From the second largest to the largest Lake on the North Island, to the Twin Cities… onto the southernmost point of the North Island, through the ‘Paths of the Dead’ and then to the capital.
We spent the day in Rotorua town, wandering around the edge of the lake.
Rotorua is an area well known for its volcanic activity – specifically its mud pools, geysers and hot springs – not to mention the many health spas taking advantage of the natural minerals in the area…
We spent a couple of hours doing the regular camper van maintenance, before we headed to the area of geothermal pools, just south of Rotorua. Due to the poor weather, we decided not to explore outdoors much and instead settled in a picnic area to freedom camp that night.
Thankfully the weather cleared up for the morning, so we headed to Wai-O-Tapu (Maori for ‘sacred waters’) the thermal area. There are a lot of different volcanic landscapes in Wai-O-Tapu, including bubbling mud pools, the Lady Knox geyser and walking tracks which ran between different coloured pools.
I found it really interesting that the different colour springs were created by the natural elements present in the area – sulphur, carbon, arsenic(!?!) etc all in the earth… It was fascinating, but as with Rotorua, the sulphur smell was our constant companion… After more than two days in a highly volcanic area, and even with the on-and-off drizzle, I had a pretty bad headache brewing thanks to the smell – considering I used to get migraines just walking past strong perfume counters, I think I did pretty well lasting that long!
After lunch we headed to Taupo, and arrived by the afternoon, before we decided to rest up and plan our trips, and also – recover from some of the ill effects the sulphur seemed to have.
Lady Knox Geyser, at various stages of ‘induced’ eruption
Bubbling mud pools at Wai-O-Tapu
List of natural elements which cause the different coloured pools at Wai-O-Tapu
The Artist’s Palette pool
You can both feel and see the heat from the pools in Wai-O-Tapu
The vivid green sulphur pool at Wai-O-Tapu
After we had found the campsite to chill at overnight, we explored a bit more of the area.
Taupo is right next to Lake Taupo, the largest lake in New Zealand, and is about dead centre of the North Island – which was right on our (loose) schedule for travels.
Taupo is the shortened name, Taupō-Uni-a-Tia which means ‘the great cloak of Tia’, Tia being the Maori chief and explorer who discovered the lake.
All three of us were hoping to do the Tongariro crossing on one of the days we were around Taupo. So we took advantage of the library’s free WIFI (and plug sockets) to catch up on news, have a look at the weather and see what else in the area we could get up to, while waiting for good, or at least better, weather for the crossing.
The Tongariro crossing is almost 20km each way (with shuttle bus back around) but with it being winter the weather so far didn’t seem to be stable enough to risk it – and as Desi pointed out, it’s meant to be 7.5hrs walk, but as we walk at different paces, it could possibly take us longer.
Personally, I thought that we could leave it for a week or so (around the time we would be heading back up to drop the camper van in Auckland) and that way we’ll be slightly closer to ‘spring’ and therefore have a bit longer daylight hours to work with too…
Instead we stayed to the north of Taupo, and drove slightly along the Waikato River, to the area of the Huka Falls. We first visited the highest lookout over the falls, where you can see the clear blue water flowing into the Aratiatia Rapids before dropping to spray across the basin.
Huka Falls is a stunning area, and reading through the information from the look outs, it’s phenomenal…
Huka means ‘foam’ in Maori, because of the speed the water flows it is crystal blue before falling into white foam over the 11 metre drop. The water flows so fast it can fill an Olympic swimming pool in just over 10 seconds!
The view of the falls, from both close and afar is so dramatic, it’s not surprising that the Aratiatia Rapids were chosen by Peter Jackson to feature as the river the dwarves traveled in barrels on, in The Hobbit movie.
The Huka Falls, from the higher viewing platform
Aratiatia Rapids cascading into the Huka Falls
Aratiatia Rapids… imagine a dozen dwarves in barrels at this point!
In the afternoon we took one of the boat tours out on the lake. The tour was specifically to go and see the Maori carvings which face into the lake with limited access and must have been so difficult to complete…
The carvings themselves are rumoured to be ancient Maori carvings marking the site of an old Maori settlement, just above Mine Bay, however from the research they were created in the 1970s by Matahi Whakataka-Brightwell and Jonathan Randell. So although the carvings aren’t ancient, Matahi is a ‘master carver’ who completed his training (which took 10 years) with Maori elders. The carvings themselves have personal meaning for him, with his family coming from land at that part of the Lake, but also mark the split-culture in New Zealand.
