Tongariro National Park - Mar 5-6
Mar 6, 2010
|March 5, 2010
Today was supposed to be a quieter day but it turned out a lot different. The plan was to drive from Rotorua to Taupo and onto Tongariro NP, stopping at a couple of places along the way.
Our first stop was the grocery store. We seem to spend a lot of time here but not having a fridge and larder to store food, we need to buy stuff about every 2 or 3 days. This isn’t too bad as the supermarkets offer discount on petrol if you spend a certain amount so with the miles we’re doing we’re getting benefit from that, too. We got even luckier today as the woman in front of us left her receipt behind so like a true vulture, I quickly pocketed it! Backpacking has turned me into a cheapskate!
We had around an hour drive before our next stop which was the Wairakei Terraces. These are man-made terraces and are built to resemble the great pink and white terraces which were lost in the 1886 eruption. They still utilized the local hot springs as their water source but unlike the original, you could not bathe in them. This was a shame as it would’ve been a fun experience but having seen the hot, bubbling geyser at the top it was probably wise we kept ourselves clear! Around the site there were other pools and rivers you could dip your feet into and it was surprising how lukewarm some of the water was, compared with the steaming hot rivers running nearby. This was a good little diversion and didn’t seem too popular with tourists, one couple even driving up, taking a look and heading straight out. To be fair though, even the woman working there seemed a little shocked to have visitors and was wholly unprepared!
Here we also saw a peahen and a young peacock. I’d never seen a fledgling peacock before and it was quite cool.
Our next attraction was the Honey Hive where local honey was produced and they even made mead using honey, too. We got to see a large number of bees and their honeycomb before we went and tried some of the mead and honey on offer. The two types of mead we tried were pretty good but I couldn’t imagine drinking them at home under normal circumstances. The woman suggested they would be good with certain types of food but I’m not so sure! We tried about 12 different honeys and they all had different and distinctive flavours some of which were not to my liking. A couple were though and we decided to buy a small jar of one called Rewarewa which is actually from the Waikato region.
After making use of a large tree and the nearby grass to eat our lunch, we headed back to the Honey Hive to try their honey ice cream. Mine was honey and chestnut and was very, very yummy. Elizabeth had a plain honey one and that was really good, too. Elizabeth still claims she prefers the soy ice cream we had in Japan but I’m tending towards the honey one now!
Our next stop was Huka Falls. We turned off the main road and found a small viewpoint. The falls were not big by any means being neither wide nor tall but the force of the water seemed particularly strong. We headed around to the main car park and walked around, crossing the bridge which spanned the Waikato River. This is the longest river in NZ and starts at Lake Taupo before finishing near Auckland. The river section here narrowed quite a lot and this explained the rapids here and the fairly noise waterfall. The water in the rapids was such a brilliant bright, turquoise blue colour which contrasted with the darker colour further up stream. We have seen and will see better falls on our trip but this was quite a powerful one, the jetboats ferrying tourists around at the bottom even struggling to power against the current.
From there we headed into Taupo itself to see what there was. The answer, really, is not a lot so we headed straight for the lake, the largest in NZ. The views across the lake were lovely and in the far distance you could make out some of the peaks that are the volcanoes on this area, most notably Mt Tongariro which is the oldest and Mt Ngauruhoe which is more commonly known as Mt Doom in the Lord of the Rings films.
The route we took to Tongariro NP out of Taupo followed the lake for quite a while and it was tough for me to keep concentrated on the road with the great views and the irony of a road safety sign telling drivers to not get distracted was certainly not lost on me!
As we neared Tongariro NP, the views of the volcanoes became increasingly striking, the classical cone shape of “Mt Doom” becoming clearly visible. We also got to see the third and largest of the volcanoes, Mt Ruapehu. We also passed the small airfield belonging to Mountain Air, a company which does flights over the volcanoes. We decided to stop and book ourselves a flight for tomorrow but when we arrived we were told that the forecast for the next two days was not supposed to be very good. It was just after 3pm and there was a flight going at 4pm so we put our names down for that and quickly headed to the hostel, wanting to get some of our food in the fridges before it cooked itself in the car.
We got quickly checked into the hostel and didn’t even get our packs out of the car, literally putting the food away and heading straight back out again.
