Le Grand Détour

Lac Taupo et découvertes géothermiques – Lake Taupo and geothermal discoveries

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france_french_flag [14 mars 2016]

Après nos aventures d’hier au Tongariro, pas question de se lever aux aurores ! Le programme de la journée n’en est pas moins rempli mais c’est tranquillement que nous partons à la découverte de la région du lac Taupo, ses fleuves, ses chutes d’eau ou encore ses parcs et ses sources géothermiques. Tout ça !

Notre premier détour nous amène au musée local de la ville de Taupo dominant le lac éponyme. Nous y découvrons de superbes sculptures maoris en bois qui décorent notamment les poutres et les murs d’une Wharenui, une maison communale. C’est dans ce genre de bâtisse que les maoris se retrouvent pour célébrer leurs ancêtres et se réunir en conseils. C’est sur l’île du nord que la culture maori est la plus présente et nous ne manquons pas une occasion de nous en imprégner. Nous ne pouvons cependant nous attarder si l’on veut être à l’heure pour le départ de notre croisière sur la rivière Waikato.

Nous prenons tout de même le temps de déjeuner en route, dans une sorte de pub tout en bois qui marque l’entrée d’un parc géothermique. Celui qui tient la caisse est un comique pince-sans-rire. Alors que nous choisissons nos plats (il n’y a personne d’autre dans le restaurant), il nous raconte qu’il collectionne les œufs de tarentule et qu’il va nous en donner un en cadeau… Certes il y a quelques grosses araignées dans des cadres au mur mais des œufs de tarentules ? Quelques secondes plus tard il revient avec une enveloppe en papier un peu épaisse avec une bosse au milieu. Forcément la curiosité l’emporte sur le bon sens et nous ouvrons l’enveloppe… Clac ! Un truc en bondit qui nous fait sursauter et le gars se marre tout content de sa blague 😉 Pour info les œufs de tarentules, ça ressemble à ça en vrai.

Trêve de plaisanteries, nous embarquons sur le bateau de Simon pour une balade sur le fleuve Waikato, le plus long de Nouvelle-Zélande, direction les chutes de Huka. Il est bavard, le Simon, au micro de son poste de conduite, et il nous donne un maximum d’informations sur le fleuve, ses poissons et ses arbres, sur la région, sur l’économie, sur le lac, etc. Nous apprenons entre autre que le lac Taupo, qui fait la surface de Singapour, est en fait un gigantesque volcan à qui l’on attribue la plus violente éruption du monde jamais enregistrée par l’Homme et notamment consignée dans des écrits romains fin du IIème siècle – apparemment cinq fois plus puissante que celle du Krakatoa au Vème siècle.

L’eau du fleuve quant à elle est d’une clarté incroyable qui permet d’admirer les fond bleutés comme si c’était un aquarium.

Nous remontons le cours du fleuve, le long de berges boisées mais très venteuses, en passant devant plusieurs sources thermales et nous ne tardons pas arriver au clou de la visite, à savoir les rapides de Huka. Ces énormes chutes déversent près de 220 000 litres d’eau à la seconde, soit l’équivalent d’une piscine olympique toutes les 12 secondes, le long d’une gorge étroite de 800 mètres de long. Ça bouillonne et ça rugit tandis que nous nous approchons à quelques dizaines de mètres à peine de la chute principale. Le moteur pousse des cris aigus en montant dans les tours tandis que Simon manœuvre pour nous placer au plus près du mur d’eau à contre-courant. Ça décoiffe ! C’est l’instant Kodak avant de reculer et de repartir à l’assaut des tourbillons. Nous ferons trois ou quatre saillies dans le torrent rugissant, chaque fois avec la même adrénaline. D’ailleurs en parlant d’adrénaline, il a dû y en avoir aussi dans le corps de ceux qui ont tenté de traverser les chutes en kayak. Un exercice périlleux, jadis interdit et aujourd’hui très réglementé et où plusieurs ont trouvé la mort…

Au retour de la croisière nous assistons également au lâcher d’eau quotidien du barrage. En quelques seconde le canyon à sec se remplit d’eau et se transforme en un puissant torrent.

