1. It’s got the power!
Wairākei Geothermal Power Station is a massive industrial complex where geothermal steam from deep in the earth is tapped to generate electricity. The steam is used to drive turbines and these steam fields, with two power generating stations, produces enough electricity to supply Taupō, Rotorua, Napier and Hamilton.
A visitor road goes through the middle of it, over massive pipes, under others and around steaming steel caldrons.
This is engineering on a grand scale; shiny pipes, stainless steel tanks, gauges and bends and masses of steel infrastructure. It’s unique to New Zealand and, besides being useful, it seems like incredible industrial art.
2. Bathing beauties
Wairākei Terraces hot pools are iwi-owned and Māori-themed. Carved Māori ancestors stand tall amongst the steam and native bush and guard the pools. Silica enriched water is brought to the earth’s surface from far below. The water is super-hot (30° Celsius) and shoots out in a steamy geyser. It’s then cooled as it flows over a series of terraces. The terraces are man-made but the silica formations on them are natural and are reminiscent of the fabled Pink and White Terraces. Walk around the grounds before soaking in one of the three curative, mineral-rich steaming pools.
3. Huka from below
The Aratiatia Dam car park is the kick-off point for Huka Falls River Cruise. The genteel cruise up the lake to the base of Huka Falls takes 90 minutes and Dave, the skipper, gives an informative commentary on what we pass.
We see plenty of tūī, paradise ducks with ducklings hiding in willows and swans with signets. Plus a big old trout hanging in a shallow area next to the river bank.
From below, the falls are a force to behold. Dave nudges the bow of the boat as close as he can to the tempestuous turquoise and white water. Huka Falls are much more exciting from below where you can truly experience their incredible power.
4. Lava Glass
At Lava Glass, beside the highway near Wairākei, Lynden Over works hot silica into gorgeous glass creations. It’s mesmerising to watch. With the furnace roaring and full of molten glass, Lynden dips his blowpipe into 1100 degrees of white heat, turns it like a teaspoon in golden syrup and extracts it with a blob of glass on the end. The blob is rolled on slab cold steel to cool its skin, then he does a big-breathed, puffed-cheeked blow and the blob turns into a big glass bubble. On it goes, with the slow but precise combination of coloured, malleable molten glass, until he has created a brightly coloured vase. Lava Glass also has an excellent sculpture garden where it’s great to see glass outside, making magic with sunlight. There is a large glass rainbow, water tumbling over coloured glass and a garden of giant glass flowers and a good café, too.