Shirley Chan
This is writing…

The youngest 123 year old

by Shirley Chan
(ThermalAir, Rotorua Daily Post)

Department of Conservation’s sustainable management programme makes a success of rescuing a geothermal eco-system.

Waimangu is the world’s youngest geothermal system, at only 123 years old, and the only one formed from a direct eruption – that of Mt Tarawera on 10 June 1886. Because of its youth, this magnificent geothermal valley displays freshness and brilliance in its formations, flora and fauna, far from the thousands of years hence, before degeneration touches it.

The eruption of 1886 may have destroyed the famous Pink and White Terraces, but Nature has replaced it with the wonder of this well-conserved geothermal valley that runs into Lake Rotomahana, the deepest lake in the North Island, forming a niche for her unique birdlife and plants. The eco-system is a success story of conservation.

With its unique geothermal enclave of rare flora, filled with native bird species, all thanks to the foresight of the managers of the Valley, Waimangu has much to show its visitors. Together with Dept Of Conservation, Waimangu has put a sustainable management programme in place to ensure Waimangu Valley is sensitive to social, cultural and environmental issues, preserving this treasure for the enjoyment of future generations.

As I walked down the clearly marked trail, I felt the wonder of being led by Mother Nature herself, where, uniquely and most unusually, no plantings have been made by man. The recovery from the devastation of volcanic eruption has been the sole responsibility of Nature – and her helpers, the birds who deposit seeds and the spores that float freely, landing where they see fit. As a result, all known rare and unusual geothermally adapted plants are found at Waimangu.

There are tours for everyone – The Highlights Walk (0.8km, 45 minutes), Easy Walk (up to 4km, up to 2 hours) and Waimangu Hiking Tours which take up to 3 hours hiking over all the trails in the valley. Except for the last, the walks are mostly flat and downhill all the way with bus stops at strategic spots where you can be rescued by an hourly bus from the gut-busting trudge back up the valley. This internal shuttle bus may be used to transfer between bus stops, reducing the walking distance.

That knowledge secured and with the walking tour guide sheet and bird and fern reference books tucked under my arm, I was all prepared to take in the scenic panoramic views, the colourful and awesome land formations and name the native birds and plants of this valley.

However, nothing prepared me for the heart-stopping beauty of the valley as I made my way down well-maintained and sign-posted walkways, an easy walk downhill. From the Southern Crater, Echo Crater and Frying Pan Lakes to the Cathedral Rocks, an ethereal monument of nature, each feature revealed more of Nature’s unique work as I went further.

The brilliant blue waters of Inferno Crater is a window into the earth’s molten core. It has a mysterious rhythm, regularly rising and falling up to 12 metres. Terraces are formed each day from the deposits of the cooling hot geothermal fluids as it runs on the ground. Native forests are rapidly regenerating at Waimangu. It is an endless stream of wonder after wonder as I proceeded along my walk. A better level of fitness is required for the hike off the main trail but the magnificence of Inferno, Ruapo Pond, Fairy and Black Craters are well worth it.

There are also picnic spots where the Waimangu’s Nature Café can pack your picnic basket for you to take on your walk or they can be delivered to your picinic spot. What can be better than enjoying a healthy picnic in an incomparably beautiful spot surrounded by nature.

Right at the bottom of the valley, your reward comes in the form of a fourty-five minute boat cruise. With full commentary in English, the cruise takes you back in history, highlighting the 1886 Tarawera eruption, witnessing geothermal sights that can only be viewed from the boat, pointing out the locations of the famous Pink and White terraces, now destroyed, the chasm left by the Tarawera eruption, steaming cliffs and colourful deposits on cliffs and rock faces. The boat cruise brought me so realistically back that I could almost hear the chants from a ghost whaka, making its way across Lake Rotomahana in the parting mist.

Waimangu Valley draws you in and bewitches you with its beauty, totally untouched by man, all a result of nature – and that is a formula very difficult to replicate anywhere else and by anyone but Nature herself. It is an experience that is a must for everyone who visits Rotorua for it is a unique and special treasure of mankind.