Waikite Valley

On 3rd December 2002, the New Zealand Herald reported that the owner of Waikite Valley Thermal Pools by chance rediscovered the largest boiling water spring in New Zealand on his property 31 km (19 miles) south of Rotorua. For most of the 20th century hidden inside an impenetrable thicket of blackberry bushes and trees, the nearly circular Te Manaroa Spring (Māori for The Long Time Spiritual Power) has a diameter of approximately 9 metres (29 feet) and discharges around 40-50 litres of 97.5-99.5 °C (207-211 °F) hot water every second. It is supposed to be very deep, but due to the harsh conditions a measurement has not yet been successful.

Te Manaroa hot spring
Te Manaroa hot spring

Meanwhile, the spring is considerably easier to access by the 150 m (500 feet) long Echo-Trail along the thermal Otamakokore Stream. Te Manaroa is not only noteworthy for its high discharge of boiling water, but also for the sinter rim. Unlike most of the other hot springs in New Zealand, its alkaline (pH 9.6) water deposits sinter consisting of silica mixed with travertine (calcite). Although the spring is not regarded as a geyser, its boiling activity domes the water occasionally up to 2 m (6 feet) height. The information board on the observation platform hypothesizes that the spring becomes more active in the case of high air pressure. If Te Manaroa already under normal weather conditions engulfs itself, its vicinity, and visitors in dense steam, this may apply a fortiori at times of high air pressure. Thus, it is difficult to capture pictures of the spring where it is not partly or even completely obscured by steam.

Te Manaroa Spring erupting
Te Manaroa Spring erupting

The area beyond Te Manaroa to the road hosts North Gully Spring (also called Top Gully Spring), which is neither accessible by the Echo-Trail nor visible from the observation platform. Merely, a now and then discoverable steam plume indicates its presence, as to be seen on the picture above. North Gully Spring is a slightly smaller and much shallower version of Te Manaroa Spring, but apart from the dimensions and the lower eruptions its phyiscal and chemical properties are very similar (M.I. Stevens, A.D. Cody, I.D. Hogg, Habitat Characteristics of Geothermally Influenced Waters in the Waikato, p. 91, 2003).

Both Te Manaroa and North Gully Spring as well as many further hot springs in the area discharge into the thermal Otamakokore Stream. Close to the hot springs the water temperatures of the river are correspondingly high but decrease gradually down to 50-60 °C (122-140 °F) until it joins up with a cold water stream. The water of some adjacent springs, formerly discharging into Otamakokore Stream, is now diverted to the artificial, cascading Waikite Valley Thermal Pools, where bathers can soak in basins of different temperatures.

Otamakokore Stream
Otamakokore Stream, lined by many rare plant species with high geothermal affinity

However, the Waikite (Water That Can Be Seen) Thermal Area extends far beyond the bathing resort and encircles besides the Waikite Hot Springs in the southwest also the Puakohurea Springs in the northeast. Most of them are drained by Otamakokore Stream. The springs occur over a distance of around 6 km (3.7 mi) in a steep and partly inaccessible valley of farmland and almost native wetland northwest of the Paeroa Range, an active fault scarp. According to what we know today, the Waikite Thermal Area is an outflow structure of the Waiotapu parent system, located about 5 km (3 mi) farther east. Among the further thermal springs that line Otamakokore Stream, Puakohurea Geyser and Scalding Spring are of special interest. Puakohurea Geyser, also called HT Geyser for high tension electricity overhead cables, is situated approximately 1.2 km (0,7 mi) northeast of Te Manaroa in a poorly accessible spot at the foot of Paeroa Range. Ashley D. Cody reported that this geyser was "created c. 1984, geysered c. 8–10 m high frequently until c. 1986." (A.D. Cody, Geodiversity of geothermal fields in the Taupo Volcanic Zone, p. 54, 2007).
Scalding Spring occupies a wet meadow next to Otamakokore Stream, 600 metres (1970 feet) northeast of Puakohurea Geyser. With approximately 90 °C (194 °F) the blue spring is not as hot as the springs mentioned before and shows no spouting activity, but it similarily features a pronounced sinter rim. Other named springs in the area are the Puakohurea Lakes, Manuroa or Large Gully Spring, Nairn's Cold Grassy Spring, Submerged Spring, Tree Spring and Te Waro Scarp Springs. They are difficult to access or not at all accessible because most are located on private farmland or on regenerating native geothermal wetland that is an important habitat for a number of endangered geothermal plant species.

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