Saturday, 19 January 2019

Day 18 -20 Tongariro National Park

17th Jan.
Mid 20’s sunny.

Taxi down to the station to catch the train to Tongariro National Park and Chateau Tongariro - our first (and only) posh hotel. There are others at the station, phew! After a long wait - delayed by an hour - sound familiar? We take our allotted seats and find ourselves sat next to an lovely elderly French couple, Frederick and Claire, escaping the Parisian winter. They speak perfect English but on finding we speak (a little) french, immediately revert to french as it is a rest for them. After discussing Brexit and Macron, and in the light of les gilets jaunes,  they ask Graham what he would change about the French system. Oh heck, where do we start? Break the unions, decrease cost of employment, simplify the tax system, oh what a merry hour we passed. Carol looks out of the window.

We passed through a rural station where the employee of the week was allowed to greet us - or was it a punishment for the least performing employee? - either way this is what they looked like...

Views from the train were lovely, and then from the shuttle bus, the view of our hotel comes into view, with the majestic volcanic Mount Ruapehu ( 2,797 m, 9,174 ft ) in the background - thumbs up from Claire.

Chateau Tongariro was built in the 1920’s and has the air of a once very grand hotel which is in need of some renovation. However, it is very comfortable and the service is excellent. Sadly what looks to be an old grass bowling area and small golf course are now totally run down but do provide a nice walking area.

Views the other way showed Mount Tongariro (1,968m, 6,455 ft ) and Mount Ngauruhoe (2,291m, 7,514 ft )
Both Mount Ruapehu and Mount Ngauruhoe are active volcanos. Mount Ngauruhoe last erupted in 1996. There are signs on buildings with eruption escape guidance - thankfully the hotel is deemed a safe area.

Views of  Ngauruhoe and Tongariro frim the hotel grounds.
It was 3pm, and because we had coffee and cake on the train we’d skipped lunch, so it was a nice surprise to have a complimentary cream tea.


Our room - a cut above what we’re used to.

 A short walk and a stroll round the grounds followed by a sauna and a swim for Graham and a long soak in a full size bath for Carol and then dinner. Lovely old dining room with proper service. We choose monkfish in fish chowder with asparagus and squid ink gnocchi and a really nice bottle of wine, and then breadgate happens. Graham asks for a bread roll to mop up the chowder. Waitress scurries off... chef says no... How about some wholemeal bread then? more scurrying... chef says no, no wholemeal. White or focaccia. Focaccia then please. It is horrible. We eat some but only because we asked for it. Other people looked to be having nice bread which we later discover is a $15 extra on the a la carte menu (we’re on the table d’hote)

Tongariro National Park is a ski resort in winter, and a hiking destination in summer. There is a famous Tongariro Alpine Trail, an arduous 18.5kms (8+ hours) hike with spectacular views across volcanic craters. Often described as THE best one day hike in NZ. A whole industry of shuttle buses and hostels has developed to service the hikers. There are longer circular walks across all the summits which take days, hiker’s resting huts are scattered amongst the mountainsides.

Next day, lovely breakfast and then off for a nice walk - 6kms, through forest, turrock (scrub) and rock - about 2+hours round trip to a waterfall. ( Carol’s phone app says 9.3 kms and 16,000 steps at the end!)

The Taranaki Falls plunge over old lava flow from a previous eruption that occured thousands of years ago!

Mountain now obscured by clouds

Weather was very changeable - sunshine start, drizzle higher up, and then sunshine again when we got down. We decide to eat our packed  lunch in a small nature walk close to the hotel by a stream. We had requested a packed lunch prepared by the hotel - it was enormous - 2 rounds of sandwiches each, 2 bananas each, a large bag of trail mix, 2 large bottles of water each, barley sugars and first aid plasters - we left 1 of the lunches in the room fridge - that’s our picnic lunch for tomorrow sorted. Obviously the hotel thought we were doing THE day trail!

The scenery is superb - not surprising to hear that scenes from Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit and  Lord of the Rings films were filmed in the National Park area.
Another sauna and swim and then time for dinner. This time we go for a cheaper white - Cloudy Falls, which is very nearly as good but $15 cheaper which allows Graham a glass of cab sauv with his steak. Tonight the dinner is stupendous, beetroot smoked salmon followed by beef fillet with beef cheek, cauliflower puree, potatoes. It was cooked to perfection. (Another review by GT bon viveur extraodinaire!)

