We woke today in Rotorua and hurried out to make it to Wai-O-Tapu to see the Lady Knox Geyser blow at 10:15. It was my first geyser viewing, and while Jason says the Lady isn’t nearly as impressive as Old Faithful…I think it was pretty cool nonetheless. After watching the geyser reach about 7m in height, we walked the thermal landscapes at Wai-O-Tapu, seeing fumaroles, sulphur lakes, mud volcanoes and hot springs emanating from the ground beneath us. There were places where the ground was literally boiling beneath us, and in other places, staff were hurriedly working to reroute footpaths where new thermal eruptions had taken place. The water throughout the park runs colored yellow, green, orange, blue, brown and black, depending on the chemicals in the rock through which it flows, and silica buildup creates beautiful layered terraces. The whole place smelled like rotten eggs, which sounds bad, but honestly didn’t bother us too much. The trees and mosses vary from bright orange to electric greens, and we saw myna birds, magpies, welcome swallows and fantails on our walk around the park. We spent about a half day there, then grabbed lunch in the car and made our way to Lake Taupo, one of New Zealand’s top trout fishing locales.
On the way to Taupo we took a tiny detour to Huka Falls, where water from the Waikato River, after leaving Lake Taupo, gets crammed through a crevice only 15m wide and 10m deep, which sounds big, only this is a pretty major river…not a little mountain stream. It powers eight hydro-electric stations and provides cooling water for two geothermal and one thermal station. The result is the violent and beautiful Huka Falls, which only falls about 11m, but rushes through like thunder.
We hit Taupo around 3:30 and were hoping to wander a little before making our way on to Napier on the east coast, but we got clotheslined by an AMAZING sale at Hamills, a fishing and hunting store that had $450 jackets on sale for $99 as a winter clearance. We’re making our way to the South Island where winter is still in full swing, and seeing as how NZ has the most expensive clothing we’ve ever seen, we pounced. Jason and I are all stocked up on outdoor gear for the coming month…having saved a grand total of $1000 on our $300 in purchases this afternoon. You gotta get it while it’s hot, because in NZ, it rarely is.
It was beginning to get toward sunset by the time we left Taupo, but we did stop at the lake to take in the gorgeous vistas of the mountains in Tongariro National Park, aka Mount Doom in Lord of the Rings. We took some photos of the swans and mallards swimming along the lakeside, but we kept our distance after yesterday’s “bird lesson” (see “Ostrich” video 9/10/10). The water is crystal clear. Just stunning. Speaking of vistas, today was quite possibly the most stunning day of my life in the visual category. This country is outstanding. We discovered fern trees that look like something out of Jurassic Park, and we learned two very valuable lessons:
- There is almost no hill or mountain too steep to suit grazing sheep or cattle.
- In New Zealand, the words “scenic overlook” do not refer to some pretty little hillside lookout. If you see a sign that says “scenic overlook,” slam on your brakes, turn around, do whatever you must to get where you need to be to take that side road. You never know what might be waiting. Kiwi roadsigns are understated. They would never say, “STOP HERE. MUST SEE BREATHTAKING VIEW AHEAD.” We almost missed this one pictured below, and we were floored when we found it at the end of an unassuming gravel road on a mountainside on the way to Napier.
We’re staying at Stables Lodge in Napier now, and get this, they have FREE UNLIMITED INTERNET!! It’s pretty humble digs, but at this point, we’ll trade that for access for a couple of nights. Napier is the art deco capital of New Zealand. It’s right in the center of the Hawke’s Bay wine region, and there are seals on the beach. We can hear them from our room. Pretty cool so far, and we hear it vies for the title of “sunshine capital” against Nelson in the South Island. We came in at night, so we wouldn’t know, but we’ll find out over the next few days.