Whist we were still in Taupo we thought that a boat trip on the lake was a must! We chose to go on a converted steam boat which was quite small so only had about 25 passengers. We cruised along the lake with the skipper giving a commentary which was both informative & amusing. The lake was formed about 600 years ago when there was a huge eruption which caused an enormous crater to form - this became Lake Taupo. The Skipper informed us that another eruption is expected fairly soon. Very reassuring to hear when you're stuck on a boat in the middle of a crater! The lake is 168km around; about the size of the M25! We had lots of places on the lake pointed out to us, not least Hot Water beach, where there's still thermal activity, Mine Bay & the Maori rock carvings. These are over ten metres high, they're not ancient carvings but were created in the 1970s using traditional techniques & they tell the history & mythology of the local Ngati Tuwhareton. Very impressive! There are a number of beaches along the shore which are called Five mile beach, Four mile beach, Two mile beach etc, not because of their length but to denote how far they are from the Post Office! We spent a lovely morning on the boat & in spite of rain being forecast, the only water to be seen was in the lake!
When we left the boat we headed north to Orakei Korako thermal area. Orakei Korako ("the place of adorning") is a really interesting & picturesque place. We had to catch a ferry across Lake Ohakuri to get to the "hidden valley". Here, every day, twenty million litres of hot water flow over silica terraces to the lake. We walked through beautiful native bush & saw steaming hot springs, boiling pools, unpredictably gushing geysers & bubbling grey mud, & everywhere the all-pervading smell of sulphur. The colours were unbelievable & the rare geothermal cave was well worth the long, hot trek to see it - all those steps! By the time we got the ferry back across the lake we really needed the cup of tea we had in the conveniently placed little cafe!
An early night was definitely needed after such a fantastic day!
When we said goodbye to lovely Lake Taupo we headed along by the water towards Whanganui. We had to stop quite a few times to take photos of the early morning views across the lake - spectacular! We drove through Tangariro National Park, a very winding road with numerous 'washouts' where half the road had disappeared into the valley below - scary!
We eventually arrived in Whanganui & found our digs for the night - 'The Rutland Arms' Inn - a picturesque 19th century weather boarded building with oodles of character. 'Mrs Overall' (I kid you not!) had just finished preparing our room so we staggered up the outside staircase with our bags to a huge, beautifully decorated room with a four poster bed & bathroom with, yes, a spa bath! We took a stroll around Whanganui, which is quite a large, (by New Zealand standards) busy town, & had a good cup of tea in an obviously popular cafe in the main street, Victoria Street. We then wandered back to the Rutland Arms where we had our evening meal in their restaurant - a very good decision as the meal was excellent!
After our one night in Whanganui we drove on to New Plymouth, which is apparently the second best place in the world to live - I never managed to elicit the name of the best place from any Kiwis I asked so it's obviously not in New Zealand! We stopped off at Havera, a typical little town with shops all along each side of the main street & cars parked at angles outside them. We then spotted a sign for Lake Rotakare, which is a protected area. We drove for some miles before we came to a sign instructing us to check our cars & ourselves for any pests etc, then press a button to enter what amounted to a cage. We then had to wait for the gate to close behind us before pushing another button to open a second gate! This community run project is trying to maintain a pest free environment around the lake & reintroduce kiwi & other rare, endangered NZ native birds. It's a very peaceful spot & was lovely to visit, albeit briefly. We then drove through little towns called Inglewood, Eltham & Stratford & on into New Plymouth where we quickly found our motel & went to explore the town before it closed! We were too late! It being 3pm on Saturday everywhere had already closed, or was about to! One shopkeeper we spoke to just before she shut at the later time of 4pm, told us that she thinks the Kiwis have got it right regarding work/life balance & I'm inclined to agree with her! At her suggestion we went to Pukekura Park, watched a cricket match for a while & took a stroll around what turned out to be a really lovely park, complete with waterfalls & water features all lit up with multi coloured lights. It started to rain while we were there & by the time we got back to the motel at 8.30 it was pouring!