82. A Tramp Along the Tarawera Trail

I left Kevin in Ngongotahā with the caravan today, and drove our vehicle through Rotorua to the Tarawera Trail carpark, which is on the same road as the Buried Village, actually just a kilometre before it. I was looking forward to being in that part of the world again and had built up quite a picture in my mind of what Mt Tarawera must have looked like with the six eruptive vents lined up in a long row, ejecting and fizzing fiery red ash and rocks into the night sky, sometimes one at a time, sometimes several of them going for it together.

Following my nose, and having already driven the route once, I assumed I would find the right road, but no – I soon realised I was heading for Rainbow Mountain. I turned around, only to have yet another false start back in Rotorua, so I stopped and loaded my destination into google maps and quickly got on the correct route – should’ve done that in the first place.

At the carpark there was a toilet block and a set of signs with a map of the walking route. I locked the car, pulled on my boots and pack, took up my walking poles and set happily off, the sun shining warmly down.

Not far along the trail, which sidles into the same gully that holds the waterfalls in the grounds of the Buried Village, I looked back to find I could see the entrance building of the Buried Village museum.
These forests were all burned in the Tarawera Eruption, and left to grow back naturally. Forests here are so regularly exposed to volcanic eruptions that they tend to be young – no more than a few hundred years old. But volcanic soils are very fertile and I’m amazed at how everything I see gives the impression of age.
My first sighting of Lake Tarawera for today. I can see the jetty, where Kev and I were photographed together by the German woman, the same jetty where we had our first sight of Mt Tarawera.
The trail led around some bluffs and for a long time all I could see was the forest. Finally there was this first opening in the trees where I could see Mt Tarawera – what a magic sight! My heart soars at the thought of going up it in another couple of days – my tour is booked. I stopped and enjoyed all the moments throughout the day when Mt Tarawera peeped through the trees, as sightings were rare through the thick bush.
Mostly the trail was in easy condition but there was the odd stretch that looked like this and required a bit of monkey work. In one or two places it narrowed up as it slunk between a bank on one side and a drop on the other.
Looking back along the trail.
The tiny-looking knob between the spits of land is Pūtauaki/Mt Edgecombe, a dacite volcano on the eastern-most edge of the Okataina Volcanic Zone. Beyond it lies the Bay of Plenty and Whakaari/White Island.
Mt Tarawera, making my blood tingle.
This tree, like all the bush here, is only around a hundred and fifty years old. Young, but somehow giving the impression of much older forest.
The trail runs along the bottom of some ignimbrite bluffs.
A close up of the ignimbrite bluffs. There are many eruptions represented in the layering of the bluffs in this area.
The trail winds on, through bush, across creeks, and past ignimbrite bluffs, on and on, wild, pretty and pleasant.
This bridge crossed Te Wairoa Stream and led to a huge grassed area where booked camping is allowed. The bridge was closed due to damage from recent flooding.
Towards the end, the trail heads away from the lake, southwards over a final climb of 200 metres before turning back to the lake.
At the highest elevation of the trail (just under 500 metres), I got my only glimpse of Rotomahana (Warm Lake). A Māori village that existed here was obliterated in the latter stages of the 1886 Mt Tarawera eruption, along with the pink and white terraces, although divers have found evidence that the terraces still survive in part, beneath the waters of the lake. Just to the south west of Rotomahana, in a dead straight line with the rift of the eruptions, a new hydrothermal area was formed – the Waimangu Volcanic Valley. Unbelievably, Kev and I didn’t realise about it in time, so missed out on visiting – another for the list.
Mt Tarawera loomed over me as I made fast tracks steeply downhill back to the lake…
…and a DOC campsite. The swans and cygnets seemed chill with people camping and walking right by them.
Just past the campsite is Hotwater Beach and the official end of the Tarawera Trail. The stone arms that point towards one another mark out a patch of lake that’s too hot to touch – this water is not far off boiling. A few people were swimming and soaking in the warmer water surrounding it; I sat on the shore until the sand got too hot beneath me, then went to sit on the bank to rest and talk with the few people about, and wait for the water taxi to arrive.

It was hard to take photos in the water taxi on the way back to the start; as passengers we were well tucked up inside and the boat bumped up and down sharp and hard on the ripples. Our boat operator told us that his wife is related to Guide Sophia of Tarawera historical fame, and about some of the villages that were destroyed in the 1886 Tarawera Eruption, pointing out where they were situated. Tourists used to stop in one of the villages along the trail I’ve just walked, to rest and eat before continuing on to the Pink and White Terraces. He pointed out a patch of non-native trees that had taken hold with early visitors; a type of wattle that conservationists are now left trying to remove. As well as spreading they are also leaching nitrogen into the lake which is suspected of changing the natural balance for fish and native plants.

The boat docked on the northern side of Lake Tarawera and after the operator had put it away in its shed he drove us back to the Tarawera Trail carpark in a van, where everyone on the boat had started from.

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