As you approach Taupo, you can't help but notice Mount Tauhara - a volcanic crater towering majestically over Lake Taupo - dotted with steaming geothermal hotspot vents. It is so dramatic that it is not surprising that many scenes from Lord of the Rings were filmed in and around the area.
Found a "flashpacker" hostel in the centre of town and spent the evening with two interesting characters. Jack from Surrey was a real geezer - young guy on a working holiday visa who said some unbelievably funny things (though I'm not sure they were always intentional). Also, Jane from Wellington - a young-at-heart-62-year-old-skydiving-gran - who was trying to convince me to take the plunge and do a tandem jump from 15000 feet (I don't think so!).
In the morning, we took a leisurely drive through to the Craters of the Moon. It is here that you get the first whiff of things to come in Rotorua. The landscape, as the name suggests, is full of craters which emit various vapours and gases. Everywhere you look, there's steam escaping from the earth as if it were a pressure cooker. There were also many signs warning visitors of the dangers of stepping off the marked paths onto the thin, hot, crusty (and very unstable) edges of the craters. No need to warn me twice as I didn't fancy cooking myself!
After Craters of the Moon, only a few minutes outside Taupo, we visited Huka Falls - at the start of the Waikato River - NZs longest river ending in Auckland. Upstream of the falls, the Waikato is clear and reflective. After plunging over the falls the water picks up masses of tumbling air bubbles which create brilliant blue colours and give Te falls their name, after the Maori word for 'foam'.
It is here that we saw a jetboat (yet another thrill-seeking NZ invention) zigzagging its way up the river towards the Huka falls and doing crazy 360degree turns. Inspired by the sky-diving granny and watching the jetboat in action, Wendy decided to take a ride in one. Instead of hurtling through the freezing cold rapids, I decided to listen to my Spanish audio lessons in the warm, dry safety of the parked car and play the role of official holiday videographer.