5-15, 1999 Middle North Island, New Zealand
We'd just backed the van into one of the surfside camper slots (as the only new
arrivals that day, we had our pick), and decided to head in to the local
restaurant/pub/take-away spot next door to the camping lot for a bite. No sooner had we
walked in the door, than we got a dose of that famous Kiwi (the self-labeled moniker for
New Zealanders) hospitality. "They just pulled it from the oven. Here 'ave some"
they insist as they point to a huge slab of just-warmed fish, its tray skirted with bits
of bread, and sitting on the corner of the bar for all to share.
Brian Shadbolt. Me mates call me Shaddy" he offers with an inviting smile and
outstretched hand. And that's how it starts - with simple introductions and casual
conversation. A friendly "So where ya from? Ah yeah, the States heh? How long ye got
in Popamoa Beach?" Just light stuff, a little chitchat over a glass of wine or two
before Laura and I sit down for dinner. While Joselyn (Brian's wife) and I are talking
about Mississippi blues music, Laura and Shaddy are on the topic of fishing, seemingly
consumed with comparing fish tales. Where, when, and how big. Bottom fishing or trolling.
All the usual stuff. The next thing I know, we're invited to "maybe take a cruise
'round the harbor - do a little fishin', what 'cha think?" "Uh, sure why
not" we blurt back, in so doing instantly alter our 'schedule' so that we can stay an
extra day and take advantage of this generous offer.
blessed with an incredibly beautiful day for boating. While Shaddy skillfully backs True
Gritt into the water, Joel, his eight year old son, and I man the boat's tie-ropes.
It's not long before we're dropping our baited lines into the sea, hoping for a solid
strike from a hungry snapper below. Half a dozen times we pull up anchor, move a bit and
drop it again, only to be disappointed in our quest for the elusive deep sea delicacy.
Only one snapper for the day - but all's not lost. We do manage to hook a cooler full of
another local fish, Maumau. "Are you going to come over to our house for tea
(Kiwi-speak for light evening meal)?" asks Joel in his best 'it sure would be cool if
you guys would come over to my place and play' way. Boy, the invitations just keep coming
from these Kiwis.
course there's no way we could say 'no', so here we sit in their lounge (Kiwi-speak for
living room), taking in the stunning view of the beach across the roadway. Admittedly,
we're feeling a tad guilty because, while we're in here with Joselyn enjoying a few Lion
Red's (a local pilsner), poor Shaddy's outside cleaning our fish for us! And as if that
weren't enough, he cooks it up for us to enjoy with a few chips (french fries). Just as we
think that there has to be an end to all of this Kiwi kindness, eight year old Joel brings
in his guitar, and sometimes accompanied by his father, but for the most part as a
soloist, strums a few tunes for us. "He won second place in the Popamoa Beach talent
show - kids from all ages too" Joselyn tells us with a proud motherly smile.
"I'm surprised he didn't take first. Maybe next year." I offer. And I sincerely
mean it, he's very talented. As we say our goodnights, they loan us a few blankets to keep
our toes warm in the van, and insist we pop over the next morning for coffee.
In hopes of returning some of their
kindness, we stop by the bakery on the way to their house, and knock on their door, a bag
of fresh croissants in hand. Well what do they do, but match our generosity and quickly
break out all the fixin's. Butter, jam, cheese and tomatoes, all laid out in a feast
before us. "It's no drama" says Shaddy as Joselyn motions us to sit down and
enjoy the second of two meals at their family table, "no drama a'tall." These
Kiwis sure seem to have great philosophies for going through life, I think to myself.
Taking things as they come, welcoming new friends, and always sharing what they have - and
all with an easing and sincere "no drama mate, truly no drama".
The truth is that I've never been to, let alone casually walked through, an 'active
thermal volcanic area' before, and as such, have little idea of what to expect as we hike
through the gates, and down the entrance path of the Wai-O-Tapu Reserve. To our surprise,
the first placard we come across doesn't describe some wondrous oddity of nature, or
elaborate on the ancient history of the study of volcanoes, but rather it reads: 'The
surrounding manuka scrub vegetation is extremely flammable, as are some of the minerals
throughout the reserve, and therefore we ask that you DO NOT SMOKE whilst in the park'.
It's not that I have a craving for a cigarette - I don't even smoke - it's just that it
can be a bit unsettling to know that the better part of the park could go up like a stack
of matches, if one of the other nicotine-addicted guests were to give in to his cravings
and 'light up'.
But hopefully they'll heed the warnings, I know if I were a smoker
I certainly would. For along the trail and all around us, we see (and smell) burping
boiling pools of mud, smoking collapsed craters, and hissing gaseous fumeroles, pumping
who-knows-what kinds of chemicals, flammable and otherwise, out into the air. It all seems
so surreal, so otherworldly, that it could as easily be a scene out of some crazy sci-fi
comic book, than a setting for a simple afternoon stroll. Rather that Scott and Laura
bopping along on the safety of the planked path, it could be the heroes, Dash Riprock and
his companion Ashley Asteroid (or something like that), fighting tooth and nail with a few
glowing four-headed orange space monsters, while skittering carefully about the bubbling
ponds of highly radioactive sludge. Oooo, look out Dash!!!
Riprock and Ashley Asteroid - what am I thinking? Maybe the chemicals have gone to
my head already, but we've only been here for 20 minutes, and the people at the gate
promised us that the fumes weren't harmful (as long as we didn't smoke that is). Speaking
of chemicals, I wonder what's in the steam rising up from this crater.
"Cool, look" Laura points out, "we can see our shadows. It's neat
how they flutter in and out, close then far, depending on the wind and how thick that the
steam is coming from the hole."
"Yeah, and look, the light behind us gives us little rainbows around our heads
- sorta like halos" I add.
"You with a halo? Yeah right!" she laughs, "but you know what? Maybe
those are our auras."
"Yeah, see - yours is pink and yellow and mine is purple, and blue" she
sure enough, it's pink and yellow. I guess it could be worse, my 'aura' could be black, I
think to myself as we walk away. It could be as black as that mud down there at the bottom
of those craters. Yeck! Our guide map says that they call these gapping holes filled with
mud the Devil's Ink Pots - something about graphite and crude in the water, bubbling and
blurping its way to the surface. I call them strangely sinister looking, and decide that
we should keep walking. Our next stop is the Artist's Palette, where under a thin layer of
water, a host of chemicals compounds and steam from the earth's depths, bubble up and
interact, displaying a constantly changing swirl of olive, lime, saffron, orange,
cinnamon, and brown.
The mixing colors of the Artist's Palette are pretty mesmerizing,
but gazing into the waters of this next steaming abyss, makes me think that I might have
found a new favorite for my very short list of 'way-cool geological thermal wonders'.
They've labeled it Champaign Pool, and yes it's even complete with bubbles and fizz. I
don't think we'll be having a glass of this special bubbly though - it's gold water and
copper-orange colored rim are from alki-chloride water bubbling with gold, silver,
antimony, arsenic, thallium, and mercury (now there's a mouthful), each rising up from
miles below the earth's crust.
of the earth's crust, it's apparently pretty thin right here. With each step, it seems
like a can feel a slight vibration. I feel like I'm walking on very thin, hollow ground.
It's more than just a little unnerving to think of all the turning and churning, whirring
and stirring, that's probably happening, at this very moment, in the voluminous
underground chambers just inches below my feet. At the same time though, it's rather
awe-inspiring. And if I add this to the already impressive roster of steaming geysers,
boiling mud, smoking craters, swirling chemicals, and hissing fumeroles, it really becomes
clear just how wonderfully creative Mother Nature can be.