New geothermal project unveils old treasures

By Jamie Morton


A new project to transform an iconic geothermal wonderland back toward the way it used to be has already uncovered some long-hidden treasures.

Boiling pools, bubbling mud and a geyser once famous for its lively displays have been unveiled after months of clearing away scrub at Rotorua's Te Whakarewarewa Valley, with the promise of more exciting finds to come.

The work by maintenance staff at Te Puia/New Zealand Maori Arts and Crafts Institute has opened up expansive views across the area's geothermal features and unveiled boiling water and mud pools which visitors have been unable to see until now.

Palisades in different parts of the valley, some of which are original palisades constructed using trees from the Ruawahia peak on Mt Tarawera which were stripped bare by the eruption of 1886, have also been revealed.

Taparoto Nicholson told the Herald the landscape appeared vastly different when he arrived in the valley more than three decades ago to take up a carving apprenticeship.

The valley, much of it now screened by undergrowth, was largely a bare geothermal field pocked with mud pools and criss-crossed by rough walking tracks.

Now Te Puia's visitor experience manager, Mr Nicholson sought to treat visitors to sights that had been hidden for years.

Part of a three-year programme, clearing work in often challenging conditions has gained new views of the palisades and Te Puia's waka shelter, while uncovering the mud pools Ngapuna Tokotura and the dormant Papakura Geyser.

The geyser,whose name guide Maggie Papakura adopted and which is situated near the Ngararatuatara cooking pool, had been a major attraction in the valley until it cooled and ceased erupting in 1979, the surrounding vegetation eventually growing over it.

"Simply by clearing away vegetation, we are changing the landscape," Mr Nicholson said.

"It's a simple thing but it is already making a big difference and gradually making the valley once again look as it would have when tourists first started coming here more than 100 years ago."

There are plans to unveil other areas of the valley after this summer's peak visitor season, including plans to re-establish tracks in the southernmost part of the reserve which, after becoming less used, have became overgrown.

The rediscoveries come co-incidentally as new signs of life in the valley's Waikite Geyser have excited geologists.

Once the valley's star geyser, Waikite was capable of spouting steam 20m into the air and a change in geothermal levels had indicated a possible reawakening after 40 years of silence.

- BAY OF PLENTY TIMES

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