while the opportunity is given to have Atareta sit on your gloved fist. Anyone like a go? It takes all my self control to wait a polite 2 seconds then YOU BET!! Says I as I leap to my feet inwardly thanking whichever deity is paying attention, that others are either more polite or just plain crazy!!

I don the glove and make a fist and the falconer puts some meat on my fist. Over Atareta flies. This is SOOOO awesome. After a generous period I surrender the glove and others are offered the opportunity. Another older man is fairly quick to volunteer. Several others also end up having a go, but seem strangely reticent. I can’t understand why people aren’t climbing over eachother for an opportunity like this! None the less, those who have a go are clearly loving it. This was a brilliant use of $20! Highly Recommended.

We thank the falconer wholeheartedly and we’re off back to Rotorua. First stop is the lake front near where the flights and tours depart. There are literally hundreds of waterfowl arrayed on the lake near the shore. We park for a better look. Good Lord, the smaller birds are all NZ scaup. Hundreds of NZ scaup. Wow! And black swans. Hundreds of black swans feeding! Many look just like black blobs floating in the water, but sure enough if you watch, inevitably the long snake like neck emerges. There are swans as far as we can see. Well, we know where to come if the black swan becomes endangered at home!

After a time we hop back in the car to head across to the government gardens and the Museum. As we drive the view of feeding swans continues, we just see more and more off into the distance. Amazing!

The Rotorua Museum of Art and is a very striking building. No trouble parking out the front and we head in to pay our $12 entry fee. First up I mosey around the gift shop while we wait for the movie experience to be due to start. I check an afghan recipe in one of the books.. yep.. that’s granna’s biscuit slice or extremely close to it. Same ingredients at least. Interesting.#

We enter the cinema with quite a few other visitors and sit… and sit… turns out the system is malfunctioning and eventually we are advised they are aiming to have it up and running again in half an hour. We head instead into the Moari Battalion gallery. It is mostly a lot of panels with photos of all who served in the battalion, with just a few panels explaining what they were involved in during the war. There is a separate cinema in this area for the screening of a short video on the battalion. This concluded we wander about in the Maori section where a tour is in progress by a local lady. All very interesting, but it’s not very big.

Time now for the cinema experience. We wander in and take our seats. The movie is very well done.. well perhaps except for one character who is wearing perhaps the worst fake beard I’ve seen for a while.. This movie experience is really great… we found it a very moving experience.. ;o)

By the time we’ve concluded all these our energy is flagging so we decide (after buying a couple of very poor afghans at the cafĂ©) to head on home.

We’ve had a bit of an epiphany today. We have been getting itchy feet and a notification of a flight change has driven us to all sorts of rethinking. We had been enthusiastically looking forward to going to some more shows and things. Then the penny drops… you know if we add up all the stuff we’re thinking we’ll do… it’s enough to pay for flights back to NZ for another trip! We mentally weigh our options.. on the one hand, more, probably very enjoyable entertainment now..but probably not radically different to what we’ve seen… on the other hand another break when we need it…. not a hard decision really! We opt for a quiet night!

Hubby has announced that he has decided to initiate a tradition of having KFC in every country he visits. Hubby is a huge fan of KFC as you have no doubt deduced. So tonight we wander in to check out the differences here to at home. Mostly the same.. but gasp.. they still have bean salad on the menu.. OK not exactly the same as the original, no squeaky beans.. but it was very good anyhow. Why oh why did KFC Australia dump the bean salad!!!!! God Bless you KFC NZ!

# PS: Late in 2010, as a future blog entry notes, I started looking into my family history. Turns out I'm part kiwi. Specifically, my grandmother's mother was born and raised in Dunedin. I have concluded that Granna's biscuit slice is really an Afghan slice and there's a good chance she got it from her mother. As it turns out I still have rather a lot of kiwi relatives. Although my great grandmother and her siblings and mother moved to Sydney, Great grandmother's husbands brothers and their families stayed put in NZ. My great great grandfather is buried in Dunedin. An added incentive to get back there for a better look some time.

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