Miranda via Hells Gate

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With a day of buffer time we had decided to drive closer to Auckland and make for an easier departure day. Last night Majella identified a holiday park at Miranda Hot Springs as a suitable destination, just a bit more than an hour from Auckland with a chance to spend more time luxuriating in a thermal pool. Our navigation aids suggested three alternative routes, two via Tauranga and the coast with tolls (which I did not want to have to learn about) and the third around the top of Lake Rotorua and then through Matamata. I recalled the latter name as associated with Hobbiton where we enjoyed the conference dinner in 2016.

We woke at our usual time to find the rain had gone and we had bright sunshine in a mostly clear sky. We ate breakfast, tidied up, and were pleased to find the van moved off smoothly from the solid ground on which we had eventually parked yesterday. Around 8:30 am Majella drove out the gate and turned left toward Rotorua.

We passed a couple of large lakes along the way. At each there was a cluster of houses by the shore but no real township. As seems to be the case throughout New Zealand, there was evidence of forestry activity, both standing plantations of pine trees and denuded hillsides littered with remnants of trees. There must be a way to grow and harvest trees without destroying the countryside and polluting the rivers.

About 45 minutes into the trip, before we reached Lake Rotorua, we saw a brown tourist sign indicating Hells Gate on the right. We thought it worth investigating but had no inkling that we would spend the next two hours exploring a fascinating landscape.

There were several options on offer, ranging from $39 for a (guided) tour and mud foot bath to $199 for the full mud spa treatment. We opted for the first, were spotted as seniors (we must be looking older) with a discounted rate, and informed that there was a guided tour due to start in 5 minutes. Our guide, Ray, identified as a member of the local iwi (Maori tribe). He had been a bus driver but had been doing this job for nine years. He had a lively sense of humour and seemed pleased to find four Australians (another couple from Adelaide had joined us and two young kiwi women from Hawkes Bay) to banter with. He was also well informed and gave vivid descriptions of the various features and of the place of many of them in traditional Maori life. the name, Hells Gate, and the names of some of the features were given by George Bernard Shaw, who visited and formed a bond with the local iwi.

The landscape in the geothermal park is varied with even adjacent pools differing in temperature and acidity. Temperatures ranged from a survivable 68ºC to boiling at 98ºC (altitude makes a small difference). Acidity, measured as pH, varied from a neutral 7 (there are fresh water streams in the park) to an extremely acidic 1. That pool was also boiling and the bodies of enemy warriors thrown in disappeared in 3 days. 

In the upper part of the park there are boiling mud pools that reach 140ºC. Mud is extracted from the cooler pools in that area and taken down for use in the spa. He demonstrated the thixotropic properties of some mud samples which were like crumbly clay when picked up but when agitated by shaking or rubbing liquefied and flowed freely.

At the end of the tour we bathed our feet in warm mud, really a thin slurry with running water, for a while. By that time it was approaching 11:30 am so we had coffee in the cafe before Majella drove on.

From there our path took us along the north side of Lake Rotorua from where we could see Rotorua city on the far side. At the end of the lake we continued west, for a while on the road to Hamilton which we had driven with Peg and Dave Ertmer in 2016. Eventually we turned and headed north.

By then it was well past noon and Majella was looking for lunch. We missed a sign to the Hot Springs Hotel, which was off our road to the left at Okoroire. There was a second sign that would have required a little backtracking but we were too late seeing it too. For a while we pinned our hopes on Te Poi but it had little to offer. The cafe was closed and the tavern seemed occupied by bikers.

Just before Matamata we paused to fill up with diesel at a ‘pay at the pump’ unattended station. They tend to be a little cheaper than regular stations. As we entered Matamata we had reason to hope for lunch. The main street was lined with shops, including various eateries, and there were cars and people in abundance. It took a while to find a parking space to fit the van but we were lucky to get one close to town. 

A couple of places looked interesting but we settled on the Redoubt Bar and Eatery. It has a wide variety of memorabilia decorating the walls, including links to the nearby Hobbiton movie set (now tourist attraction). We both settled for the pork chop which was served with a creamy mustard sauce, bacon pieces, small roast potatoes, and a crumbed poached egg. The latter arrived perched atop the chop, a whole egg with the shell replaced by crumbs that seemed held together by a thin batter. When I cut mine it squirted yolk on my trouser leg. Once I had cleaned that up the meal was very good.

After lunch, Majella drove on from MataMata, stopping just once at a lookout where I took some photos of the rolling green countryside. Given the rain we have had in recent days and the general sogginess of the ground it is not surprising that everything is so fresh and green.

We reached our destination at Miranda Holiday Camp around 3:00 pm. We checked in, parked up, and then headed as soon as possible for the hot pool where we relaxed for an hour or so. Then it was back to the van for drinks and nibbles. Dinner will be what food we have left and don’t need for breakfast – egg, ham, onion, frozen peas and corn. Majella will work her magic on that lot and what else she finds.

Tomorrow we will need to pack and sort out the van before returning it. Our flight is not until late afternoon so we will have no need to rush.