Our flight was a 35 minute flight and was called Volcanic Explorer, taking in all three of the mountains here as well as the large craters and lakes. We were in a 6-seater propeller plane with another couple who were from England and the pilot, a Kiwi called James who looked about 18. The runway was a grass strip and once we were strapped in we were up, up and away,
The views were breathtaking and you could see for miles around. At one point we could also see as far as another volcano which was over 100 miles away. The craters were huge at the top and around each of the volcanoes and the flat plateau at the top of Mt Tongariro was a contrast to the cone shape and crater lake which sat atop “Mt Doom”. The old lava flows were clearly visible and there was even some snow at the tops of a couple of the peaks. One of the volcanoes had erupted just 3 years ago although there has not been a large eruption since the mid 1990s. The crystal blue and green water that was in each of the different lakes was amazing and shone brilliantly in the sunshine, the pilot doing loops around to give both sides of the plane a decent view of all the highlights. The 35 minutes was over all too quick and we set down with a perfect landing on the bumpy grass track. It was an expensive 35 minutes but it was something we both wanted to do and both thoroughly loved – it was just a shame we couldn’t do it all over again!
Back at the hostel we finally got our bags out and settled into our dorm room. It has 10 beds in it including 4 sets of bunk beds plus 2 beds set way up high on the wall almost like a third level on bunks. Thankfully we were in early and had chosen two bottom bunks rather than having to clamber up to the top all the time.
After our dinner of leftover mince and potatoes and cooking some chorizo and pasta for the next 2 days lunch, I finished updating this very journal and set about a nice relaxing evening of reading – I’d not done any for a while so I am ready to get stuck into my Ian Fleming/James Bond triple header!
March 6, 2010
We started off the day with a bit of a plan but it didn’t really come to fruition. After finishing off the last of our sausages for breakfast (lucky, as I’m getting a bit bored of them after 4 days in a row!), we headed for Whakapapa Village where a number of the hikes around the volcanoes started from.
We had stopped at the visitor centre for a while and noticed how cold it was. Luckily, we had the other pack in the boot of the car so we were able to grab a warm top before we did our walk. We had chosen to do a walk to the Taranaki Falls which was a loop circuit supposed to take two hours. About 15 minutes in, the clouds we were warned about yesterday had started to close in and this was really annoying. Even with waterproofs we didn’t want to spend 2 hours walking in the rain but this wasn’t an option anyway – we’d forgotten them! As we felt the rain starting to fall we about turned back towards the village and the sanctuary of the car. It was really annoying as much of the walk back it was clear but we could definitely feel the rain once again back at the car park.
We decided to drive around a little in the hope the clouds would blow over. We drove up the mountain to the Whakapapa Ski Area just to have a look around. Here we saw a complete contrast to much of what we had seen in NZ. The area looked pretty desolate and the lack of snow merely revealed cliff faces and slopes covered with black, volcanic rocks. Compared to the Alps which are quite green in summer when the snow melts, this was a stark contrast to that, too! We stopped here for a while, grabbing a hot chocolate and coffee at the hilltop café, and had a look around the shop and baulked at the exorbitant prices.
Back at the bottom the cloud hadn’t cleared and seemed to be blowing over the whole area. It was really annoying as half the region was bright sunshine and half was covered in black clouds.
We drove back along the highway towards the hostel, deciding to have some lunch back there and then decide what to do. We made a brief stop at the small but picturesque Tawhai Falls – this was only a 20 minute walk and was done in bright sunshine. So annoying!
Back at the hostel, we made the most of the usually great view from the kitchen area. From one window you can see “Mt Doom” but today all you could see was clouds and these covered the top of all three peaks. Of course, right over our heads there was not a single cloud.
After lunch we decided to head away from the main area and try to go for a walk somewhere else. We headed about 30km south to Ohakune, which is still part of the National Park, and did a nice little loop walk there. It was only 3km and took just 40 minutes at a relaxed pace but at least we got some fresh air. We were chatting so much we barely noticed the time or the scenery go by and before we knew it we were back in the car park!
Given the bad weather forecast for tomorrow, we have decided to leave here a day early and head to New Plymouth. The only real thing to do here is hike and as neither of us are big hikers we decided we weren’t prepared to get cold and wet just for the sake of having nothing better to do. If we had the proper gear we’d probably have stayed but then if we’d had the proper gear we’d probably have done the walks we wanted to today!
After a stop for beer and muffins, we drove back to the hostel and relaxed before making a lovely Thai curry for dinner and settling in for another quiet, relaxing evening. I’ve nothing against some down time once in a while but quite honestly, I reckon we’d both be bored and arguing if we attempted another day here. I’m not going to suggest we’re the two most active people on the planet but we both know each other well enough now to know that we need something to at least occupy us for a few hours a day! Let’s hope New Plymouth provides something for a couple of days before we hit Wellington, the capital.