Taupo, New Zealand (19th Mar 2008)
Napier to Taupo
Driver: MarkDistance Travelled: 234.7 Km / 145.9 Miles
Accumulative Distance: 3954.9 Km / 2458.0 Miles
Before we set off for our next destination we made a quick pit stop back in Napier so Kara could take advantage of the $1 showers and so that we could post off our student loan forms. We managed to get back on the road for ten and the 147 kilometres to Taupo made for quite an easy drive although the landscape seemed to dramatically chance. No longer were we surrounded by the dense forest we had become used to, as this had turned into quite a dry arid landscape where tree remains were piled up row after row.
We arrived in Taupo around lunchtime and the sun was still shining down on us which made for a really pleasant stroll around town. Taupo is situated on the shores of Australasia's largest freshwater lake and sits elevated in the central plateau. It is the main township of the Lake Taupo region with a population of around 25,000 people, many of whom work in the tourist industry which Taupo appears to thrive on. Funnily enough, one of the highlights of our walk was in McDonalds children's play area where a massive plane had been set up and incorporated into the outside area, it made quite an impact upon turning the corner and seeing it. It didn't take long for us to realise that there wasn't much to do in the town centre itself except sip coffee outside a fancy cafe so e consulted the lonely planet and found there were a few things to see if we drove out of town a few kilometres.
The first of these was Huka Falls which is where New Zealand's longest river, the Waikato is slammed into a narrow chasm and then makes a 10 metre drop into a surging pool. We started off by crossing a small bridge which took us over the river itself and enabled us to see the full force of the water; it reminded us of the Rapid's at Alton Towers only a hundred times more powerful and scary. From the footbridge we continued round a short distance to a lookout point where we saw the river drop the 10 metres into the surging pol. As with everywhere in New Zealand the water was a beautiful aqua colour made even more beautiful by the sun's rays and its very own power creating swirls of colour that disappeared even further down the river. We made one quick stop off at another lookout point, this one higher up and further away so we got an almost 'full frontal' view of the waterfall.
Our next stop was only a few kilometres up the road and was called 'Craters of the Moon'. It's one of the lesser known geothermal areas and only sprang to life as a result of the hydroelectric tinkering of the 1950's that created the nearby power station. Craters of the Moon appeared when underground water levels fell and pressure shifted creating new steam vents and mud pools pocking the landscape. We were expecting it to be free admission as it stated in the lonely planet so we were surprised to see a $5 admission fee, in the grand scheme of things this wasn't a lot so we paid the $10 and were off on the walk. We didn't really know what to expect so we're surprised to hear it was an hour's walk around a designated loop track. The landscape was instantly fascinating to us both as neither of us had seen anything like it before, big craters and spurts of steam spread out in front of us, it felt like some kind of movie set with special effects was all around us. As we walked around we saw steam rising in varying degrees from every imaginable place and as the sun was still belting down on us we really began to feel the heat; maybe jeans and long sleeved tops weren't a good idea for this one! One of the highlights of the walk was a giant steam vent rising high above us but with this also came the stinking smell of eggs that we had previously experienced at Hanmer Springs. Just before the end of the track was the second highlight of the walk, the mud pools where puddles of mud bubble and hiss in crater 5 metres deep. As we were walking around we learnt that two of the craters last erupted in September 2002, the biggest eruption in a decade and left the surroundings and boardwalks covered with mud, ash and pumice to a depth of 5 centimetres.By the end of the walk we were both sweltering and so to get back to the ait conditioned van to get to the next sightseeing spot was heaven.
Another few kilometres down the road are the Aratiatia Rapids which were originally the highlight of the Waikato River until the government plonked a hydroelectric dam across the waterway, shutting off all water flow. The spectacle hasn't completely disappeared though as four times a day the floodgates open and water comes crashing through the dam. We timed our trip there carefully and managed to catch the 4pm viewing. The initial gush of water wasn't as explosive as we had both been imagining as we stood on a bridge over the river not 15 metres from the dam itself.Maybe we had expected a little too much but as we crossed over to the other side of the bridge we saw water gushing into a small pool before it made its way further downstream, crashing over the many rocks as it went.
We managed to find ourselves an authorised camping site for the night which was pretty unusual so just as the sun set we pulled into an already busy camp site, made ourselves some tea and went to bed, pretty much our staple way of spending an evening!