Sat 19th Jan.
20 degrees, sunny.

Saturday we do a little shopping at the excellent tourist information centre before catching the shuttle to the station.

A fantastic mural outside the tourist centre.

There is a brilliant little cafe next to the platform, but independent of the station, which appeared to be used by locals as well as tourists, the meals and cake selections looked delicious. We enjoyed a proper coffee sitting in the sun overlooking the platform. Probably the nicest station cafe ever. We are really looking forward to the 5 hr scenic railway journey which we’ve been told is spectacular.

Rumour is it that the train is being replaced by a bus. Denied by our shuttle driver, but believable as Fred and Claire had earlier told us that their train ( due in 2 days) is now going to be a bus.

While we wait for the train due just after 1pm, Megan the shuttle bus driver (who also does the Alpine Trail shuttle), and is here to pick up arriving passengers, gets a call asking for advice. A hiker on the trail has twisted an ankle and cannot walk - telephone the police is her reply, and let the helicopter deal with it. The helicopter is a free service she tells us. You pay for ambulances but not for helicopters. 

The train eventually rolls in, one carriage short. It seems that one carriage is broken and everyone catching the train after Auckland  is going by bus, including us. Fantastic! - Six hours on a coach. Our longed for ( and paid for) scenic journey of a lifetime ruined. The train manager explained to us, a couple from Sheffield, a couple from Sweden and a young man from Manchester with a bike, that we would be refunded our money, apologising to us as we stood on the platform with our luggage, forlornly watching the train pull away with the lucky Auckland passengers crowding the observation carriage leaving about 30 empty seats through various carriages flaunting their luck! 

What seemed like an age later a bus arrived - not the most modern of the fleet, to transport us to Wellington. The picnic lunch we had taken with us did not have the same appeal huddled on the worn bus. After a 30 mins regulatory stop for the driver en route we arrived in Wellington just after 7pm - the drizzly misty weather that greeted us matching our mood.
So we passed on walking the streets of Wellington and after checking in, headed for the hotel bar to drown our sorrows....bloody Kiwirail.

Tomorrow is another day and we’re flying to the South Island!

Thursday, 17 January 2019

Day 15 to 17 Rotorua to Hamilton.

Mon 14 th Jan.
Pouring down - around 18 degrees

Today we head off back up to Rotorua. Managing to wake early we hastened to depart our studio in the rain and hurried on to an attraction which only happens every couple of hours...

We drive to the car park at the lock gates of the Aratiatia dam. Getting out of the car to enquire if we were in the right place - it was confirmed as a stampeed of wet, bedraggled raincoat wearing, and one swimsuit wearing, persons hurried past our car in the direction of a pathway with a sign proclaiming “5 mins to lower viewpoint, 8 mins to upper viewpoint”. It was 9:53. Yikes, which one? We hastened to put on our raingear and Graham shot off like a mountain goat with Carol muttering slower behind, up along a narrow steep slippery path. 

We both managed to arrive at the lower viewing point in good time  ( tortoise and the hare? - C) before a shrill whistle announced the 10 am event.... the opening of the dam enough to flood the dry waterfalls and rapids and lower river section as it would have been before the dam altered the view of the natural enviroment.

View of the dam and waterway from the viewing platform before...

And after... The Aratiatia rapids! Not really as dramatic as we hoped but at least it got us up and out.

After 10- 15 mins the dam closed and that was that.  This happens only 4 times a day. It must rain a great deal to service these things... and today is one of those days...

We continued on to Rotorua the intoxicating eggy smell drawing ever nearer as we approached the city.

After popping in to the tourist office to see what there is to do in Rotorua on a rainy day, along with hoards of other mostly younger outdoor looking types, we discovered the only place - the famed Rotorua museum was closed.... due to earthquake damage sustained in 2016. There is a cinema showing Mary Poppins - ( please no...- G) if we get desperate.

We drove on to the impressive Lake Rotorua and had our picnic lunch in the car (against the car hire rules - we wound down the windows so we were almost outside!)
The local birdlife enjoyed our crusts - including this colourful chap... a pukeko.

