BOWL OF FLAMES

I’ve written 67 blogs since establishing this blog site a year ago. Of course, writing so much material involved many hours of research.

I felt I had a good knowledge of all things New Zealand so was surprised to recently find a report buried away in the BBC online travel section. It told the story of the Natural Flames Experience. Since this never appeared in any of the material I had researched, I was curious. Sure enough, I went online and unearthed the fascinating facts about this little known natural phenomenon that flickers deep in a forest near the town of Murchison.

BIRTH OF THE FLAMES

In 1922 two local farmers were hunting deep in the bush behind the west coast town of Murchison when they smelt gas. In a moment of madness, as the story goes, they lit a match and with a deep “boom” the Natural Flames burst into life and have been flickering in their damp hideaway ever since!

When Merve & Shirley Bigden arrived in Murchison in 2004, they heard about these ‘flames in the forest’ but thought the locals were having a joke at their expense! After a few months of hearing the same story, the Bigdens decided to take a trip into the rain forest to see if the flames were indeed a reality.

During their hour’s trek they encountered native birds including bellbirds, tuis, tomtits, fantails and robins. With the bush now dense around them, Merve and Shirley stopped to gaze in wonder at a circle of flames flickering on the floor of the forest, surrounded by ferns and shielded from above by beech trees.

Despite the long walk to get to the flames, they saw potential in the phenomenon as a tourist attraction.  Although they had lived and worked in four different continents, they had never seen anything quite so magical. Here was something they were sure would help put Murchison ‘on the map.’ They started with small groups and before long, they had designed the four hour “Natural Flames Experience” This involves a 15km drive from Murchison including passing through a deer farm, followed by the 2.4km trek through the dense bush.  During this trek, the tour guide points out fascinating facts about the unique New Zealand forest (called “bush” by kiwis). There is a special sweet odour that permeates the air, caused by rotting ferns. Food and equipment is provided to utilize the cooking ability of the flames. Tourists now make ‘billy’ tea over the flames and cook pancakes, eaten with bush-honey while they soak up the atmosphere of this magical spot, undisturbed except for bird song.

Natural Flame Experience (BBC image)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a5Dv2o1em8M

If this small circle of flames was located anywhere else, it would not have the same attraction. There is something strange and indeed, unique about continuous flames flickering in a deep, damp forest floor.

OTHER ETERNAL FLAMES

There are at least nine other spots around the world where eternal flames burn from natural gas. Yanatas onTurkey’s Mount Olympus, has dozens of small fires that have burnt continuously for over 2,500 years from gaps in the rock. These little flames were bright enough to once guide sailors at night. Below the fires are the ruins of the temple of  Hephaestus, the Greek god of fire and son of Zeus and Hera. He was the blacksmith to the gods and provided all the weapons for them.

Yanatas

Another famous eternal flame burns at India’s Jwalamukhi Temple in the Himachal Pradesh town of Jwalamukhi. Every year, thousands of pilgrims bring gifts of sweets, milk and fruit because they regard the flames as a deity.

Jwalamukhi TempleEternal Flame at Jwalamukhi Temple

The Brennender Berg (‘Burning Mountain’) is a coal seam in Saarland, Germany that first ignited in 1688 and has been burning ever since.  It is believed to have started by spontaneous combustion. In 1770, the famous poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe visited Brennender Berg and wrote about his encounter with the burning mountain: “Dense steam arose from the crevices and we could feel the hot ground even through the thick soles of our shoes.”

Brennender Berg Flames

UNIQUELY NEW ZEALAND

Geologically and culturally, New Zealand is a young country, and has no equivalent to the classical ruins of antiquity. It does however, have its ancient bush, birds and landscape. The “flames in the forest” is a natural one-of-a-kind attraction because nowhere else in the world do flames burn undisturbed in the middle of thick, uninhabited bush. They allow the visitor a chance to walk through lush beech forest and soft moss until they happen suddenly upon them. They stand in admiring silence as they gaze down and wonder at the power of unseen forces deep in the earth.

Ceidrik Heward

 

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