Il est bientôt temps de partir pour notre seconde détour de la journée, la visite du parc géothermique d’Orakei Korako. Là, nous attend 1h30 de promenade à travers un paysage incroyable que nous découvrons tous les deux pour la première fois : des formations volcaniques, des geysers, des bouillons de boue, des jets de souffre, offrant une invraisemblable palette de couleurs. Le chemin balisé passe juste au-dessus de cette activité géothermique apparemment très imprévisible, avec des sources d’eau bouillantes qui peuvent reprendre vie ou s’éteindre sans prévenir. De nombreux panneaux indiquent de ne rien toucher avec les doigts « pour voir »… C’est vrai qu’on en aurait presque envie, sauf que l’eau boue, quoi 😉 C’est l’effet waouh de la journée tandis que nous avons l’impression d’être transportés sur une autre planète.

Le long de notre balade nous assistons également à une effroyable mise à mort. C’est Susie qui a d’abord repéré ces deux phasmes dans les branches… Malheureusement pour ces deux insectes, ils ont trouvé le moyen de s’empêtrer dans une toile d’araignée et tandis que nous les regardons, une arachnide vorace ne tarde pas à se jeter sur l’un d’eux et à lui injecter du venin. L’autre tente de s’éloigner comme il peut avec ses pattes collantes de toile et regarde son compagnon régurgiter un liquide vert. La scène microcosmique est d’une violence inouïe mais nous regardons le drame comme hypnotisés, bientôt rejoint par un autre couple qui assiste avec nous à la mise à mort douloureuse des phasmes. Le monde des animaux est cruel.

En dépit de ce regrettable incident, nous poursuivons notre tour, enchantés de cette nature si belle à notre échelle.

Tandis que nous retraversons le bras d’eau qui nous a mené au parc, j’effectue une recherche rapide pour voir si nous pouvons prendre un petit bain dans l’une des sources chaudes naturelles de la région… Ça se pourrait bien !

En chemin nous repassons par les chutes de Huka, cette fois pour les admirer depuis le pont qui surplombe la gorge. La force de l’eau est incroyable et réflexion faite, je ne vais pas tenter la traversée en kayak aujourd’hui !

Bon et ces sources chaudes naturelles alors, elles sont où ? Eh bien elles ne sont pas loin, à l’intérieur du Spa Park, un parc municipal gratuit le long du fleuve. Le temps tourne au beau en cette fin de journée mais il semblerait que l’on soit nombreux, très nombreux à avoir eu la même idée : lorsque nous arrivons près de la source, c’est une bonne quarantaine de personnes qui s’y baigne déjà, certains avec des chips et des bières dans l’eau à 45 degrés. Nous décidons d’y aller quand même, histoire de prendre quelques photos mais il faut avouer que ce n’est pas hyper relaxant. On en choisira une autre la prochaine fois !

Nous retournons tranquillement à la voiture en prenant un bain de soleil cette fois.

Mais l’heure tourne et il commence à se faire faim. Ce soir nous choisissons de dîner dans un pub qui bénéficie d’une vue imprenable sur le lac Taupo et c’est une très bonne idée car le soleil nous offre un magnifique coucher.

De retour chez Tony, je poursuis mes efforts d’organisation pour conjuguer la météo, la disponibilité des hébergements et des clubs de plongée mais ce n’est pas simple. On croise les doigts. En tous cas voilà encore une belle journée. Vivement la suite !

english_flag [14th March 2016]

Tony is an excellent host and whatever you want for breakfast it’s possible! Some of it at a cost, most of it free of charge and included in the overnight tariff….cereals, toast, yoghurt, all kinds of fruit, juice, tea, coffee…it’s an impressive spread and Tony’s there to make sure that nothing is missing! There was some feedback on TripAdvisor or somewhere that said that he’s a bit clingy but it feels more like a heartfelt need to make everything perfect for his guests!

