Day 11/35

A Volcanic Valley

This morning I get up at 07:00. At 08:30 Waimangu Volcanic Valley will open and I want to be there in time. It is pretty cold outside but clear as well. This valley was world-renowned for the Pink and White Terraces, before they were destroyed by the Tarawera eruption. These must have been the largest and most beautiful limestone terraces ever.

Not long after, the biggest geyser ever was born here. It erupted every 36 hours up to a height of over 400 meters. It threw lots of sand and rock in the air as well. The valley now has a lake, Lake Tarawera, and there are many geothermal features, among which the biggest hot water pool in the world: The Frying Pan. It is most certainly an area of superlatives.

Echo Crater & Frying Pan Lake

The light is already quite harsh and shining straight into the valley, despite the fact that it is still very early in the morning. There are lots of steam as well. The first ‘attraction’, Echo Crater & Frying Pan Lake, can simply not be photographed from the first viewpoint, other than black and white resulting from the high contrast lighting. I will return later in the day for another try because the view from here is great.

A bit further down the path, the Cathedral Rocks are bathing in warm sunlight and even Frying Pan Lake is properly lighted from here. The lush green vegetation on the walls of Echo Crater are nicely lighted as well.

Cathedral Rocks, Waimangu Volcanic Valley, late summer, North Island, New Zealand.

The rock is great in a vertical perspective as well.

Cathedral Rocks, Waimangu Volcanic Valley, late summer, North Island, New Zealand.

Inferno Crater

The next attraction is the Inferno Crater that was created during the Mt Tarawera eruption in 1886, just like Echo Crater. Inferno Crater is filled with very acidic water (pH 2.1) with a bright blue colour caused by the minerals that are dissolved in it. The water level varies during a complex 38 day cycle.

The pool overflows in the a small stream next to it when the water is at the highest level, while the water is 8 meters below the edge at the lowest level. The water level can drop even 12 meters in exceptional cases. The temperature varies together with the level. Today it is unknown what is causing this cyclic behaviour.

The water cycles in 4 stages. The highest water level is accompanied by the highest water temperature: 70 degrees Celsius. In this stage the water flows steadily over the edge during a 50 hour period. In the next stage, the water retreats to it’s lowest level for a period of 15 days, while the temperature drops to 44 degrees. A whopping 46.000 cubic meters of water disappears in subterranean cavities. Intriguing…

During the next stage, taking around 8 days, some 24.000 cubic meters of water returns from underground, lifting the level 4 meters while the temperature rises to 61 degrees. During the last stage, the other 22.000 cubic meters return, lifting the level another 4 meters while the temperature remains constant. The water seems to be rising now, to overflow in a few days.

The vivid blue water can be seen through the rising steam regularly but is very difficult to photograph. The high crater wall and the position of the sun both create a very difficult situation for proper photography. I will return later today for a second try, but for the time being this is the best that can be accomplished.

Inferno Crater, Waimangu Volcanic Valley, late summer, North Island, New Zealand.

Lake Tarawera

The path with a length of about 3 kilometers, flows through the valley to Lake Tarawera. This path splits at Inferno Crater. Because I want to see both, I first take the higher one. There are no geothermal features here but it provides a better valley overview.

At the point where they meet again I have a choice: continue down or go back up via the other one. As it is almost noon and the light is at its worst, photography wise, I decide to continue down for a boat tour on Lake Tarawera. This is an easy way, to kill some time, while waiting for softer light. Apart from that I am looking forward to cross the lake. The water level in this lake increased by 12 meters during the eruption and now covers the remains of the Pink and White Terraces that were destroyed during that same eruption.

Looking at the departure times of the vessel, I find out that I really have to hurry to get there in time. I need to run the remaining 1.5 kilometers, which proves to be difficult with the heavy backpack and tripod. Luckily I arrive in time.

The lake is nature reserve now with lots of birds among which are black swans. Mt Tarawera is clearly visible from here, as is the crater that destroyed the terraces. Like Mt St. Helens, the mountain exploded sideways, devastating everying in it’s path.

The boat ride is quite nice but there is close to nothing worth photographing. The other tourists on board click and film constantly. One of them is quite irritating because he blocks my sight regularly with his big ass. Really annoying this type of people. There is no escaping it either in such a small boat.

On the way back, close to the end of the trip we arrive at a place where the whole rock wall of the lake is active. There is a little geyers spouting and various colours are visible, predominantly yellowisch. Then suddenly my attention is drawn by a vivid yellow, nicely shaped geyser. The light is still quite harsh, but this one is really photogenic. I take three hand held exposures, that each differ one stop and combine them afterwards. Despite the light, this results in a nice photo.