The largest section of carving features the face of a Maori navigator, Ngatoroirangi, who led the Tuwharetoa and Te Arawa tribes to Taupo. Alongside this are two Celtic designs, which represent the southerly wind and a mermaid.
The cross-cultural carvings at Mine Bay
Ngatoroirangi carved at 10 metres tall
Close up of Ngatoroirangi
Out on Lake Taupo
We headed further south via the New Zealand Wine Trail to Napier, which is on the east coast, in the Hawke’s Bay region.
Napier is known for its art deco styled buildings, and though it was nice to wander around, we didn’t stay very long – stopping mainly at a really cute little Fish & Chip shop (which I genuinely think is run by the original owner, as some of the other diners told us that he had served all four generations of their family who were present, including when they most of them were still at school).
For the evening we walked along the promenade before driving out to the area known as Cape Kidnappers to set up camp…
Thankfully, Cape Kidnappers doesn’t live up to the second part of the name (although technically I’m not a ‘kid’ anymore…) and we had a brilliant view to wake up to from our shore-side stop off. We headed from Napier, to the second of ‘The Bay Cities’ (or Twin Cities) Hastings, and took a quick walk around the town and stopping for lunch, before continuing inland towards Masterton.
Then we drove onwards, through the ever-worsening weather, to our intended destination, Cape Palliser, which has the southern-most lighthouse on the north island, as well as being known for its fur seal colony.
I’m not going to lie, the end of our day driving along towards Cape Palliser was… daunting (to say the least)… not only had the weather decided to turn sour – and give us a downpour, but thad also turned dark, which wasn’t the best driving conditions for (what in New Zealand are referred to as) ‘unfinished roads’ – to you or I, gravel or stone chip. It also didn’t feel very encouraging when, as creeping slowly around the windy roads, I saw to the side the sign stating there had been a road washout…
We did make it to the bottom of the valley, and onto the right road for our free campsite for the night though – and after a close call with the mud, and much creeping over the ground, we settled in for the night.
Picture – Our morning view, after our night-stay in Cape Kidnappers
After staying overnight down the road from Cape Palliser, we were glad to see the rain had cleared for the morning, so we headed a few kilometres further down the road (with more gravel, washout areas and even a single-lane track with some shallow water running over it) to the lighthouse.
As you’d imagine, the lighthouse was at the top of a set of steps (it does need to be seen from a distance after all…) looking out over the bay, and we made it up all 254 to the top, and saw that the view was definitely worth the climb.
On the way back from the lighthouse, we kept an eye out for the seal colony we’d heard so much about – and thankfully we weren’t disappointed. I was amazed at how chilled the seals were, although they probably have plenty of visitors, so I suppose they are very used to the sound of tyres passing on the gravel road.
After the seals, we continued back on the road around Palliser Bay, and I’m not at all surprised by the people who call the drive ‘dramatic’… a part of me was glad I hadn’t been able to see the whole road while driving down the previous night, as I’m not sure I’d have kept going! There were a couple of sections (including one of about 500 metres) single-track, with just orange traffic cones to separate us from dropping into the ocean!
Nevertheless, we decided that we couldn’t waste the good morning weather, and did the Putangirua Pinnacles track walk.
The Pinnacles follow the river bed and feature the striking rock formations known as ‘hoodoos’ (or earth pyramids – or my favourite fairy chimneys) because of how the rocks have been eroded. Not surprisingly, the spectacular scenery of the Pinnacles were used in The Lord of the Rings (Return of the King), as a backdrop for Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli to travel through as the ‘Paths of the Dead’.
It was nice to be able to stretch our legs out earlier in the day before we drove some more after lunch, this time heading around the coast (via some very zigzag-ing roads) to Wellington.
Once we arrived in Wellington, and did the usual camper van maintenance, we met up briefly with Jenny, my friend from uni who now lives in the area, and she walked around some of the centre with us while we found our feet.
254 step climb to Cape Palliser lighthouse
Panoramic view from the lighthouse platform
View across Palliser Bay
Cape Palliser fur seal colony
Putangirua Pinnacles, which featured in The Lord of the Rings – Return of the King
And look who made it there!
We spent the day in Wellington, deciding to split off and do our own things, so I met back up with Jenny, walked around town and ran errands with her before lunch and then heading to the Te Papa (Tongarewa) Museum to check out more about New Zealand’s history, Maori culture – and of course the Colossal Squid!
In the evening, I joined in with Jen at the MeetUp social football 5-aside, on Civic Square – getting pummelled by wind and rain, before grabbing dinner.