We then ambled around a supermarket to waste time before checking in to our motel at just after 2pm avoiding the 3pm cinema agony for Graham.

The motel is tucked away down a side street very close to the town centre. All good other than the sulphur eggy smell is enhanced by the fact the motel uses the spring water for heating, and also has a lovely bright green hot spring water filled dipping pool which the proud owner explains is good for so many ailments especially skin complaints. Not sure Carol will risk it though....
On entering our room Carol promptly lit a couple of scented travel candles ( thanks kids!) and settled into the room on the recliner chair for a snooze. Graham siezing the opportunity of a break in the weather took himself off for a stroll.

And a very nice stroll it was. Rotorua is flanked by a large lake. On one side, called Sulphur Point, hot springs and acid, but as you go round you pass some wetlands, (which I guess is whence our blue friend came on a foraging trip) and then on to a park area where children feed ducks, and finally to the quay for pleasure boats and seaplanes. 

Tues 15th Jan.
Cloudy, rain promised and 18 degrees.

A leisurely start to the day, the picnic packed ( Graham is in picnic heaven so far on this trip!) and off to walk the boardway around Lake Okareka. After the usual false start trying to set off from the wrong part of the lake.
We drove on and soon found the entrance - the walkway is a 5.5 km trip there and back along the nature reserve part of the lake.
It was delightful.

We spotted many a Tui - it’s song sounds like R2D2! - but getting a photo was a different matter as they are a bit shy, and a bit quick. One on NZ’s native birds it has that shimmery green/blue/black colour that looks different in different light, with a white fluffy bit under it’s neck.
All our photos were rubbish - so here’s a soft toy we bought as a souvenir (it even makes a call when squeezed!)

An other wading bird also again proved easy to see and less easy to photograph.This one had a call louder than it’s size suggested accompanied by impressive head bobbing. A pied stilt.

There were cormorants, ducks of various sorts, little herons, glebes, black swans, yellow hammers, fantails - birder heaven!
The scenery was stunning and the sun tried to shine.

A great place for a picnic.

Glimpses of waterlilies through the trees

And on the hillsides our first real glimpse of New Zealand Sheep

What you looking at haven’t you seen a sheep before ?!

And on the way back to the boat launching area the arrival of a tourist group with a difference....

Before we headed out for an evening out we both braved the sulphury bright green dipping pool. We were advised to remove all jewellery as it would turn black.It was hot bathwater hot!!
A notice on the wall declared it was a cure all for everything from impetigo to menopausal problems.Carol hoped it would cure her unsightly drying sunburnt back. However  a notice also warned us not to put our heads under as certain amoebic thingys could cause meningitis! We both shot out the pool and showered thoroughly.

Graham just before we read the other notice.

Tonight is one of Carol’s highlights - a west end show. We are picked up and taken to a reconstructed Maori village for a demonstration of Maori life in days gone by. Unlike the Fijians, Maoris now prefer suburbia to their villages, but still pass down the old traditions and language.

Yes it was very  touristy as our guide Manu showed us around the reconstructed Maori village and showed us the sacred spring reverred
by this particular tribe. But the land is owned by a local Maori family who are keen to ensure that the ancient Maori skills and traditions are not forgotten. We watched the warriors come down the stream in a boat.

As part of the role play one of our group volunteered to be Chief of our tribe and undertook a ceremony where he received a peace offering from the Maori chief and made a speech on the group’s, sorry, tribe’s behalf. 

The Chief  greeting us and giving us information re his tribe.
We were then given a demonstration of Maori warrior weapon skills, traditional music and dance. The participants sang with power and pride and created a lovely sound. It cumulated in the Haka - again powerful but not as intimidating as the “All Blacks”. Carol was quite moved by the whole performance whilst Graham found it difficult to suspend his natural cynicism... 

Note quite a few of the women have a chin tattoo “moko” - it represents the move to female adulthood. More Māori women are having traditional tattoos as a sign of renewed pride in their heritage. We have seen many women with them as we travel through the area.
Not sure what the men’s tattoos represent.

