Sunday 8th November
Another early start and off the campsite at 9, back at the i-site office shortly after. Next stop the Aratiatia dam where the water flowing out of Lake Taupo is held back and then released when the flood gates are opened for about 15 minutes three or four times a day when the flood gates are opened to allow a deluge of water to flow down over the Aratiatia Rapids.
We arrived just as the siren was sounding to announce the 10 o'clock opening of the gates.
From above, Bill could see the gates lift a fraction allowing a plume of water to appear at their lower edge and cascade firm into the rock strewn river bed below, turning it into a boiling cauldron of white foam.
From the lower viewpoint (a five minute sprint/scramble down a sandy rocky path...) I saw a dry rocky valley, with a small stream trickling in the bottom, flowing down into the quiet wide blue Waikata river below.
The dam loomed high above us and a minute after the last siren, a sheet of white water quietly appeared below the gates. Nothing much happened for a while, and then we saw the pool immediately beneath the dam gradually filling with swirling blue water and white foam. This slowly spilled over the rocks and started to spread down towards us, almost in slow motion like someone pouring thick double cream over a bowl full of chocolate brownies...
Within about five minutes the rocky canyon below us was filled with rushing water and foam and a roaring noise prevented conversation. Very awe-inspiring.
At this point we had to leave. We had a deadline at the Rapids Jet Boat HQ at 10.15. We arrived one minute early having planned ahead for the kiwi roads (we are finally getting the hang of this NZ lark)!
The familiar van driven by Mark and Cat was already in the car park. We checked in, signed the disclaimer forms and obediently removed our cameras, jewellery etc before dinning very unglamorous black hooded, knee length splash jackets ( think grim reaper) and life jackets. In this fine costume we posed for photos and claimed into the jet boat (powered by a 500hp Chevy V8 engine that works by sending a jet of water equivalent to a firehouse beneath the boat allowing it to skim over the surface of the water, drawing only 12 inches. Dave the driver gave some witty banter and a safety briefing (hold on tight, don't bite your tongue, don't lean out and don't forget to smile!) and then we tore off upstream towards the power station. More kiwi wit followed, accompanied by some Hobbit filming scene info (you know the one with the wine barrels?)
Then we really did hammer down the river, flying along, swerving around obstructions, up and down rapids, through narrow canyons, performing 360 degree 'hand brake' turns - properly called 'jet spins'. We did have an advance warning of the latter by hand signal so that we could brace ourselves!
All in all in was a stupendous experience, we could not help but scream, laugh, smile though out as the photos will tell! All of this in a beautiful place with clear blue water, amazing scenery, wild birds and Taupo trout cruising along below us.
Back at HQ we could not resist the memory stick containing the photos of our expedition, however we split the cost with Mark and Cat. An excellent idea we thought, as we scurried back to the motor home to upload our album. Well. You would think that it would take four intelligent professionals just moments to upload the photos onto a laptop and then transfer them via airdrop onto an iPhone wouldn't you..... Well it took considerably longer that and we never did manage to get them into the phone, but the free fridge magnet was nice, once Mark had arranged it nice and straight on the fridge door...
From there we went our separate ways (the wrong ways as it turned out) firstly back to the Aratiatia dam and then back into Taupo for us. We needed to replace the aux cable for the stereo unit and Aldo the cafetière (victim of a particularly violent pothole incident). That done we headed along Taupo waterfront for an excellent soothing latte at Coffee Culture. After a bit of a planning session we firmed up our plans for the next couple of days - mountain bikes this afternoon, Mount Doom, aka the Tongariro Alpine crossing, tomorrow and trout fishing in Turangi after that. On our way back to the van we bumped into our stalkers, Mark and Cat again, despite them trying to hide in a side street in dark glasses.
Suitably attired we beetles off to our selected cycle bike shop to hire some mountain bikes. 'Open 7 days a week, early to late' it said on their leaflet. Except today when they closed at 4pm. Grrr....
'Take No Prisoners Bill' very soon pointed out this discrepancy and secured a two-for-the-price-of-one deal on our bikes snd included helmets, tools and water bottle holders. Two brand new Giant Talon mountain bikes were ready to go and we set off for the
'Rotary Ride' mountain bike route following Waikata river to Huka falls. It was fabulous. We rode north out of horn and into the trail. A wide paved path to start with and then an increasingly narrow/steep/winding sandy/ gravelly path through pine forests and dune like areas alongside the river. It was very exciting/terrifying drowning in your point of view but we both survived with the skin on our knees and elbows intact albeit a bit sweaty - Bill from exertion, me from fear!
We arrived back at the shop at five to 4 feeling hot, dusty and exhilarated!
Back to the van we parked at the lakeside for a very late lunch, and watched the yachts and motorboats coming and going and the seaplanes taking off and landing.
Time to head south ready for our trek tomorrow.
We drove gown the eastern edge of Lake Taupo ('Tawper') towards Turangi.
Half way down we pulled off the road into a deserted picnic area to admire the beautiful views across the clear blue lake towards the snow covered volcanoes where we would be walking tomorrow. Truly breathtaking scenery. The sun was still hot and there were black swans paddling along the shallow shingle beach. We joined them for s refreshing evening swim. The water was clear snd fresh and felt almost silky. Back in the road we drive past Turangi to a remote riverside freedom camping ground at Stag Pool. A long rutted track with no clear signage apart from the all important one claiming it to be an approved camp ground. Lots of trout fishing here in their beautiful wide stony river with a bank of stream washed boulders.
As we cooked and ate supper several fly fishermen and women came and went, but otherwise we enjoyed another peaceful free camp and an early night in preparation for tomorrow.