Inferno Crater, Waimangu Volcanic Valley, late summer, North Island, New Zealand.

The water is better visible on a vertical one.

Inferno Crater, Waimangu Volcanic Valley, late summer, North Island, New Zealand.

Back on shore I walk for a while along the lake to check out the water birds. Here I notice some black swans. But soon I find out that they are too far away for proper photography.

Inferno Crater Revisited

I get in the bus that brings me back up and step out again halfway for a second try on Inferno Crater. The sun is standing higher now and should illuminate the crater walls much better. The temperature is higher as well, so I expect less steam than earlier this morning.

Arriving there, I first start with the coloured stream that drains Inferno Crater. There is a small geyers that erupts every other couple of minutes. The scene is partly in sun and partly in shade and therefore a bit difficult to get right.

Furthermore, you are standing on a wooden path that moves when other people are walking close by. It takes a lot of effort to bring back some descent pictures. The ‘eruptions’ of the geyser are not in sync with illumination of the scene: clouds are covering the sun once in a while. Therefore I photograph the foreground and background separately from the spewed water and steam. In the end, I am quite happy with the result.

Inferno Crater Drainage, Waimangu Volcanic Valley, late summer, North Island, New Zealand.

Inferno Crater is indeed in far better light now. There is less steam and the vivid blue colour of the water comes out nicely. I start making the same photographs as earlier in the day, but despite better lighting I am not content with the results. I put the tripod in it’s highest position and use a small bench to be able to look through the lens. A wide angle lens (14mm) provides a much better perspective on the crater.

Then, a lady enters the scene that starts making photographs as well. She appears to be alone. It is very difficult to get the lighting right. While I am fiddeling with it she walks till almost under my tripod to get her pictures. I am a bit distracted. She looks quite nice. So now what? Start talking to her or take pictures…? The urge to shoot Inferno Crater wins for now. The setup is completely right and we can talk in a few minutes.

Then other people arrive and the wooden floor moves, which means I can start all over again because the tripod has moved as well. The woman leaves soon after. Hmmm, this is not what I had planned. It feels more and more like a missed chance.

After everyone has left, I can finally shoot the photo’s I had in mind. A short check, confirms that they are exactly what I wanted. This is looking much better than the photo taken in the morning and I like the composition even more.

Inferno Crater, Waimangu Volcanic Valley, late summer, North Island, New Zealand.

A Lovely Encounter

I keep thinking about that lady and she starts to become more interesting even. Stupid, I should have made contact immediately. Have to find her. I am really curious about her story…

I follow the path and see her walking somewhat further. A bit later we are talking. Her name is Claire and she is a lovely girl from Great Brittain. We walk together for a while and talk. She quit her job and has been traveling for the last 10 months. She has been primarily in Asia followed by Australia and for the last 3 weeks in New Zealand. She tells me she is getting tired of traveling. It is nice to see new things but the running from one place to the next, taking photographs is taking a toll. In her mind the trip has already finished and she wants to get home.

Tomorrow she will jump from a plane and a few days later she will fly to Japan for the cherry blossoms, that is supposed to become the highlight of her journey. Early april she will be home and have to start looking for a job again. She is specialised in something with disease and law. After working for a while she might start traveling again.

At Warbrick Terrace our roads split again. Claire is on her way down to Lake Tarawera while I have just been there. Also outside of the park our roads are in opposite direction. I am almost finished with the north island and will board ship for the south island, while Claire has just arrived from the south island and is traveling to Auckland for her next flight. Our meeting in the middle was a wonderful coincedence all together.

Within a few days I will start worrying a bit about her as the tsunami hits Japan. In what kind of situation did she arrive there and what happened to her…?

So Claire, if you ever read this, just drop a message. I am really curious about your experiences overthere, whether you are safe and whether or not you have made that jump you had in mind (-;

Warbrick Terrace

Warbrick Terrace is an active area with vivid colours.

Warbrick Terrace, Waimangu Volcanic Valley, late summer, North Island, New Zealand.

This shows some more of the surrounding terrain.

Warbrick Terrace, Waimangu Volcanic Valley, late summer, North Island, New Zealand.

The stream running along the terrace ends up in a nice calm body of water, lying to the right of the previous photo.

Stream, Waimangu Volcanic Valley, late summer, North Island, New Zealand.

Echo Crater & Frying Pan Lake in Rebound

I walk back up to the point where I started this morning: Echo Crater & Frying Pan Lake. This time, the crater is perfectly illuminated by the sun and it is quite easy to shoot a decent photograph. Cathedral Rock is just to the right of the photo and not visible.

Echo Crater & Frying Pan Lake, Waimangu Volcanic Valley, late summer, North Island, New Zealand.

