I had never dreamt that New Zealand’s would look so different to Australia. The cities and suburbs have a certain familiarity, but when you leave the built up areas the similarities end.
At the end of summer the Kiwi countryside is verdant, while my home state in Australia looks like a well browned slice of toast. Here the farmers are taking their second cut of hay for the season while Aussie farmers are hand feeding their stock. The creeks have run dry, the rivers are reduced to a chain of ponds and the farm dams are brown puddles where I come from, while here in New Zealand the waterways are healthy and free flowing.
Australia and New Zealand have a lot in common; Captain Cook, the slaughter of soldiers at Gallipoli during WW1, a strange game they call cricket, a love of roast lamb and pavlova. We also have a common colonial history, although NZ never played host to convicts..
The difference in climate generated by the physical size of the land masses set Australia and New Zealand apart.
Visiting the geo thermal region around Rotorua on New Zealand’s North Island was a unique experience for me. I have bathed in mineral rich tepid springs which bubble to the surface in Australia’s Northern Territory and Central Queensland, but never before have I seen boiling mud, geysers, seething sink holes, lurid coloured steam vents, streams and lakes. Walking through stinking vapours emitted from deep beneath the earth’s crust is like a sulphurous sauna, fully clad, in the open air.
It’s easy to understand the concept of the devil down below, hellfire and brimstone when you’ve seen collapsed craters with sulphur lime-yellow smeared walls and deep cauldron like pools of boiling, oil slicked mud.
The all pervading smell of rotten egg gas that they emit is due to hydrogen sulphide coming to the surface. The heat of magma left from volcanic activity heats under water streams and absorbs the minerals from the rock. They work their way to the surface of the pools as steam, then they’re absorbed into the ground. Ferrous salt. antimony, manganese oxide, silica, sulphur, iron oxide and carbon create a rainbow of colours, green, orange, purple, white, yellow, red-brown and black.
The landscape is other worldly, akin to an imagined moonscape. Little thrives here, though some wading birds have adapted to feed in the acid landscape and Welcome Swallows from Australia build nests in the crevices of caves to take advantage of the steam in the incubation of their eggs.
The geothermal landscape centred in Rotorua is truly awesome, a phenomenon that must be encountered first hand at least once. It has brought clearly to my attention the power contained beneath the crust of this wonderful Earth.