Tikitere / Hell's Gate
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If you expect the hell to be peppered with seething mud pools, mud volcanoes and pits full of bubbling dark slurries, then a trial run with return ticket can be booked at the geothermal area Tikitere, also known as Hell's Gate. The names of the thermal features, too, do their part to maintain the illusion. However, return is only guaranteed if you always stay on the 1.6 km (1 mi) long designated paths. For those who are not believing in hell the area east of Lake Rotorua offers fascinating insights in what a volcanic heat source less than 2 km below the ground can do.
The geothermal park encompasses three sections, beginning with a lower accumulation of mud pools in the south, connected via a bushy passage with a thermal waterfall to the upper area of hot mud lakes and a mud volcano in the north. Devil's Bath, the mud pool right at the beginning of the trail, already hints to the historical extraction of names from the dark narratives of the Bible. These names were given by the Irish author George Bernhard Shaw after visiting Tikitere in 1934, reportedly because he began to see the gateway of hell in this area.
Beyond Devil's Bath the larger mud pool Hurutini shows up, named after a princess of the local Ngāti Rangiteaorere, who in times immemorial was thrown into it by her irascible husband, the tribal chief. The story goes that the place name Tikitere derives from the Māori words her mother cried out when she found her daughter's dead body inside the spring.
While the official tour pamphlet gives very informative descriptions of all important thermal features as well as some background, the included map is grossly simplified, somewhat outdated and sometimes misleading regarding the assignment of names (at least the version we got on 16th November 2019). In case of doubt it seems better to stick to the namesign near each feature.
Across the trail from Hurutini two very deep pits with almost black coloured mud are to be found. Black metal sulfides are responsible for the dark tint of the aptly named Ink Pots. In contrast to Devil's Bath and Hurutini, which are between 60 and 70 °C (140-160 °F) hot, the Ink Pots are close to boiling temperature.
In centre of the lower section the Hell's Gate Pool appears. Obviously, it was the inspiration for the English name of the whole area.
Proceeding south, the Sulphur Bath flanks the trail. Its Dijon Mustard colour results from a mix of mud and elemental sulfur particles. Contrary to the name, temperatures around 75 °C (167 °F) and high concentrations of sulfurous and sulfuric acids render it unsuitable for bathing.
Hot, ascending volcanic gases, mainly hydrogen, hydrogen sulfide, methane, ammonia and carbon dioxide, form numerous mud bubbles on the pool's surface.
It is not shown on the map in the tour pamphlet, but Sulphur Bath is separated by a 60 m wide strip of wooded land from the next highlight, the Inferno Pools. On one hand this name is used as collective term for Sodom and Gomorrah, The Infants and The Spraying Pools, on the other hand it obviously designates the single largest pool of the group, too. This pool is the next stop on the trail.
The dark, thin mud inside Inferno Pool and other pools of the Inferno Group seethes at temperatures between 105 and 110 °C (220-230 °F) as an effect of boiling point elevation by suspended, microscopically small mineral particles. Metal sulfides among them give rise to the dark grey colour.
Other members of the Inferno Pools were named The Infants by George Bernhard Shaw because they reminded him of the mercurial nature of young children. The Infants are consisting of a chaotic assembly of some jagged springs, partially merging into one another.
Compared to Inferno Pool the boiling activity of The Infants is even stronger.
Unlike The Infants, the Spraying Pools are not deep springs but hot ground with fumarolic gas emissions. At high ground water level the area gets flooded with shallow water and a so-called frying pan forms, recognisable by small, spraying fountains. On our visit the Spraying Pools were nearly dried up.
At Sodom and Gomorrah the visitor leaves the lower section, hopefully not as hastily as Lot in the Bible when the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed with brimstone and fire. Fittingly, these two pools of different size represent the strongest activity in the Inferno Group with mud spouts up to two metres (6.5 feet) high. Although spouting varies in height, it is perpetual, so the pools can not be regarded as geysers.
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