We then had a traditional meal, the Hangi - which was like a massive roast dinner with the meat cooked underground for 4hrs. Although a buffet it was very tasty, seafood chowder, followed by chicken and lamb with stuffing, potatoes, sweet potatoes, salad, rice, some potato and creamy spinach dish accompanied by gravy and mint sauce! There were several desserts also but we couldn’t manage them.
(Not like the two girls from Nevada sat next to us who definitely had sweet teeth).

The Hangi ready to serve.

After we had eaten our fill  we were escorted through the village into the Rainbow Springs nature reserve by a park ranger who spookily resembled the Masterchef legend Monica Galetti in both looks and voice. As we walked she explained how the Maoris use the underside of Silver Ferns to aid tracking as it reflects light - the cleverer ones rub the underside in their hands to make almost a powder and use that. The Silver Fern is the emblem of New Zealand although informally it is that rotund bird with the long beak.  
We passed by a few glow worms but hope we will be treated to a much better show when we visit the South Island.
We entered the reserve and saw an enormous viewing tank of the biggest trout we have ever seen. Trout is not allowed to be farmed in New Zealand but can be caught in the rivers for personal consumption only with a license.
We also saw a local lizard called a Tuatara.

But the highlight of our visit was to see Kiwis! And we saw 2 of these unique nocturnal creatures - both will remain in captivity due to health problems, but this is a breeding reserve where they have a 65 % success rate of releasing the birds into the wild. 
The ranger explained that in the wild the success rate of birds surviving is 5%! Apparently the female is responsible only for laying the egg - the size of a 35 lb equivalent baby! After doing that job she clears off never to be seen again... The male then incubates the egg for about 80 days - after which he leaves the egg on its own for 5 days to hatch and returns to sit with the hatched chick for about another 5 days and then also clears off leaving the chick to get on with it -  never to return.. You can see why the survival rate!
Apparently the chick embryo is attached to a placenta inside the egg via an umbilical cord attached to its belly button. At the appropriate time the Kiwi scratches it off.

The Kiwis resembled a giant furry hedgehog ( the size of a large chicken/small turkey) with what looks to be a  long beak and strong legs - it thudded along as it ran in the enclosure  - not the delicate little bird we had imagined! Apparently because it’s nostrils are so far down it’s beak it has the smallest beak in the bird world?!

Wed 16 Jan
Overcast low 20s

Easy drive to Hamilton today, only an hour an a half to pick up train tomorrow morning which will take us across the mountainous Tongariro National Park to a posh hotel. So we take the drive easy, pulling over to let cars and lorries past. 3/4 the way there we turn off to a rest stop signposted as a dam. We spy what looks like a regatta in the distance so we mosey down, driving on a single track road across the dam and find a massive boat race going on with thousands of cars parked, canoes on roofs. We park up ($5) and head on down.

There are stall selling teeshirts, hot dogs, coffee, massages, and all manner of sporting gear. We ask and it is a national Waka-ama competition spread over a week. Teams from all over NZ come and race for medals and a place in the world championships. Waka-ama is a 6 person canoe with one outrigger where the paddlers have a single blade paddle. It’s a testing course, about 400 metres 4 times - up, turn round, back down, turn round, up again, final turn and back down. Today is the 13 to 16 year olds, tomorrow 16 to 18 and so on to the weekend for the adults and individual races.

From the looks of things the competitors were over 90% Maori.

We stop at a stall selling mussel fritters. We imagine a cone of freshly cooked tempura battered mussels and then remember we are in NZ. Nothing as sophisticated. Its mashed up mussels mixed up in a thick pancake batter and fried on a hot plate and served on a slice of white bread. You can make it more palatable with chilli or garlic sauces. The kind lady lets us try some and we promise to spread the word. So there you go and here they are.

Our tester being made.

As we have to return the hire car at 4pm we take our leave and arrive in Hamilton where we have a late picnic in the Hamilton Gardens. These were once the site of a refuse tip but now have been transformed into parklands with a lake and several individual gardens reflecting styles across the world: English Garden, Indian, Italian Renaissance, Japanese, Chines, Tropical, Experimental, it goes on and on. There are beautiful and amazingly, they are free - Here’s a few

We then headed off into central Hamilton to drop off the car. Downtown Hamilton is a laid back affair - the usual rows of shops with overhead sheltered walkways. It seems all efforts go in to creating beautiful gardens and less so in town planning.. 

