Here's the last instalment of our New Zealand blog, for we are heading over to Oz in a couple of days. And every day we have spent here has been amazing: the people are great, the scenery is magnificent, and you can't beat having the freedom of a camper van to take you anywhere you please!
The day after our sail across Lake Taupo, we woke up to another chilly morning and popped over to Huka Falls on our way out of Taupo. We weren't quite sure what to expect but we were pleasantly surprised when we got there to see a cascade of super-fast waterfalls - the speed is actually 220,000 litres a second! Very impressive.
There is another viewpoint of Huka Falls, which is from a jet boat travelling down it, but since I've managed to not fall down the Grand Canyon or off of any mountains yet, I don't want to push my luck!
Once we'd seen the falls we were hoping en route to Rotorua we'd find the famed hot stream, where hot and cold water meet and you can sit and enjoy the natural thermal delights. It's not easy to find but we'd been told to take a certain turn-off from the highway and we'd see it. We did find what we thought was the road leading down but when we followed it's winding route there was no stream in sight. Boo.
We did, however, at the end of this road find something else - Wai-o-tapu Thermal Wonderland. It wasn't the hot pools we were looking for, but it looked pretty good so we thought we'd check it out.
Once we were wandering around, it quickly became apparent how awesome this place was, and how lucky we were to stumble upon it! It was a showcase of natural geothermal activity (which the area is famed for) and it included giant craters with bubbling water, sulphur caves, and lakes and streams that reach up to 300 degrees!!
Even the names were exciting - How can "The Devil's Ink Pots" and "Thunder Crater" not entice?!
The park is all completely natural and was formed by volcanic activity which is still ongoing today (in fact, Mt Tongariro has erupted for the first time in over a century since we've been here and people as far away as The Bay of Plenty, where we were, were advised to stay indoors!).
We walked the full route, including a boardwalk (with no handrail - eek!) over the larger areas which was lovely.
It culminated in a lake that seemed to shine green due to it's chemical make-up and was framed with mountains and steam pockets. Craig aptly stated that this was the most beautiful sight he'd ever seen! It seems every day is as fabulous as the last over here!
Also while we were perusing the gift shop we spotted a flyer for Waikite Thermal Pools, one of the hot geothermal pools we were hoping for, but more importantly there was free access if you were to stay at the adjacent camp site. Music to our ears!
So we powered over there in our camper, on a road alongside a boiling hot stream, and the landscape was littered with jets of steam shooting meters into the air. It looked like a scene from an apocalypse movie crossed with The Shire from Lord of the Rings!
When we got there, it turned out to be slightly cheaper than where we had been staying previously (always a bonus) and there were no less than 6 geothermal rock pools available for us! We parked up right next to the stream (creepy in the middle of the night, amazing to wake up to!) and fell asleep next to the noise of bubbling water after a chat with the neighbours about the Olympics.
We grabbed the opportunity bright and early to make use of the hot pools - we were the only ones up before it was available to the paying public, so we exploited the bush and stone lined pools alone for a while.
There's nothing more relaxing than sitting in a 40 degree pool watching the mist clear from the adjacent hills - every day should start like that!
Today was our first trip into the centre of Rotorua, and as usual, was a jam-packed day.
We began by visiting Te Wairoa, well what used to be Te Wairoa - the village was destroyed by the eruption of Mt Tarawera in 1886 and buried in ash - hence the name of the site - 'The Buried Village'. It was a museum of the night's events as told by people who were there and the diary extracts of those that didn't make it.
The excavated village itself was eerie, especially as the original fence posts have now grown into 40m poplar trees in straight lines!
On the way back there's a slight detour to see Te Wairoa falls so we thought it would be worth the climb down. After seeing the 30ft waterfall and several smaller ones, we propose they rename the attraction "Magnificent Waterfall (with a bit of buried village nearby)" as it would draw many more visitors!
