I tried to buy a small piece of sulfur for ¥100 and the guy held up a sign that said “could not take on plane.” It had Korean and Mandarin translations as well. So Japan seems to have some sort of no-sulfur airplane rule.
Mt. Aso is a collection of small towns built around growing rice and raising cattle. They’re quiet farm communities, and they’re built entirely inside the caldera of a giant volcano. Within that caldera are seven peaks, six of which are dormant. The seventh one—Nakadake—spews sulfur gas continuously, and once in a while it explodes, most recently in 1979.
This being Japan, it’s a tourist attraction, with a cable car (“ropeway”) going right up to it.*
I left my bag at the nearby hostel that the guidebook recommended, had some lunch, and took the bus up the mountain. I only had enough money for a one-way ride on the ropeway, so I opted for up. Walking down looked easy enough. (The ropeway is a four-minute ride.)
There isn’t really anything to do once you’re up there other than take pictures and smell the sulfur and maybe buy a piece of sulfur as a souvenir. So I took some pictures and walked back down to the gift shop to wait for the bus.
And now I’m back at the hostel, which may be the single cleanest and most well-appointed place I’ve ever stayed. It looks like it was built yesterday. It’s tempting to stay an extra night, just to marvel at how nice it is, but I have to see if I can get to Kyoto by tomorrow night.
* That also sounds like something New Zealand would do, except that they would put a zip line over it too.
I left Napier at about 8:30 and rolled into Taupo and took a look around, then headed north toward Rotorua. This is the Thermal Explorer Highway, which passes through the most volcanically active area of the country.
Just north of Taupo, I stopped at Craters of the Moon to wander around in an active volcanic area, because that’s what us Thermal Explorer types do. And it really is just like a moonscape, except for the lush vegetation, volcanic activity, and breathable atmosphere. It’s not as spectacular as some of the other places, but it was only $6 to get in.
After that I drove straight to Rotorua to get a room and something to eat, then headed back toward Taupo to Waiotapu Thermal Wonderland.
But first! Mud Pool. On the way into Waiotapu, there’s a sign that says simply “Mud Pool.” And if you’re a Thermal Explorer and you see a sign that says “Mud Pool,” you’re not just going to drive on by.
So I stopped. And I saw the mud. The blurping, glooping, sulphuric, volcanic mud. Here are pictures of the mud.
Then I went to Waiotapu, which really is an amazing collection of volcanic weirdness. There are vents and craters and steaming lakes and terraces and brightly colored pools and a geyser that did absolutely nothing. There’s another geyser that blows daily, but only because they prime it with soap, and that really seems like cheating. And they only fire it off in the morning, so I didn’t see it.
The mineral-rich water makes strange silica patterns.
It took longer than I expected to get to Napier. There were a few obstacles.
I expected Napier to be a sort of art deco Santa Barbara, but it’s probably more like Santa Cruz. Without the boardwalk. And with gravel beaches. And it’s really only a little art decoey. There are some art deco buildings, but a lot of it’s just lettering on signs and that sort of thing. Nice enough beach town, but overbilled by the guidebooks.
Right now I’m sitting on a downtown pedestrian street leeching wifi from one of the hotels (I think). It’s 6:30 in the morning and quite pleasant, but I have to hit the road. There are thermal wonders to see.