Before we did so we went to the railway station to doublecheck re tickets for tomorrow... the railway station did not sit proudly in the city centre as most around the world but in a trading estate off centre - it looked rather forlorn as we approached just 1 car in the car park - it was shut! Looks like it only services the tourist train which does not pass through daily.

As we filled up with petrol the attendant - they still have these! - explained that there is very little public transport in New Zealand - when he first arrived he had to hire a bike to get around and you cannot get anywhere without some form of personal transport. 

We overnighted in a fab studio appartment which even had a washer/dryer and a free portion of washing powder! So welcome into our 3rd week of travel.
We ate in a local Italian restaurant - food and atmosphere like ones from the 60’s and 70’s - in fact so far New Zealand feels like we’ve time travelled back a few decades!
Tomorrow we catch the Northern Explorer train down to the National Park. Can’t wait.... 


Sunday, 13 January 2019

Day 10 to 14, Bay of Plenty - Taupo, New Zealand

25 deg sun and cloud

We’ve changed from weeks to days now (the title). There’s just too many photos for a weekly update.

Kia ora - Welcome to New Zealand.

We arrive into Aukland airport. This is a shock after Fiji. After collecting baggage, 6 lanes of inspection and xray machines. Warning boards flash “Last Chance to Declare” “Last Amnesty Chance before Fines”. New Zealand is strict on bringing in anything foreign: food, plants, insects. We ask if a half eaten bag of peanuts is Ok? Yes, comes the reply. They’re after the real criminals, the ones with sand in their shoes or a stolen pine cone.

We collect the car - Toyota Corolla - and set off to the Eastern Cape. It’s busy, very busy, and not just in Auckland. It’s not what we were expecting (roads without fences, only car on the road, the odd sheep in the way). No. It seems the traffic explosion has overtaken road building. The road we take is mostly single carriageway with overtaking stretches on the hills and is full of large lorries. The towns are not by-passed so each town we encounter has large queues to enter whilst people turn right, park up, stop for pedestrians etc. whilst behind the queue to enter the town gets longer and longer.

We arrive after 7 hours (should have taken 4 1/2) after a couple of stops and a supermarket run and are shown to our studio room overlooking Ohiwa harbour. Now this is more like it. Views as far as you can see; mountains to the left, tidal harbour in front, and Pacific Ocean to the right. We do nothing but open a bottle and drink in the views, and watch worm wars. Three black oystercatchers gang up on a little dotteril (I think) who had just turned up a big worm. The dotteril tried to swallow it whilst running but couldn’t manage it and had to drop it to avoid a pecking. Dejected, he goes back to hunt for another.

View from our terrace (tide in - the blob in the middle is a kite surfer)

View at sundown of Whale Island.

Another view of the bay

Fri 11th Jan.
27 degrees and sunny.

The next day is a chill day. We drive into Opotika,  which no-one understands when we say it (evidently it’s Optka) for provisions and get a feel. The towns we’ve passed through are, how can we put it, shanty? wild west frontier? Houses look like park homes, streets are in a grid and lined with single storey (two at most) shops with shaded walkways underneath, parking outside the shops with built out pedestrian crossings. 

Optka is a lot nicer. Same layout but some older buildings. We park outside the town museum and go in. It is big. The biggest building in town. It was very interesting and enlightening. Lots of old pictures of early settlers, tools they used, how the town developed. Interesting, given how remote it is.

The town was basically settled by soldiers. What happened was: after a few minor skirmishes by Maoris which were tolerated, some out of town Maoris rebelled and killed a missionary, Reverend Volkner. This galvanised the Government into action and they sent a ship of soldiers (no roads in the 1800’s) to seek retribution. The guilty Maoris (not the local Optka lot) fled to the hills. Having no-one to fight, the Government offered the soldiers land to settle in for free - Maori land - that was the retribution - so many acres for a private, more for a sergeant, colonel etc. Most took up the offer, retired, and became settlers (and kept the peace). 

A few of the nicer Optka buildings which took our eye.

And a roundabout.

With a Maori carving at it’s centre.

We wandered around Optka and it seemed quite nice, in a shanty town kind of way. Carol shopped, back still in agony but won’t take any advice from the pharmacist - you know what nurses are like.

