Taupō’s Steamy Affair
- Written by
- Dyani Van Basten Batenburg
Wairakei commands a powerful position
It’s not just lake views and snowy mountains that are synonymous with Taupō – it’s lineage travels much deeper – in fact, well below ground. The Wairakei geothermal field is the regions renowned slice of steamy scenery and powerful influences. On the map, it is roughly 10 kilometres north of Taupō, lying on an active volcanic zone, with the Waikato river running alongside its main feature – the power station.
A whole new world
When the Wairakei Geothermal Power Station was built in 1958 by the NZ Electricity Department, it literally became the powerhouse of the community. Its construction brought settlers into the region and a whole new community arose around its edges – creating work for Kiwis and also putting New Zealand on the energy map. The ‘flash steam’ processing was the first of its kind in the world. Today, the original power station is now home to two power houses – with another (Ti Mihi) in construction – supplying approximately five percent of New Zealand’s power. It also supplies geothermal steam to the local Wairakei Tourist Park attractions – Huka Prawn Park, Wairakei Terraces, Geotherm Exports’ Glasshouses, and Wairakei Resort.
The arrival of the power station in the 1950s didn’t just create a community, it also shook up the ground around it. Construction caused the lowering of underground water pressure in the area, so superheated water rose up and out. What resulted was a pronounced geothermal piece of land alive with a hive of volcanic activity and out-ofthis-world imagery – Craters of the Moon. This attraction remains as vibrant today as when it first came to play. A stomping ground of boiling mud craters, hissing vents, sulphuric heat clouds, steam caverns and interesting flora and fauna akin to this wonderous world. Fortunately, visiting Craters of the Moon isn’t a life or death situation, it’s carefully monitored and cared for by a charitable trust and is part of the wider Wairakei Tourist Park. You can safely traverse the 45-minute roundroute along a very stable boardwalk, which is suitable for all ages – no steep hill climbs!
Water for power and play
Alongside its world-renowned power station, geothermal wonderland and mecca of tourism attractions, the region is also home to the famous manmade Wairakei Terraces which hold central position on the Te Kiri o Hinekai riverbed. The terraces feature silica-rich geothermal waters which cascade down its banks, pooling in each of its basins.
The development of the terraces in 2006, was a direct response to reviving the riverbed and reestablishing the stream which was diverted when the power station was built. Creating the pools wasn’t just about creating a bathing place for locals and tourists alike, it was about paying homage to the cultural roots and traditions of the Wairakei region’s Maori predecessors, explains Wairakei Terrace’s pioneer and owner, Raewyn Hill.
“We wanted to truly connect the waters running through terraces with those that bathed in them for centuries before us – the tribes that sought healing and wellness in the riverbed,” says Raewyn. “The building of the terraces may bear similarities to the pink and white terraces destroyed by the late Tarawera eruption, but we attribute ours to the pink terraces that existed here at Wairakei. The geothermal waters were the life source of the tribes before us – enriching the mind, body and soul.”
And, just like the unique landscape surrounding the pools, a dip into the geothermal water also promises something special for the skin. The silica and mineral rich properties both detoxify and soothe – so much so that visitors are encouraged not to shower for 24hours after they have bathed in the terraces.
To experience Wairakei’s regional offerings for yourself, visit www.wairakeitouristpark.co.nz