Exploring the Back Roads of New Zealand's North Island: Orakei Korako, the Hidden Valley
Wonders in a Hidden Valley
New Zealand's North Island provides a tourist's paradise of scenery, beaches, mountains and geothermals. Many areas are well-publicised but Orakei Korako is a relatively recently discovered gem.
It's probably the best example of a geothermal valley and is also referred to as the Hidden Valley, long unknown and even now, fortunately, not on the regular itineraries of travel packages. The name Orakei Korako comes from one of the two large geysers which were at one time visible, before being obscured by the lake.
If you find the Hidden Valley, you are in for a treat! I have never seen anything which stamps the power and beauty of nature so firmly on one's mind.
Take the Boat across the River
Facilities, Access & Variety of Natural Attractions
The approach is not difficult but the entry road is not well publicised, being off the beaten track between Taupo and Rotorua, on the banks of the Waikato River, 25 minutes' drive from Taupo and 45 minutes from Rotorua. You can also travel by road shuttle or down the river. The valley is part of the Taupo Volcanic Zone.
A café and visitor centre are near the jetty, from where you take the ferry, the only access to the thermal park.
More than 20 geysers spout here, there are hot springs, bubbling mud pools and large silica terraces.
The colours and textures are phenomenal, from the vibrant orange of sulphur to the deep greens and turquoises of the pools, some of which reach boiling point.
Lake OhakuriClick thumbnail to view full-size
Creation of the Lake
The ferry takes you across Lake Ohakuri, a lake which was created by a man-made dam across the Waikato River. Two of the largest geysers (one of which was the Orakei Korako) were drowned by this lake; the resultant stretch from bank to bank is calm and easily crossed by the ferries.
The ferry arrives at the base of the lowest terrace, Emerald Terrace, over which water enriched by silica flows into the lake. It gives the impression of a large white slide, streaked with orange and flowing over rocks like ice and snow.
Rainbow, Cascade & Golden Fleece Terraces
The wonders of this place never cease. You walk across a boardwalk track which provides easy walking but is not suitable for wheelchairs or for those relying on 'walkers'. The tracks take you past lakes of mud, pools and geysers, then up and down shaded tracks through dense foliage.
I've been told that In the 1960s, you were allowed to wander where you wished, the river was shallower and crossed by jet-boat and there were no facilities. It was even more of a hidden valley then.
Each terrace offers sights of beauty, colours through the spectrum, and a variety of terrain from rocky to flat to muddy lakes of bubbling pools. The Golden Fleece Terrace is 5 metres high and 40 metres long.
Walkways to Guide you through the Terrain
Map of Africa
It will take you 1 to 2 hours to walk round the thermal park but you can spend longer to fully explore the whole area, providing you don't miss the last boat at 4pm in the winter or 4.30pm in summer.
The Map of Africa is a beautiful dark green pool amid an orange and white landscape, an extraordinary sight which gives you a feeling of being on a different planet. Nature provides scenes with which no landscaping of man can compete.
Pools, Sulphur & Geysers
Diamond Geyser & Soda Fountain
Diamond Geyser is unpredictable. One can wait a long time for it to 'perform' but it's worth waiting for. Eruptions can last from a few minutes to several hours. The boiling water which shoots from the depths can reach up to nine metres.
In the cockney vernacular, a 'diamond geyser' (pronounced 'geeser') is someone who is a kind, well respected person. Hence the caption beneath the photo!
Another feature ot the valley is the Soda Fountain. It had been dormant for 17 years but re-emerged, bursting into life in 1984.
Diamond GeyserClick thumbnail to view full-size
The Ruatapu Cave, reached by a track through lush foliage before steps take you down to a turquoise pool, is one of only two caves in the world known to be found in a geothermal area.
This cave extends 45 metres with a vertical drop of 23 metres, to a pool of turquoise-clear, warm, acid water, rich in sulfates. Its chemical properties enable it, uniquely, to clean jewellery.
It is a wondrous part of this park, the water is deep and beautiful, the air still and peaceful, away from the drama of bubbling mud and erupting geysers.
Outside the cave is a plaque in memory of a local guide, who directed visitors here but who died in Libya in World War II. You can see the full text below.
Cave Dedicated to a GuideClick thumbnail to view full-size
Plaque erected in Memory of Atama Mikaere
Leave war and strife behind you.
Erected to the memory of Atama (Adam) Mikaere. His spirit hovers in this lovely cave where, as a lad, he guided and delighted visitors with his manly bearing.
He rests in the far Libyan Desert, killed in action 1941, aged 22 years.
Also in memory of his brother Witaiana Mikaere, killed in action 1941, aged 19 years.
A Wondrous Place
One of the hidden wonders of the world, Orakei Korako makes you feel insignificant in the midst of its natural phenomena.
It is a privilege to be in the presence of such awesome beauty and power.
Make an effort to find the Hidden Valley and you will not be disappointed.
There is nothing like it.
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