We also visited a gift shop - Maori owned - Carol was facinated by the shop assistant’s facial tattoos - but too shy to take a photo.
But did by some Manuka honey face cream- so expecting results!

 We visited the local supermarket and then drove back, stopping to look at the monument to the integration and development of the town which has been relocated to overlook a beach.

The beaches here are littered with driftwood. Tonnes of the stuff. As a backdrop all along the coast you will see this driftwood. A treasure trove for arty carpenters.

Birders Corner

(You can skip this bit if you like.)
According to the “Birds of the Eastern Bay of Plenty” written by the local club, we have seen of note: Australasian Harrier (one only), Fantail (chuffed about that one), Tui (liked him as well - very musical), Caspian Tern, Pied Stilt, Reef Heron, Variable Oystercatcher (black - very pink legs), North Island Fernbird, Northern NZ Dotteril, White-fronted Tern, Curlews, and also what looked like swallows.

Botany Corner.
It’s amazing that shrubs and plants we pay good money for in England grow in the bush and along the shoreline as wild as they come!
Hydrageas, Hebes, and Agapanthis,


Those orange lily like plants we’ve forgotten the name of...

And this is a Teatree bush - famous  for it’s antiseptic qualities

And the abundance of lovely ferns in all shapes and sizes.

After lunch at our lovely studio we walked to a Regional Park through a bush walk to a beach and back.

The bush walk was stunning. We passed an area where you could see gloworms but as it was not dark it was a no show.( we have booked a glow worm viewing trip in the South Island so fingers crossed we see a good display then)

  A view after the bush walk on the way to the beach

We finally reach the beach - Graham shed his togs and hit the sea just after this pic!
Carol sulked in the dunes nursing her sunburnt back - lesson learned -factor 30 just does not cut the mustard.

Saturday 12th January

26 deg or so, warm again!

We set off for Taupo. Contrary to a couple of days ago, the road is nice and quiet. It’s the same road but further down - so the same road name ( SH2) but  not the same stretch. Saturday - everyone at home? Anyway, this is more like we expected. It’s a nice drive to Taupo. Not stunning, but nice. Lots of forests and bumpy landscapes, hillocks I guess you’d call them.

...but no recycling points. Looking back on the bottles of beer and wine we consumed over 2 days we, or at least Graham, feels guilty about leaving them for Lindsey. Surely there will be recycling points at a supermarket or rest stop somewhere en route, but no. So this is strange - we thought NZ would be at the cutting edge for ecology and recycling but it appears not. Pick your own fruit and veg is wrapped in single use plastic, big V8 pickup trucks, and no recycling bins anywhere to be seen. Hmmm.

We break the journey at Hell’s Gate. No, not a motorcycle shop, but a geothermal hot springs visitor attraction.
Apparently named after comments said by a visiting George Bernard Shaw in 1900 - he said that this area must be the gateway to Hell in which his theologian colleagues said he would pass through if he did not change his atheist ways. The local Maori were so taken by him that from this time they allowed the area to be known in English as “Hells Gate”.

Geology Corner.
The main heat source driving the Hells Gate geothermal reserve is thought to be a magma spike that protrudes up from the Earth’s core. Over the top of this spike are a number of chambers of super heated steam under pressure along with a number of gases including carbon dioxide and hydrogen sulphide. These chambers allow the entrance of the water which is immediately flashed off into super heated steam which can have temperatures in excess of 300 degrees C. Above these steam chambers are a number of underground water reservoirs that are heated by the steam and surrounding ground heat.
The various pools on the surface are fed from the underground water reservoirs by way of cracks or fissures in the rock. The chemical properties of these pools differ due to the source of the surface water and the input of steam and gases from below, the material surrounding ,the underground reservoirs and the heat input.

The reservoir is a series of different pools and rock formations each omitting it’s own display of steam, bubbling pools, plopping mud of differing colours and the same eggy sulphur smell throughout which we believe we will have to get used to as it seems to linger throughout the local area!  Wonder if the receptionist has eggy sandwiches for his lunch packup?

This little volcano looking geyser spews out black mud almost constantly.

There’s lots of different pools with different names, some black and bubbly, some yellow and sulphury. One is called the cooking pot and can cook a whole pig in two hours. Evidently the smell of the pool doesn’t affect the cooking of the pig but its not on the menu in the café.

