Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Walking on Fire, but not on Air. Yet.

When Nina was celebrating one of her earlier birthdays - probably fourth - she and her friends were running round the front garden when it started to rain. Letizia called from the house - "It's raining out there!!". Nina responded by rounding up her friends "It's raining out the front garden. Quick. Everyone round to the back garden."

We laughed at the time of course, but we've been playing a larger scale trick for the last month or so on the South Island. "It's raining East of the Alps - quick - let's head West". And it has by and large worked. We've seen a bit of rain, but nothing sustained, and nothing that didn't clear up about 100km into any given trip. Our luck has finally run out.

The last 4 nights - 2 in Taupo and 2 here in Rotorua have been rainy. Though we've dodged the worst of the showers (more though luck than planning) and succeeded in getting out and about, there was no getting around the fact that this was not jumping weather. Certainly not with a parachute, and probably not even a bungy. But don't count us out quite yet. The bungy site in Taupo is gorgeous. It's so beautiful that I've been overtaken by the desire to do it myself. It's only an hour back down the road, and if the Sunday weather forecast is what it promises (and we don't chicken out) we'll celebrate our 11th wedding anniversary by chucking ourselves off a cliff. Can you think of a better way?

In the meantime, our South Island glacial walk is being tidily balanced with a series of North Island geothermal experience. New Zealand lies, tectonically speaking (ahem), right along the line between the Australian plate and the Pacific Plate. As the Pacific pushes under the Australian it formed the Southern Alps and so indirectly the glacier we walked along. The action that has generated so much ice in the South Island creates fire in the North. Taupo, and even more so Rotorua, are bubbling, steaming, sulphurous centers of seismic, geothermal and volcanic instability. Every town we've visited since leaving Wellington has experienced some cataclysmic event thanks to the fault lines that lie below. Napier was wiped out by a 1931 earthquake, an eruption deleted an entire Maori town just over a hundred years ago near Rotorua, and Lake Taupo itself fills in a dormant caldera that when it last exploded about 1800 years ago, left its stroke in the writing of the Chinese and Romans, by means of a global ashen mark in the sky.

The signs of this volatility are everywhere. When you drive outside of Taupo, steam pours out of the greenery and across the road near the geothermal electricity generation station (7% of NZ's electricity is generated this way). Nearby, the Craters of the Moon Geothermal Walk offered us a way to get a closer look, and smell. But far more spectacular is the Wai-o-Tapu (Sacred Waters) site, 30km outside of Rotorua. We visited this today, luckily without getting rained on, and enjoyed scenery that until now I would not have said belongs on Earth. Letizia has taken some fantastic pictures, a few of which I've nicked. Don't tell her! Mind you, what's she gonna do? Chuck me off a cliff...? Oh.

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