The earth’s crust is made up of a patchwork of interlocking slabs (techtonic plates) which move independently like enormous ice flows. Today New Zealand straddles the boundary between the Indian, Australian and Pacific plates. Tremendous natural energy is released which results in many spectacular geologicial occurrences including mountain building, earthquakes and volcanic activity.
Over the past 150 years, huge earthquakes have rocked the shaky isles, and include Wellington (1855), Murchison (1929), Napier (1935), Edgecumbe (1987) and Christchurch (2010) have resulted in marked land shifts and dramatic geothermal events.
The Taupo Volcanic Zone
The Taupo Volcanic Zone is generally recognised as one of the most active volcanic areas in the world. About 250 km in length and 30km -80km wide, the zone follows the north easterly direction. It was anchored to the south by the volanoes of Tongariro, Ngauruhoe and Ruapehu.
At the northern end is White Island an active volcano 48 km off the Bay of Plenty coast. Within the zone are 17 major hydrothermal fields, two of which contribute about 5% of New Zealand’s total power supply.
Orakei Korako is also known as the Hidden Valley. It’s an explosive and vividly beautiful geothermal area not far from the town of Taupo. It’s nestled in a magnificent crack in the earth on the Waikato River at Lake Ohakuri, and is part of a hydro-electric power scheme.
This is a must-see place to visit in the North Island and I think it’s arguably better than its rival Waiotapu for the sheer number of colourful silica terraces, with their rainbow colours of natural and toxic-waste toned mineral deposits.
The Orakei Korako features enormous fault-stepped silica terraces that are the largest of their kind since the catalcysmic collapse of the Pink and White Terraces in 1886 on the edge of Lake Rotomahana beneath Mount Tarawera.
The Emerald Terrace is possibly the most spectacular of these, and emits up to 20 million litres of silica enriched water can flow over the terrace into Lake Ohakuri each day.
The three terraces above the Emerald were formed by a huge earthquake in 131AD. These fault scarps (steps) are topped with black, green and yellow algae – which grows in temperatures between 35 – 49 degrees Celsius.
Although one of the highlights is also the extensive beautiful bushwalks and viewpoints throughout the park where you can see and hear a lot interesting native birds and get impressive views onto all of the terraces from various angles.
I would say that if you only see a handful of things in New Zealand, this should be one of them. Particularly if you’re a history buff, lover of geology or volcanic regions. This place displays the power and might of geothermal regions better than other parks.
The added bonus of the boat trip over to the geothermal field also lends it a sense of intrepid travel, with only a handful of people allowed over in the park at any one time. On the day we went it was overcast, which leant the park a mysterious, otherworldly feeling of being caught in a foggy daydream on an alien planet.
The Case for Zealandia
It was previously thought that New Zealand broke off from the large southern hemisphere landmass known as Gondwana millions of years ago.
However mounting geological evidence has come to the fore in recent years which contradicts this and puts the case forward that New Zealand was actually an independent landmass that arose out of the ocean all by itself, and that New Zealand is an independent eighth continent known as ‘Zealandia.’
A Maori story about geothermal activity
The god Maui used the jawbone of his ancestor baited with blood from his nose as a fish hook to pull up the North island.