We passed by the Kakahi Falls - the largest natural hot water fall in the southern hemisphere. This is where warriors bathed to salve their battle wounds and remove the “tapu” of war. The signage had pictures of muscle bound young men doing their warrior stuff - Carol thought that to improve our experience real live warriors should recreate this.....well one can dream...

The falls sans warriors..

Just as we approached Taupo we saw the sign to Redwoods Whakarewarewa Forest. A great place for a picnic spot.
We picnicked under the ginormous redwood trees. The redwoods were imported from California along with lots of other species as a test to see which trees grew best in NZ. Logging is the number 1 export activity for NZ.

And then decided to go for the Redwoods Treewalk - a suspended walkway combining dozens of wooden or see through metal bridges between the century old trees.

Just about to commence the adventure

It was amazing looking down on the trees and ferns

Apparently you can visit at night when the treewalk is illuminated by designer lanterns suspended from the trees.

On to Taupo, our destination for the next 2 nights. Taupo looked daunting at first, a big resort round a huge lake (Lake Taupo), but the only bit we’re interested in is the long 2 mile stretch which borders the lake off which are boat hire, sailing clubs and swimming platforms. Park your car, walk 5 metres across the grass and go for a swim. It’s quite nice. We book in to our accomodation at about 6pm, which is only a stone’s throw away and make our way down near the dinghy sailing club, plonk ourselves on a bench and watch the world go by. 

We see a few blokes come down from the housing estate behind with dogs on leads. They unleash the dogs, strip off to their trunks and both go for a swim. This is walking the dog Taupo style. A family to our right is enjoying an afternoon lakeside, kids swimming, mum and dad in deckchairs, dog milling around and their son 250 metres away on the lake in a kayak, fishing. A few minutes later it’s time to go. Dad hollers to the son, no movement, hollers again, no movement. He dons a life jacket and starts swimming out. 50 metres, this is further than he thought. Starts hollering again - no response. More swimming, 100 metres out now hollering. No response. The yacht club safety boat thinks he’s in trouble and heads out, drags him aboard and then sets off for the kayak. Son has no option now but to be towed in. Straight to bed with no tea no doubt.

Sunday 13 January 

23 deg C. Cloudy - a bit cooler today.

Carol has again planned a full itinerary, walk to Huka Falls with a picnic, followed by a boat trip later afternoon. After a false start we find the correct starting place and set off. The start is where some hot springs join the river and then 4kms downstream the walk ends with a waterfall.

The walk is glorious (and warmer than it looks). An easy track alongside the river Waikato with fantastic views, tropical trees and a great soundtract of birds and insects - the sound is almost deafening. It takes about an hour after which there is a waterfall, rapids viewpoint.

We picnic at the rapids and watch a tourist boat take people up to the rapids as near as he dares for a photo before veering off and trying again. After about 3 goes they turn back and continue the cruise down river.

At the end of the return leg we reach the hot springs again. Quick change and in we go ( well Graham does, Carol continues to nurse her sunburn - but it is getting better....) 45 deg C - bath temperature gushing out of the side of the hill into the river.

Someone embracing the full shower experience in the bathwater hot waterfall at the top thermal pool.

Graham having a Timotei moment in the hot spring.

Sadly the area was far too well known in our opinion - the river section was teeming....

After a quick cuppa at our rental studio we head off to the marina for our boat tour.

We took off on a large motor catamarran to tour Lake Taupo - the biggest lake in Australasia - the same size as Singapore! Yes, Singapore! We don’t know how big that is either. Now, if they’d have said Wales... ( the guide book says it’s 600 sq km)
As we motored southwards on the lake we could see three mountains - which are actually volcanoes - Ruapehu, Tongariro and Ngauruhoe - we will be staying in the National Park near Tongariro in a few days time.

We took in the views and  headed for the famous maori rock carvings - 

At the side were other carvings done by local artists

A team of Maori artists spent 4 years on the works completed in 1980. The guide on our boat said that they wanted to leave a mark of their ancestors on the landscape beside the increasingly European looking lake. Although they succeeded, it has , like everything else on the Volcanic Plateau, become another tourist attraction. 

Tomorrow we head back up to Rotorua.. If I was a child, I would love to grow up in Taupo.