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Notes on the Geography of New Zealand: Taupo

One caldera (dormant), one crater lake (full), one outlet (turbulent), and one geyser field (harnessed).

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New Zealand: Taupo picture 1

Lake Taupo is a bit bigger than Tahoe but lots warmer. A smart cookie will infer that it fills the collapsed crater of a volcano that blew its top. Not very long ago, either: about 25,000 years ago. It was a world-class event, and there's heat down there still, visible in hot springs and steam vents. If it seems pleasantly calm, it's probably only because it's napping while you and I live our wink-of-an-eye lives.

New Zealand: Taupo picture 2

Here's the outlet, the head of New Zealand's longest river, the Waikato. (Don't get your calipers out; it's less than 300 miles long.) The lake level used to be much higher until one fine day the outlet plug gave way and the lake level fell over 200 feet. Be glad nobody was around.

New Zealand: Taupo picture 3

Less than a mile downstream the river gets busy.

New Zealand: Taupo picture 4

Calm water begins churning.

New Zealand: Taupo picture 5

Huka Falls.

New Zealand: Taupo picture 6

We're a mile to the west and looking over the Craters of the Moon. Odd name, but we're not in charge. Funny thing, the ground here was formerly much less active. Until the 1950s, the busy spot was the Wairakei Geyser Valley, but it simmered down when the Wairakei Power Station opened. When that happened, this patch of ground, which is part of the same Wairakei geothermal field, came alive.

New Zealand: Taupo picture 7

Lots of fumaroles or blowholes. Walking around here is easier if you don't think about collapsing Florida sinkholes.

New Zealand: Taupo picture 8

Apart from the steam, the name Craters of the Moon isn't entirely silly.

New Zealand: Taupo picture 9

Arresting.

New Zealand: Taupo picture 10

But maybe Craters of Hell would be better. (No charge; my advice is always free.)

New Zealand: Taupo picture 11

There's lots of steam in the neighborhood. Here we've come back to the Taupo River just below the lake outlet. We're in the Spa Thermal Park. There's a creek under the bridge, and you can guess its temperature from the steam at the right.

New Zealand: Taupo picture 12

A warm cascade.

New Zealand: Taupo picture 13

You'd think Lord of the Rings was filmed around here or something. Oh, wait!

New Zealand: Taupo picture 14

Make way for the engineers. They opened the Wairakei Power Station in 1958; a second cycle was added in 2005 to capture some of the energy in the already used, cooler steam. All things must pass, however, and the plant output has been reduced from 180 to 40 megawatts and will be phased out completely. The steam hasn't gone anywhere: it's just being sent to the new, 160 MW Te Mihi station, which opened in 2014. It's all very sensible but makes you wonder what Lucifer would have done if he had had a civil-engineering degree.

New Zealand: Taupo picture 15

Hell would be so tidy, more boring than scary.

New Zealand: Taupo picture 16

Lunch! Of course none of us would dream of eating here, but how can you not check it out? We're looking at a plane that the US Army Air Force ferried across the Pacific in 1943. It's had many owners, until it was finally flying as a crop sprayer in 1984. By then it had over 50,000 flight hours. It was towed to Taupo in 1990.

New Zealand: Taupo picture 17

Look, ma: no seat belts.


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