81. Rainbow Mountain

I booked two more trips, just for myself as Kevin decided not to come on either. He has trouble with his knees and doesn’t like much downhill walking. So, I have coming up a walk along the Tarawera Trail (the trail itself doesn’t need booking, just the water taxi ride back) and a walk up Mt Tarawera (privately owned so can only be done by joining a tour). In the meantime, today we walked up Rainbow Mountain.

Neither Kevin nor I had ever heard of Rainbow Mountain until we were treating our clothes to a laundry visit in Rotorua and got talking with a woman there. She said her daughter had just been to the top of it, on a school trip, and showed us a photo she’d been sent. The girl was peeping out along with her friends, from underneath a trig station. We were sold, and on one of our lazy days we took ourselves up for a visit.

The mountain’s Māori name is Maungakakaramea, or ‘mountain of coloured earth’. Rainbow Mountain is situated less than 30 kilometres southeast of Rotorua travelling on the road towards Taupo. It to just over 700 metres in height, but it’s only a 300 metre climb from the carpark over 3.5 kilometres of distance.

For perspective, and because I keep bringing it up, Rainbow Mountain sits just outside the southern boundary of the Okataina Caldera (and it should be said that the Okataina Caldera is just 1 of about 25 caldera in the Taupo Volcanic Zone). Although Rainbow Mountain hasn’t erupted for a long time it is still regarded as active.

The mountain also sits on the northern-most end of the Wai-O-Tapu Geothermal Field, which is why we see all the steam vents on it today.

Yet another interesting thing about Rainbow Mountain is that while it is part of one geothermal field, it also sits just south of another one – the geologically young Waimangu Valley to the north. Waimangu lies at the southernmost point of the eruption of Mt Tarawera and only formed with the eruption. We didn’t get to Waimangu Valley, and it’s turned out to be one of my biggest regrets, making it a given that we’ll be back here before long!

We walked along a fairly flat track for ten minutes until reaching a viewpoint of two different craters. The first is centre in this photo, and the second is shown a couple of photos down.
We could quickly see why it was named Rainbow Mountain – the colours everywhere are wide-ranging and very pretty. This photo was taken just before we saw the emerald-coloured crater lake which is right in front of us, hidden in the bush.
The emerald lake, and site of crater number 2. The ridge in the background is where the track will take us next. Just before heading up to the ridge the track branches, so if you are on a mountain bike you can follow it to the road that leads up the mountain, or to Te Ranga/Kerosene Creek where you can soak in natural hot water, or even on to Wai-O-Tapu, a tourist spot where you can see geysers and other geothermal activity.
We pass an area of diverging kānuka, which is endemic to New Zealand and can survive to temperatures of 50 degrees celcius. Many of the plants that grow on Rainbow Mountain are specialised, and can handle the acidic, poisonous and warm environment.
The colours come from hydrothermal activity where minerals precipitate out of hot groundwater.
Here we are on the ridge I pointed out earlier. We had a great exploration session. There were some lovely bits of heated ground of differing temperatures – some of them were so hot they made us yelp. This would be an awesome place to come in winter – you could simply find a temperature that suits you and relax…
Kevin put his hand as close as he could to this steam vent.
It’s amazing how the plant life carries on growing with all the heat around them. Even though it feels hot in places, it seems it’s still not enough heat to affect them…
some of the mosses, lichens and liverworts here can survive, and thrive, in temperatures of up to 70 degrees celcius!
Still on the ridge, we looked back over the emerald crater lake…
…which we couldn’t actually see as it was hidden by the bush of the crater floor. The lake to be seen back left is Ngahewa, protected as a wetland and containing several native fish and birds, as well as rainbow trout for fishing purposes.
We walked on along the track which crossed the ridge and continued around and up, up, up! The rock type of Rainbow Mountain is typically dacite. We liked this one with the veins of sulphur running through.
This rock looked and felt much more like rhyolite than dacite, and seemed to have a higher silica content and lots of air bubbles. Rainbow Mountain is surrounded on most sides by rhyolitic material, so maybe this one blew in from somewhere else!
This and the next couple of photos show what the track was like as we hiked through regenerating bush towards the top. Most of the bush on Rainbow Mountain was destroyed by the eruption of Mt Tarawera in 1886.
About halfway up we reached this viewpoint…
…ugh, we’re clagged in! We even got a little rain.
At this point, where we could see the relay tower at the top of the mountain, there was a set of steps leading down to a viewpoint where we looked into the third crater of the day. This was the ground at the top of the steps, so red!
And this is the view – just lovely! Down below is original bush that didn’t get taken out when Mt Tarawera blew up, but we found it really hard to see it properly as the ground dropped away steeply.
From the steps, this was a view over the valley we were in, and more geothermal activity.
Kevin headed back down and I continued up to the top. The track became very muddy and slippery for a stretch, but it was okay. I was glad I had my walking poles.
Just before the top the track reaches the road, which doubles as the mountain bike trail up the hill – if you’re on a mountain bike you’re only allowed to bike up the road, then you have to descend on the track we walked up on.
The local iwi, who’s history in this area stretches back to the Great Migration of the 1400’s, are Ngati Tahu-Ngati Whaoa.
The walk up the road is short and gets you to this point at the top of the mountain. It was fun seeing where the little girl, the daughter of the woman who told us about Rainbow Mountain, had lunch under this trig with her classmates.

This mountain top was set up as a fire watch tower back in the very early 1900’s, to keep a watch on the newly planted trees of the Wai-O-Tapu Forest Block. About 20 different species were planted as a way of experimenting which would grow best for the industry. The famous Rotorua Redwoods started out as part of this experiment.
The clouds cleared enough for this north-looking shot of Lake Okaro and Waimango Valley in the foreground, Lake Rotomahana further back and Lake Tarawera just visible at the very back. I was disappointed about the clouds as apparently on a good day you can see Mt Tarawera and in the opposite direction some of the Tongariro National Park peaks.
On my way back down the mountain, looking south, I could see huge tracts of land covered in forestry, which has expanded since the early days of Wai-O-Tapu Forest Block to become the Kaingaroa Forest. These days, it stretches all the way down to near Taupo, and is the biggest plantation forest in the Southern Hemisphere.

Looking carefully, you might be able to pick out the many steam vents showing up on the horizon belonging to the Wai-O-Tapu Geothermal Field.

If the weather was clear, this is the point that would give views of the big mountains of Tongariro National Park.
One last shot looking towards the other side of the road to where our car is parked below. The hill is Maungaongaonga, which like Rainbow Mountain is a dacite volcano – the only two apart from Putauaki/Mt Edgecombe.

I caught up with Kevin and we finished walking back to the car together, stopping for another look at the two craters near the bottom of the mountain.

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