New Zealand is full of fantastic and mysterious creatures. No orcs or elves as we can see in Lord of the Rings but for example, the strange Kiwi or the Tawaki (also known as the Fiordland Penguin). The Tawaki is not only cute but also unique among penguins because they build their nests deep beneath lush rainforest.
Some of these creatures are hidden. If you go into a cave and turn off your lamp you may see the lights of thousands of glow-worms. There, in the dark, I had the feeling to be outside, looking at the stars. An experience I highly recommend in Abbey caves near Whangarei. You can still go into the cave for free and you can stay as long as you want without a huge crowd around.
Among the diversity of beautiful landscapes I could see in New Zealand it was the one shaped by the geothermal activity that was the most surprising to me. It is magical to observe geysers, hot pools, boiling mud and an extraordinary variety of color all around.
Some of the striking colors in hot springs and terraces are from inorganic minerals in the soil but others are due to microscopic living creatures.
The study of the microorganisms living at these extreme temperatures and conditions led to the discovery of very useful enzymes and other molecules used every day for diagnostic and pharmaceutical purposes. Some of the success stories made possible by extremophiles are the thermostable DNA polymerases used in the polymerase chain reaction to amplify DNA, the process of making biofuels, and carotenoids used in the food and cosmetic industries. Other potential applications include making lactose-free milk; the production of antibiotics, anticancer, and antifungal drugs. Their potential is undeniable and the topic remains particularly “hot”.