I don’t know what it is, I guess I just like to be surprised. Or under-prepared. One of the two.
I did know a couple of things though;
1. The geothermal park is only accessible by boat
2. I had a new years day hangover
Thankfully when my friend and I arrived at the visitors center it became clear that the boat ride would probably take all of 30 seconds and I breathed a sigh of relief that I’d be able to cross the beautiful Lake Ohakuri, part of the Waikato River, with my dignity intact.
On the other side of the river I fought my way up the first set of stairs amidst a group of travellers scrambling towards the boat and basically spent the next two hours making all those wonder-filled sounds you normally reserve for fireworks displays.
I wish I was joking but I’m really not.
It takes about an hour and a half to walk around the park, with well-marked tracks and boardwalks guiding you safely around the brightly coloured terraces, geysers and mud pools. Well, as safe as you can be when you’re standing inches away from various bubbling hot pools filled with boiling water.
Oh yeah, a note on that; obviously none of the pools are suitable for swimming in. If you want to do that head to Rotorua or Taupo.
Orakei Korako Geothermal Park
The first natural wonders to greet you as you enter the park are the Silica Terraces. Thought to be the largest of their kind, the terraces are covered in colourful hot water algae and the Emerald Terrace extends 35 metres under the lake.
As we ventured further up the wooden pathway, we arrived at Rainbow Terrace which was formed by a huge earthquake in 131 AD. It’s also where I spotted my first hot pool sending steam upwards from its bubbling water.
That pool was Hochstetter Cauldron which, until the 1950s when earthquakes hit the region, was an active geyser.
The most famous geyser of the 23 in Orakei Korako though is the Diamond Geyser. It’s unpredictable, filled with boiling water and can erupt up to nine metres in the air.
And linking Diamond Geyser and Hochstetter Cauldron is Map of Africa; a hot pool surrounded by bright orange hot water algae and, from the viewing point, a stunning outlook across the terraces and the lake in the distance.
Known by The Maori people as ‘Te Kapua’ (The Cloud) The Fleece stands at 5m tall and is 40m long. The area around The Fleece is extremely unpredictable with numerous geysers at its base and it’s the 3rd fault scarp formed in the earthquake of 131AD.
Near to The Fleece are the Fred and Maggie pools…
And then the magnificent, 108,000 square foot silica sinter terrace known as The Artist’s Palette which is made up of numerous heated pools and geysers which erupt sporadically.
Many people who visit Orakei Korako come to see the hot pool called ‘Waiwhakaata‘ (pool of mirrors) which lies 120ft below the opening of the thermal Ruatapu Cave (sacred cave).
Why do so many people want to come and see this specific cave? It’s one of only two caves in the world that exist in a geothermal field. The other is in Southern Italy.
And, looking upwards towards the steps we’d just climbed down to see the cave, the view wasn’t bad either….
Then it was time to see a rock that (vaguely) looked like an elephant. Make of that what you will…
And visit some bubbling mud pools….
Before getting all steamy (steady….) at the only geyser in the geothermal wonderland to lay dormant for 17 years only to suddenly burst back into life in 1984; the Soda Fountain. It’s an unpredictable geyser and can fill and empty at any time.
I couldn’t believe how clear the water was; 100% natural, clear, boiling water bubbling away right in front of me.
A lot of Orakei Korako is actually under Lake Ohakuri; when the Waikato River was raised by 18m for hydropower generation in 1961 about 70 geysers and 200 alkaline hot springs were flooded but some geothermal activity still takes place under the lake with gas bubbles rising to the surface of the water.
As we headed back I stood looking at the view over the colourful terraces for a long time and, once I’d headed down the stairs and pressed the button to call the ferry over from the main land, I had time to appreciate how beautiful the lake was as well.
At $36 NZD visiting Orakei Korako isn’t cheap but honestly, it’s $36 well spent when you consider the fact that it’s not only the largest geyser field in New Zealand but also has some of the biggest silica terraces in the world.
Oh yeah and it’s pretty stunning to look at too….
What do you think guys? Could you see yourself visiting Orakei Korako if you were in New Zealand?