Friday, June 17, 2005

Fire Down Below

There is a place down south where the world likes to rumble and shake, steam pours from the depths of the earth, and the air hangs heavy with the stench of sulfur. The ground looks scorched, as though giant blowtorches have unleashed their wicked flames, leaving only desolation in their wake. The earth cleaves away, revealing an ochre palette of burnt oranges. Steam vents hiss with sinister intentions, while mudpots pop and chuckle at their wispy cousins.

Life is different here, both flora and fauna. Tropical plants grab hold and thrive, fooled by the thermal heat beneath them. Animals tread lightly, fearful of the consequences of only one tiny misstep. Humans have explored this place for many generations, sometimes harnessing the power, and sometimes dying from it. The consequences of life here are dire.

The Maori were the first to discover this place. They thrived here, in touch with nature, and respectful of her powers. The Europeans came later, often wreaking havoc on the delicate balance already in place. Eventually, a new balance was reached, with both cultures living peacefully with each other, and always with respect for the awesome power beneath them.

There have been eruptions – some with power that is difficult to imagine. 1800 years ago, the ground opened up with an explosion that dwarfed the 1980 St. Helens eruption. Ash hurtled 50 kilometers into the air, changing the sunsets from ancient Rome to China, and 20,000 square kilometers of the North Island of New Zealand was completely destroyed.

Today, remarkably, this place is a travelers’ mecca. People from all over the world flock here to see the astonishing thermal sights. The center of this activity is the quaint town of Rotorua, complete with its quality museum and classic thermal pools. It has come a long way since the last eruption.

Enjoy the Rotorua Photo Gallery.

Enjoy the videos of Rotorua’s thermal activity:
Craters of the Moon
Hell’s Gate
Bubbling Mud Pot

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