And so, having filled our stomachs, we headed north along the eastern side of Lake Taupo to the main town where we parked up and headed into the museum. There are two main parts to the museum: an art gallery and the museum. Once we’ve paid our entrance fees we head right in the gallery where we admire a couple of pieces of art amongst other not-so-admirational works. One of them is made up of several ceramic leaves which are stuck on a wall, it looks like a wind’s blowing the leaves around the room and they’re frozen in time in this position. It seems so very simple and yet is beautiful…I find myself wondering whether I could do something similar… The other thing that I quite liked in the gallery was a collection of pieces that had fish bodies but with the heads of other animals…cats, dogs, elephants, etc. They were quite colourful too but at $180 each I didn’t succumb to temptation! We weren’t allowed to take any photos inside the gallery but I found this on their Facebook page ^_- .

FishBodiesWe had a quick look around the impressive Wharenui (a Maori meeting house) where we admired the wood sculptures that had been donated to the museum. It’s a shame that there isn’t more information about the different sculptures or the weavings or someone here to demonstrate some of the activities that are dotted around…I guess we’ll have other occasions to discover more about the Maori culture before our holiday’s over.

We stopped for lunch in the café of a Thermal Walk, but unfortunately we wouldn’t have time to do the walk itself as we’d booked ourselves on a boat trip this afternoon. The guy in the café pointed out a tarantula that he had in a framed glass box on the wall. He said that he’d bought it in the UK and that, as he was framing it, he’d found a couple of eggs in the backside of the spider. I didn’t really understand what he was going on about but he handed me a folded brown paper bag and told me that the eggs were inside the bag. I, obviously, started to open the bag, curious…suddenly the whole thing jumped up off of my hands…there was an elastic band and a match all wound up inside and, once the bag was open, the tension released and it spun around….Stéphane jumped a mile…me…only about a foot in the air ^_-. HA HA HAAAAA, very funny!!!!

As we sat eating our lunch he did the same thing to a second couple that came into the café…so funny!

We rushed to make it to the departure point for our afternoon cruise and arrived with a minute or two to spare. On the boat there were about 20 tourists and we sailed up the Waikato River to the Huka Falls. The water was so beautifully clear and we stopped at one point to see the rainbow and brown trouts near one of the warmer streams that feeds into this river.

The whole area around here and all the way up to the North coast from here is geothermically active. There are geysers and hot water springs all over the place. The landscape is such that there are columns of “smoke” pumping up all over the place. If we were anywhere else in the world we would think that there is something on fire, here it’s just the usual steam coming up from water that’s been boiled miles below the surface and has popped up here and there, in a field, on a beach, etc.

The cruise boat skipper, Simon, gave us loads of information about the flora, fauna and geology of the river as well as local stories, etc. It was really interesting. He also gave us some recommendations for other activities in the area (Rapids Jet instead of another company and Orakei Korako instead of Wairakei Terraces & Thermal Health Spa — in case you were wondering ^_^).

When we arrived at the Huka Falls we headed up to the platform on the front of the boat to take some photos and to get a better look. The power of the water coming from the waterfall was impressive and the beautiful bluey, turquoise water was boiling below the boat. There are some nutters who try to kayak down these “falls”…it’s banned and they try to do it when there aren’t too many tourists in order to not be reported to the police…I think that they must be totally mad and/or suicidal!

After the cruise we watched the nearby dam being opened and the rocky basin below being filled up in a matter of seconds. It reminded me a little of our holiday in Finland, but the dam in Imatra was bigger and there was music and lighting too…a real spectacle!!

We found Orakei Korako after a lovely drive along a beautiful road surrounded with undulating hillsides on both sides and surprisingly “no sheep” (according to Stéphane). Once parked up between two campervans we bought our tickets and waited to get the shuttle boat across the lake (which is about a two minute journey).

On the other side of the lake it was like being on another planet. There is a sign nearby telling us not to touch the water…as it’s steaming away next to us…I’m not sure how necessary the sign really is…I can’t believe that people would actually try…but I guess it’s better to be safe than sorry!

There are dozens of geysers, boiling like pans of water or kettles. The colour of the surrounding stone is just wonderful. A real artist’s palette of bright and wonderful colours all running one into another as the water runs down the rock towards the lake further down the hill. We follow the raised wooden pathway, not stepping off for fear of cracking the surface and falling through or even just slipping and ending up on your bum in scalding hot water!! Every now and again a geyser starts getting even more excited and spluttering out boiling water into the air above it cooking the leaves of any overhanging bushes or trees.

