From Waihi Beach we had an easy drive down to Rotarua. The town is one of New Zealand's premier tourist attractions because of the geothermal activity in the area. The drive down was pretty dull and we had rain almost all of the way. We both realised that we had colds starting which added to the gloom. We perked up slightly when we arrived at Rotarua and stopped at a small park which has thermal activity. We took a walk around the park marvelling at the bubbling pools of mud and the plumes of steam coming from everywhere. This is pretty much the only thing you can do for free in Rotarua, which I quickly came to realise is the Queenstown of the North Island, so we were glad to happen upon it. Because of our colds and the weather, neither of us really fancied doing much more so we found a van park and booked in.
The park was right by Lake Rotarua, although out of the town itself at Ngongotaha. The lake was formed in the crater left by a volcanic eruption. Nearby Lake Taupo was formed in the same way. Lake Taupo was our next destination. In the morning we drove down to Waiotapu Thermal Wonderland. It was hard to decide to go there. Because of all of the geothermal activity in the area there are many different places to see, all with different features, most with a similar entrance price. But being on a budget we settled on Waiotapu because of the write up in the guidebook. I had quite fancied Hell's Gate, of which George Bernard Shaw said, ‘I wish I had never seen the place, it reminds me too vividly of the fate theologians have promised me.’ We had to pick out one place though, and so Waiotapu was it. We arrived quite early to a mercifully empty car park and set about doing the walk round the ‘wonderland’. The walk took us past various different pools and interesting features; steaming pits, boiling mudpools, mineral terraces of varying colour and massive craters. Down the road there is the Lady Knox Geyser which erupts every day, with the help of a packet of soap, at 10:15. We arrived in the very busy geyser car park and took a seat in the amphitheatre, feeling glad that we’d done the walks early. A guy with a microphone explained a bit about the geyser and why they use the soap-like substance to start it off whilst the geyser was foaming and getting ready to erupt. There was quite a jet when it erupted and it continued to spurt a fair volume of water into the air for some time. Back in the van I was glad we were going the opposite way to the rest of the departing vehicles.
Nearer to Taupo we stopped at another geothermal area, The Craters of the Moon. This one was run by the Department of Conservation and a volunteer trust and was much cheaper. Although it didn’t have quite the same range of features as Waiotapu, it was just as enjoyable. It’s a wild heathland, pockmarked with steaming craters. We took a slow walk round the, marvelling at how the ground underneath us could be so hot, whilst we were shivering in the biting wind.
Just over the highway from the Craters of the Moon is the Huka Falls road, and the falls of the same name, although they are, perhaps, misnamed. The water doesn’t so much fall as get forced through a narrow rock channel. The river is lovely though, a beautiful turquoise colour. Nearby we made our coffee stop at the Honey Hive. As the name suggests this is a shop selling honey related products, amongst other things. After coffee I took a look at their glass enclosed hives, tasted some honeys and bought a couple of bottles of honey beer.
We’d picked out a van park in advance, De Bretts Thermal Resort and so went there next. Our colds were making us both feel pretty ill. Staying at the De Bretts Resort gave us discounted entry to Taupo Hot Springs, on the same site. Thinking that a dip in mineral-rich thermal pools might help our colds we took advantage of the discount. It was lovely. The outdoor pools are of various temperatures, so we alternated between them for a while before taking a private pool. I felt a little better afterwards so perhaps the pools did have a therapeutic effect.
The night was freezing cold and both Gemma and I felt woolly headed in the morning, partly from not sleeping properly and partly from the colds which hadn’t disappeared after the mineral bathing. We considered booking in for another night at Taupo but decided to soldier on. We made a brief foray into the Tongariro National Park, mainly to look at Mount Ruapehu and Mount Ngauruhoe, both active volcanoes and both used as Mount Doom in the Lord of the Rings films. As so often happens the mountains were unfortunately shrouded in cloud. We took a short but steep walk up the hillside next to the visitors centre in Whakapapa. The cloud round the mountains didn’t lift but the walk was well worth it to escape the traffic noise below, it being replaced by birdsong.
Neither of us felt much like a big drive so we turned in for the day at the small town of Ohakune, which has the twin pleasure of being both New Zealands après ski and carrot capital. The sun was shining so we took the 2 minute walk through the bush to town, getting lost and doing a much longer loop walk. I’m glad we took the wrong turning though, because the walk through the native forest was very nice. We missed having a dog with us. Eventually we found the town which was quite small and also quite pretty.