If a 45-minute walk around the Craters of the Moon geothermal area is too much, tourists can now simply view the awe-inspiring steaming ground from an elevated new viewing platform.
On Friday the new viewing platform and picnic area was officially blessed by Anglican minister Rev Peace Mitchell in an opening attended by Craters of the Moon trust, staff, representatives from Ngāti Tūwharetoa and local dignitaries.
Five years in the planning and part of a general upgrade of the facilities, construction was due to start just before Covid-19 lockdown, Crater of the Moon Trust manager Lynda Symons said. The viewing platform and new picnic area were designed by Fraser Cameron Architects Limited and built by Watts Construction. Lynda says the trust is delighted they are finished in time for summer.
Lynda said many of the visitors found they were unable to walk the whole way around the circular walkway, so the viewing platform gave less mobile visitors a better view of the iconic geothermal area.
Storyboards provide cultural, historic and scientific information.
The geothermal resource is viewed by Māori as a priceless taonga brought to them by the ancestor Ngātoroirangi. Ngāwhā (hot springs) were used for cooking and bathing, while mud from the hot ground had medicinal properties and some areas were wahi tapu (sacred).
The name Craters of the Moon was thought to have been introduced in the 1960s by tourists attracted to the moon-like landscape, but due to geothermal activity most of the geysers had played out by the end of the decade. Previously the area was known as Waipuwerawera Valley. Karapiti was the name of the hill at the head of the valley and also an extremely active fumarole. An early European visitor described the force of the Karapiti fumarole.
"Amid a loud hissing and booming the steam is streaming out ... With the sound like letting off the steam from a high boiler and with such force that branches of trees and fern bushes which we flung into the jet of steam over the hole were tossed into the air, 20 or 30 feet high."
Along with the new viewing platform, a new track has been constructed around a steam vent that was previously inaccessible, and thousands of new native plants have been planted in conjunction with Project Tongariro. Previously, solar panels and geothermal heating were installed in the kiosk.
From 2002 the trust was required to pay site land rental fees to the Government for the Craters of the Moon geothermal walk area and from that time, entry fees have been charged. Entry costs $8 per adult and $4 per child with under-5s free and $20 per family. Locals with proof of address enjoy free entry. Since fees were introduced the trust has disbursed around $150,000 annually to the community.
Craters of the Moon was handed back to Ngāti Tūwharetoa in 2018 as part of Treaty of Waitangi settlement and the Craters of the Moon Trust continues to run the area.
Linda said visitor numbers have plummeted since lockdown, and as it's free for locals she encouraged locals to make the most of this opportunity to see one of Aotearoa's taonga.