We did learn from one of the Smith family (who have owned and maintained the site for 70 years) that the family goat (Seamus) unfortunately met his end when he accidentally fell down the waterfall. RIP little fella :(
Feeling re-energised from the splash from the waterfall (and the hefty climb back up) we went to a forest known as The Redwoods, for obvious reasons. We spent a while walking through towering Redwood trees and hopping over streams and stopping for the obligatory tree-hugging photo along the way, of course.
After our relatively active morning, the evening was spent at a Maori culture evening at Tamaki Maori Village, as recommended by Emma - a satisfied previous visitor!
Our driver picked us up and introduced himself as "Dennis the Menace who can't play tennis" on board the "big red", his bus.
We got there and witnessed an opening ceremony were welcomed inside to explore a village showing what Maoris would typically have done, back before us Europeans spoiled it.
I of course threw myself in and had a go at one of the games that were used to improve hand-eye co-ordination for the warriors. Co-ordination is not my strongest asset. I may have been beaten by an 8-year old girl and may have been hit on the head with a wooden pole, but it's all in the name of fun, eh?
We were treated to an awesome performance - singing, dancing, war chanting - the usual Monday night behaviour, while our dinner was prepared.
We sat down to a traditional hangi meal (meaning it's cooked in the ground) which was delicious - the best food we've had so far!
Dennis also dropped us back home, not before circling the roundabout several times singing "she'll be coming round the mountain" and singing songs from every country that were on the bus (we got 'Swing Low' because the All-Blacks apparently beat us in the rugby some time back!). Not bad to say it's voted New Zealand's #1 attraction!
After a good rest, we started the drive to our next stop, Coromandel. En route we stopped off for the Te Wairou walkway. We'd seen a flyer in a fish and chip shop and fancied a mooch - it was a 3 hour walk altogether but we were treated to views of the Blue Spring at the start of the Wairou river.
The water here has a petrol-blue tinge to it because it takes 100 years to get here, and 70% of New Zealand's bottled water comes from here (it's actually so pure it rarely needs treatment!).
We made it along the muddy track (it has sadly rained every day since we arrived) but the sun did come out as we sat at the spring's edge, admiring the crystal clear waters. If only our photos did this beautiful country justice!
On the way back, we took an accidental turn and ended up trudging in ankle-deep mud across farmland. We realised when we found the cows that we may have taken the wrong route. After much panic at the thought of sleeping rough at the foot of the hills, we managed to navigate our way back to the track and arrived safely to Coromandel - not before I fell victim to 2 electric fences on the way back to the van. Ouch.
Our plan here was to first visit Cathedral Cove (that's on the front cover of the Lonely Planet guide - a year ago Craig said "I want to see this" so here we are!) but when we got to the start of the track down it was pouring with rain - the sitting down cows should have prepared us.
We waited for half an hour or so hoping it would pass, and saw people turn back from their attempts.
Disappointed, we drove to the nearby campsite at Hot Water Beach and settled in.
Amazingly, the weather turned around by 3pm so we returned to Cathedral Cove! We descended the 40 minute slippery track to the beach in the sunshine (must have been a sign that it wasn't to be missed!) and gawped at the massive rock structures.
Formed first by volcanic activity and shaped by erosion from the sea, it leaves a large archway (a bit like a cathedral, surprisingly) and some rocks sticking right up out of the sea. Eventually, because of the erosion, the Cove will collapse and disappear forever. Craig finally got his Lonely Planet view!
The way back up the cliff was a little trickier but we managed it trip and slip-free (just!) and got back as the rain started up again!
Just worth mentioning - Hot Water Beach is the real name of the beach that we are next to, because if you grab a spade and dig for a foot or two you find yourself a little pool of hot thermal water!
Tomorrow we head back to Auckland and return the trusty camper, it's served us well and Craig's done a sterling job on the zig-zag roads! We're not sure of the plans for Auckland yet as we have a full day before we fly away, but one thing we can be sure of is that it will certainly not be the last we see of New Zealand!
The photos will be up as soon as possible!