Friday, April 14, 2006

Day 6 - Rotorua to Taupo

Day 6 was hot, very hot. With the weather being so unpredictable in NZ this was a pleasant surprise to us when we arose this morning. Unfortunately Day 6 was also a travel day, albeit with a few stop-offs along the way.

Our first point of call took us in the opposite direction to which we needed to go. Okere Falls is part of the Okere Scenic reserve, it has some spectacular rapids and as such is a great attraction for canoeists. Neither myself or Kate are canoeists (although Kate has had her fair share of white water rafting), and we just chose to watch the fools being carried down the rapids like twigs. White water rafting schools operate here and it can be pot luck as to whether you'll see anyone on the river when you go, we were lucky and managed to snap a couple of nice photos before moving on.

To be fair today wasn't much of a travel day really as Taupo wasn't that far away from Rotorua, in fact it's less than a 2 hour drive but you could spend a pretty full day stopping at attractions on route.

We wanted to stop at 2 places along the way, Huka Falls and Craters of the Moon. We'd planned to stop at Craters of the Moon first as it seemed to be the closest, however it eluded us for a while and our next port of call took us to a place which we thought might have been Craters but it turned out to be something completely different. After following the directions we found in the Rough Guide we ended up at a place which looked a little bit like somebody's back garden, which just happened to have some geothermal activity in it. I forget the name of the place but we chose to do a walk around it anyway($12 each), and probably regretted it in some ways. Yes it was a thermal park, but it paled in comparison to what we had already seen. It needed a bit of love and attention to bring it up to the standards of everywhere else, and there really was nothing special to see hear.

Of course we did manage to get a couple of nice photos.

By the time we had finished the walk (about 1 hour), we were feeling pretty hot and sweaty in the hot sun so it was time to cool down at Huka Falls.

Huka Falls is primarily a hydro-electricity generation facility, but you wouldn't know it to look at it. Bright blue watter hurtles beneath you at 220, 000 litres per second as you stand on the bridge which spans it. Bright blue is not an understatment either, this water is the most unnatural looking blue you've ever seen. Apparently it's not artificial colouring though it's something to do with trapped oxygen and extreme pressure. I say it still looked like somebody had tipped a pot of blue paint into it.

Underneath all this natural beauty are the turbines for the powerstation itself but you really can't tell. Originally the powerstation was built to provide power to a local hotel but this expanded to supply power to the whole area after it was discovered just how much power could be resourced from the natural energies of this powerful river.

For the adventurous the infamous Hukajet can be found a couple of miles downstream. These high speed jet boats offer its thrill-seeking passengers a high-octane impression of the Huka River, taking you right upto the base of the falls. Great fun, but we chose not to do this activity here as we had planned to do it somewhere else much later on in the holiday.

After leaving Huka Falls it was a short journey to Craters of the Moon. Yes we finally found it.

Entry to Craters is free, but the park is completely run by volunteers and they do greatly appreciate donations. The park is well kept and managed and is well worth a few dollars.

The walk here takes 1.5 to 2 hours and there is hardly any shelter, so if like us you do it on a day which has the sun baking down on you make sure you have both a hat and some water.

The pathways here are well-formed throughout the park, and many of them are elevated to keep your feet away from the incredibly hot ground. Do not stray from the paths, this is an active geothermal park and if you go where you are not meant to at best you may end up with a burnt sole, at worst you could finish your days in the bottom of a crater after a unnexpected eruption.

Named for its other-worldly atmosphere, Craters of the Moon sprang up in the 1950s, when the nearby power station lowered underground water levels. It really is just like walking through a barren lunar-landscape, which just happens to be smouldering.

There is a nice, but slightly arduous climb to the top of a hill here which really shows off the devastation of the area. It's spectacular and scary at the same time, especially when you notice the new areas where they have cleared the bush away to make way for new eruptions.

Hot once again we returned to the car and headed straight into Taupo to find our B&B for the night. Here we'd pre-booked ourselves into a B&B which is run by a couple who came from our home town of Bournemouth, so we were very much looking forward to meeting them.

Swanmore B&B can be found in Acacia Bay, Taupo and is run by Elizabeth and Stuart Smith. They are lovely people and we spent a while having an enjoyable chat with them about back home and NZ. They were currently trying to sell their home to move up to Auckland but they'd had very few parties interested. This came as a surprise to us as we sat upon their rooftop balcony looking out over Lake Taupo. It's a beautiful place to live.

After settling ourselves in we headed out into Taupo itself. Again there are lots of things to do here but it was getting very late in the afternoon and we chose just to take it easy for the rest of the day.

We went and viewed the lake itself for a while. Lake Taupo is pretty, and feels a little bit like you are looking out onto a sea (it's vast). Here you can do tours and excursions out onto the lake, one in particular (Barbary), takes you out on a sailboat to view the maori rock carvings. Now you might be thinking that these carvings are of ancient and historical origins, they are not, in fact they were carved into the rocks in the late 1970's. There are a few myths about why they sit where they do, the most famous is that they were carved by Maori carvers who had recently graduated from carving school. The purpose was to protect Lake Taupo from any negative activities that may go on underneath. Why these myths exist who knows, something that was built in 1979 must surely have been commisioned as unlike grafitti these things must've taken time to hack into the rockface.

You can also vist the carvings by canoe, but again time was not on our side for any of these activies so from looking out at the lake we headed into the town itself.

Taupo town is a pleasant little place which serves both tourists and locals alike with just enough shops and restaurants for both. It was a busy little place too so we did a quick tour of restaurants that our hosts had recomended and then made a booking for fear that we would miss out on a meal that evening! We chose Pimentos Restaurant on Tamamutu St.

Our booking wasn't until 7:30 so we killed a little more time first of all in an internet cafe (there are plenty of these in Taupo), and then we had a lovely stroll along the shoreline of Lake Taupo.

Our meal that night was amazing. It was our first taste of proper New Zealand lamb in the form of slow roast shanks. It was awesome (oops there I go again), and the meat was so tender it just fell off the bone. In fact it's not just us that liked Pimentos, check out some more reviews here.

If you find yourself in Taupo you just have to find the time to go to Pimentos.


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