As we follow the paths around between the geysers I spot a big cobweb and decide to take a closer look. That’s when I spot the two stick insects stuck onto the surface of the web. I’d been hoping to spot some stick insects since we were just north of Cairns and so I was really chuffed to see this “couple” here. I called Stéphane over to have a look too.

But then it dawned on me. They were stuck on the web. This was not a good thing. Just at that moment the resident spider pounced and started digging its fangs into Mrs Stick Insect. The other one, eventually managed to get away from the web, having lost half a leg in the web as he abandoned his partner. Once safely on a branch he looked back towards his partner who was now spitting up some kind of green goo from its mouth…I decided that I’d had enough. This was nature at its best, but I didn’t want to see the grand finale.

As we walked away, I felt a kind of hole in my stomach for the poor stick insect, but I guess the spider has to eat something! Maybe it would have been better if I’d kept my nose out of it and concentrated on the geysers rather than the wildlife!

The path wound its way back through some boiling mud baths which were pretty active despite it being the end of summer…there was still a lot of water around here.

Once back at the ferry port we caught up with another couple who had already pushed the button to call the ferry over from the “mainland”. The captain asked us whether we’d enjoyed ourselves and I raved for the two minute trip about what a wonderful place it was as it was like nothing we’ve ever seen in real life before! It really did feel like we’d been to another planet!!

On the way back we stopped at the Huka waterfall and bridge, but this time slightly upstream (whereas the cruise had bought us up underneath the waterfall. The gorge down which the rapids run before powering over the waterfall is pretty damn long…I can see why it’s tempting for kayakers but there is no way in the world that I would ever give it a go myself!!!

We decide to head for a bit of a spa before the end of the day and there’s one not far from here that’s free. When we eventually find the car park, we head off on foot towards the river. Oh yeah, didn’t I say, the spa in question is actually a place where a couple of hot streams spit out into the main river.

There are a lot of cars and campervans in the car park and we are clearly not the only people to think that this is a good way to end the day. We do decide to strip off down to our swimmers (despite the crowds) and find a bit of space in the not too cold bit of the river’s edge. Stéphane’s curious as to how hot the hotter pools are though and so we wait until a couple of pink people move out of there before clambering up the rocks and settling down there for a few minutes. It’s pretty hot though and I’m not a huge fan so we soon head back down into the cooler water. We’re a little curious also about how cold the main river is and carefully head out further away from the mass of unwashed campers! (Not too far though as there are signs everywhere warning about the dangerous currents in the middle of the main river ^_^).

In the meantime the diving company that we contacted have replied and there’s no dive possible with them that fits with our planning for the last few days of our holidays so we have a big debate as to where to go from here. Head east to a big cave thing where there’s black water rafting, abseiling, climbing, etc in the caves (panic, cold sweat, really not my idea of fun…but tempting anyway) or follow the plan and head north to the coast where we can snorkel and see the coast a bit before heading to Auckland….no decision comes quickly…maybe later.

I suggest that we stay in Taupo town for dinner and so we head to a pub with views over the lake. I order a burger (and it’s huge, delicious and has beetroot in it!) and Stéphane opts for the healthier seafood platter. Unfortunately, healthy is not an option here and the seafood on his platter is all covered in batter and deep fried!!! Bad luck my love!

Should have opted for the salad!

Tomorrow maybe.

Having appreciated the glorious sunset over the lake we head back to Tony’s where the two young ladies and Tony have been joined by an elderly German guy. They are on their second or third bottle of wine and it gets louder and louder as we join them and finish off our bottle from last night. It’s another late night, but we’ve had fun sharing our stories with these people…not sure what state they’ll be in in the morning though as they were just opening another bottle of red and taking more selfies with Tony as we called it a night! ^_^

Vidéos

Chutes d’Huka – Huka Falls

The Devil’s throat – La gorge du diable

Mud Pools – Bain de boue

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