Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Around the World: Hells Gate

December 27, 1991

Taking a tour of sites around the area.  The first stop is at Hells Gate.  Paths lead visitors around pools of boiling mud and steam spouting geysers.

Boiling mud at Hells Gate

Once in the park, the scenery is obscured by steam rising out of ponds of boiling, bubbling mud that occasionally emits an audible "splop" as mud is shot up into the air a foot or so.  Further in is a very small forest, full of peacocks and pheasants.  Three stray chickens chased me as I tried to dodge and evade them along the trail.

Passing by the boiling mud, there are signs that warn guests not to add anything to the pools and a dire warning for anyone who chooses to ignore this request.

Works for me!

Next stop on the tour was a journey to the Blue & Green lakes.  They are side by side, separated by a narrow strip of land.  Green lake (Lake Rotokakahi), as the guide explained, is sacred to the Maori, who have buried their dead on an island in the middle since the late 1300's.  No one is allowed to swim or fish in the lake, or go anywhere near it, for that matter.

Blue lake (Lake Tikitapu) was formed after the Mount Tarawera volcano erupted in 1886, when the resulting crater filled up with water.  It has no tributaries, and no visible outlet although it does drain underwater into another nearby volcanic formed lake.  The lake is a popular place for recreational water sports.

Local flyer photo of Blue & Green lakes. 

Lost forever in the eruption of 1886 were the Pink and White Terraces, a popular tourist attraction.  The guide also pointed out sediment deposits on a hillside from both major eruptions from Mount Tarawera.  The first one some 900 years ago, the last in 1886, after which, the area was obliterated and remained barren for over 20 years.  Part of the area was replanted with trees intended for export, and the rest grew back on its own.  Most of the area has since remained untouched.

Painting of the White Terraces by Charles Bloomfield

The tour continued around Mount Tarawera.  The 1886 eruption buried a Maori village, which continues to be excavated.  One of the buildings that has been successfully restored is a traditional Maori house, the home of a tribal elder.  The elder suspected that the shaking ground was a warning and attempted to evacuate the villagers to safety.  Instead, believing the elder was possessed by evil spirits, the villagers barricaded him inside his house, a decision, unfortunately, no one who remained in village lived to regret. 

Excavated Maori dwelling at Te Wairoa (Buried Village)
Photo by James Shook at en.wikipedia

Another Maori legend:  Eleven days before the eruption, a boat full of tourists returning from the Pink and White Terraces saw an ancient Maori war canoe carrying an equally ancient warrior.  Science suggests that what the tourists actually witnessed was the effect of  fissures under the lake changing the water levels and thus exposed a buried warrior who would have been tied to his canoe in an upright position.  Maori legend claims it was a "waka wairua" (spirit canoe), a warning of impending doom.  Most inhabitants of the area agree, however, that the inevitable and overdue eruption of Mount Tarawera will again, be preceded by some sort of warning.

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“Nobody can go back and start a new beginning,
but anyone can start today and make a new ending."
~Maria Robinson