Around 15:30 I am finished here and leave the park. I get some sandwiches from the car and these are very hot. The car has been standing in the sun. The Swiss cheese is completely molten. The ham is warm as well but appears to be ok.


I am on my way to Taupo. There is another park on my list: Orakei Korako. But it is already too late to visit it. I keep that one for tomorrow morning.

In Taupo I find a hotel with an open view on the lake very quickly. I put all the food in the refrigerator. The fruit at the bottom of my bag, feels a bit sticky. Just like one of them has been squashed. Soon I discover that they are covered by a kind of skin. Then it appears that they are in the same bag as the cheese. So now I have Swiss cheese kiwi’s and dito apples, yuk…

Taupo is the result of the biggest volcanic eruption ever. It was even seen in Rome and Beijing. I think that they mean the ash cloud. The crater is now filled with water and forms Lake Taupo.

Tongariro National Park

Because there is at least 3 hours of daylight left, I decide to drive in south direction to some other volcanoes. I aim at two waterfalls for the time being and will see what I can find. Soon I discover that it will take a lot more time to get there than anticipated. It is impossible to visit both waterfalls. One takes 1.5 hours of walking and the other one 20 minutes. The GPS sends me into the unknown again. This is the first time that the position of a village is not right. I disable routing via unpaved roads to find out whether this works better.

Mt Ngauruhoe

Around 18:15 I arrive in the neighborhood of Tongariro National Park. A nice volcanic cone is visible on the horizon, which seems to be Mt Ngauruhoe. I continue a few kilometers in that direction. This whole area is covered with purple heather. I walk a bit into this area and find a nice foreground.

The heather is very thick and forms a spring cushion of a half meter high. It takes some effort to stabilise the feet of the tripod because the heather is so rigid and it is virtually impossible to place the feet on stable ground. At the time that I am finished with this, a large cloud covers the sun and stays there for half an hour and more.

What to do about it? The sun will appear again eventually but for the time being there is no hope for it. I decide to take a few photographs as reward for the waiting and to start looking for other subjects.

Mt Ngauruhoe, Tongariro National Park, late summer, North Island, New Zealand.

Some ten minutes after I left the scene, the sun emerges again from behind the cloud. How typical. Looking back, I notice that the light is not as good as I though yet. That will take another hour or so. I continue to the nearest waterfall.

A bit further I have a nice view on the cone and a hilly landscape surrounding it. The clouds are nicely balanced with the hills at the bottom.

Mt Ngauruhoe, Tongariro National Park, late summer, North Island, New Zealand.

A closeup delivers a nice image as well.

Mt Ngauruhoe, Tongariro National Park,, late summer, North Island, New Zealand.

Tawahi Falls

Arriving at the parking lot it will take me another 20 minutes to follow the path down to the waterfall. The first time you never know what to expect and the light is always a surprise.

This time the waterfall itself is already in shade, but the trees on top are bathed in beautiful warm light. Exposure is difficult, because of the two tastes of light at the same time. The water and the direct surroundings of the waterfall are illuminated indirectly by the blue sky above and have a cold tint. This, while the trees on top are illuminated directly by warm tinted sunlight. The result does look a bit artifical in a way, but I do like it.

Tawahi Falls, Tongariro National Park, late summer, North Island, New Zealand.

Here a vertical one…

Tawahi Falls, Tongariro National Park, late summer, North Island, New Zealand.

…and a closeup of Tawahi Falls.

Tawahi Falls, Tongariro National Park, late summer, North Island, New Zealand.

The sun is dropping quickly now and everything comes into shade. I better walk back to the car fast to find a nice subject for sunset.

Greetings from Mars

Back at the top of the path I see that Mt Ngauruhoe, that I photographed earlier, is bathing in exceptionaly nice red light. Knowing that this kind of light lasts usually for a very short time, I immediately start shooting. You would almost think that it was taken on Mars.

Mt Ngauruhoe, Tongariro National Park, late summer, North Island, New Zealand.

Therefore another one with a broader perspective providing a nice contrast with the green vegetation.

Mt Ngauruhoe, Tongariro National Park, late summer, North Island, New Zealand.

5 minutes later when I am back at the car, the red light is gone. Maybe I will return tomorrow night for another try a half hour earlier.

Everything is determined by luck and coincedence. Because I felt finished with the falls, I was exactly in time for these last photographs. Staying several minutes later and I would have missed it. This was by the way the first time I had a clear sight around sunset without clouds and it has to happen a lot more times during the coming weeks.

Maps, Charts & Downloads

GPS Map with color coded altitude information

Color coded distance/altitude chart

Color coded distance/altitude chart, New Zealand Late Summer 2011, Day 11

Download the original gpx file gpx file here.