From time to time i look at people snapping photograph after photograph and wonder to myself if they're actually seeing what they're looking at. The lense can deaden the experience. It might capture an image for the sake of posterity, but it cannot possibly tell the whole story. Travel awakens the senses - peering through the camera uses only one.
On our journey from Napier i have heard, smelled and felt things which i've never encountered before. I can't explain them through the images i've recorded, so i'm gonna attempt to do it in words...
Those of you who know me will be aware that i'm not exactly a connoisseur of fine wines, But that didn't prevent me attending a wine tasting in Hawkes Bay, one of New Zealand's premier vino-producing regions. Sadly, the wines on offer were not exactly premium. Although the time we spent in the 'aroma room' beforehand was remarkable in the way it awakened our palates and our nostrils! Simple looking steel droppers held scents as varied as acacia, liquorice and horse - obviously our equine friends are not something you wish to locate in your plonk!
After Rachel slept off the effects of six varieties of red wine, we headed to Taupo, the largest and highest lake in Australasia. The water filled crater was caused by the biggest volcanic eruption in the history of mankind. Thankfully New Zealand was uninhabited at the time. Here, we experienced the best of what the north island has to offer...
The Huka Falls walk is one of the most scenic in the country, but with time at a premium we missed out the walking part and started where everyone else does - the thermal spa - before driving to the other end. The thermal springs see hot water, warmed beneath the surface of the earth, rise to the top. Here, they bubble gently before cascading into the temperate river which runs past. Wallowing where the hot water meets the cold was a brand new sensation and one which i doubt will ever be repeated: i doubt the conditions can be replicated elsewhere. Standing slightly downstream from the flow of heated water, every shift and change upstream altered the temperature of the water around me. If someone above me moved their foot, a sudden surge of hot water might shoot between my feet. Less pleasant were the instances were cold tendrils of colder water snaked themselves around my waist! The only guaranteed way to ensure that you were on the receiving end was to stand directly under a waterfall of 40 degree water - which i duly did! Further upstream the water was far less inviting - the Huka Falls themselves were a torrent of turquoise blue water which would have smashed any bathers to oblivion in seconds.
Further thermal activity was witnessed on the Craters of the Moon, a relatively new area of geothermal activity caused by a power station in the vicinity. When the power station was switched on it caused the underground water pressure to change, resulting in bubbling mud pools and steam vents appearing where giant craters had been blown out of the earth. The sounds here were incredible - the gurgling plop of the sulphuric mud was drowned out only by the sound of steam being forced through small fissures in the ground at high pressure. Trying to capture these events on film was pretty fruitless as the steam obliterated everything in the shot anyway.
Further up the road we paid homage to Ariatitia Rapids. Here, a man-made dam controlled the flow of water down the rocky ravine, supplying energy to a hydroelectric power station. Again, pictures cannot do justice to the sheer power of the water. At the head of the falls it was almost serene, a jade green glass surface betraying little of what power lay beneath. But as the rocks fell away and the water gained momentum, the foaming, rolling waters created a cacophany of noise. Nature at its most powerful and simplistic - water running downhill in the most emphatic fashion.
Rotorua was next on the agenda. Known by the residents as Sulphur City, the town was built around yet more thermal springs. Here, drains in the road steamed as the earth's hot underbelly found a man made avenue to vent through. A park in the city centre contained mineral baths which i basked in fully - the water felt softer and silkier than you can imagine. Thoroughly refreshed we took our leave of the place - the Craters of the Moon smelt pretty bad, but Rotura was like having your face smashed into a carton of rotten eggs!
My ultimate fan boy fantasy almost came true the next day as we paid for the tour of Hobbiton! For any Lord of the Rings fan a trip around The Shire should be a thrilling one. But this wasn't. Taken around the largely dismantled site by the least inspiring tour guide of all time, we made the most of the opportunity by posing in Bilbo's house and laughing at the sheer incompetence of a man who can make anecodotes about one of the biggest films of all time so terribly boring. I've actually seen more impressive LOTR exhibits in Leeds.
A storm of biblical proportions was our next major event. From getting sunburnt in Hobbiton, it took mere minutes and a few kilometres before we were crawling through the most abominable downpur (and hailstones) i've ever seen. Unable to drive any more we pulled over, only to find that the van was leaking and all our bedding and clothes were drenched. Sat in a tin can being thudded and pinged with enormous balls of frozen rain was quite an experience. Thrilling yet depressing simultaneously. Thank heavens for the nice folks at Kiwi Paka YHA who took is in for the night and put us up in their lovely hostel.
There is much i haven't written abouth here... Pastel colured art deco houses in Napier, gorgeous campsites, visiting a honey hive, fishing for fresh water prawns - there is so much to see and do her that i can't possibly include it all. I don't want to sound like the New Zealand tourist board, but this place has to be seen (and experienced) to be believed...