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New Zealand

Come Rain, Come Shine

Tuesday 13th October 2015

rain 18 °C

It was sadly time for us to leave the Tongariro area and drive to Lake Taupo. At 66 miles this was one of our shorter journeys and would only take us about an hour and a half. On the basis that we only had a short journey and couldn't check into our Taupo motel until 2pm, we decided to go back to the Tongariro National Park and have breakfast at a cafe near the visitor centre and the Chateau. Unfortunately when we arrived it was closed 'due to technical problems'. As we were getting hungry by this point we went back to the lounge bar at the Chateau in the hope of some food there.

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They didn't have any brunch specifically but nevertheless we both found something to choose off the menu (I had a BLT and fries, not very healthy but filling). We sat there for quite a while making use of their wifi. They were very hospitable and didn't seem to mind us lingering. We got chatting to a some of the other people in the lounge. One group was an elderly couple originally from Scotland but had been living in New Zealand for about 50 years. They were there with their daughter who had been born in New Zealand. The other couple who were much younger than us, coincidentally were from Ipswich but travelling round the world for 6 months. I had heard the older couple's daughter trying to explain what the view out of the lounge bar window was like and so I went and showed them the photograph I had taken yesterday (which although not very clear was much better than today). The other couple then asked to see and soon we were all chatting.

Eventually we all needed to go our separate ways, including us who by now really needed to start the journey to Taupo. We said our goodbyes and got on our way. By this time the weather was getting worse with the visibility reduced still further, and then rain come in.

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It was like this until we got over the range of hills separating Tongariro from Taupo. Once we got the other side of the ridge there was a viewpoint with great views of some of the lower peaks and those beyond the lake itself.

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After taking some photographs we got on our way and very shortly were driving along the shores of Lake Taupo. The lake is very big, measuring some 21 by 29 miles with a perimeter of 120 miles.

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We followed this shoreline round for about 25 miles before reaching our accommodation. We checked in and relaxed for a while, and then did some washing. We ended the day by having a gin and tonic in our semi-external hot tub and then we had supper and watched a movie. We really liked our home for the next couple of days, it was well fitted out and the owners Pete and Penny had given a lot of attention to detail. The location right opposite the lake was also a real bonus.

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Posted by Gill's Travels 23:54 Archived in New Zealand Tagged mountains lakes new_zealand taupo Comments (0)

Hiking and High Tea

Monday 12th October 2015

rain 16 °C

We hadn't got any excursions or anything firm booked, but I was keen to explore the National Park a little more, and hopefully get some more views of the volcanic peaks. The weather forecast was predicting some cloud and possibly of rain. The visibility from The Tree House had deteriorated but we were hopeful that it might improve as the day progressed. After a relaxed breakfast we drove the 20 minutes or so to Whakapapa the location of the national park visitor centre and the starting point for many of the walks in the area.

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A quick visit there clarified the distance and the grade of the walk we were wanting to do which would take us to the Taranaki Waterfalls. We were also given advice as to the pros and cons of walking the route clockwise or anti-clockwise (we chose the latter as this made the ascent more gradual). The walk started at the back of the rather grand Chateau Tongariro Hotel with the first couple of hundred metres on a road with lots of holiday/ trekking accommodation. We shortly descended into a valley and through the woods. The ascent the other side was gradual and after about a kilometre or so a sign told us that we were entering the lava flow (long since broken down and covered in vegetation). We crossed a couple of streams and as we did had glimpses of the volcanic craters.

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Despite the fact that we were probably only a couple of kilometres from the visitor centre it felt very wild and remote, whilst the occasional other walker made it feel very safe and gave the opportunity to stop and chat for a few moments. After about 50 minutes we reached the top of the waterfall. It was a spectacular sight with views across to the Tongariro crossing to our right and to the top of the waterfall on our left.

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We stopped and admired the view for a bit and took some photographs and also chatted to a couple with a young baby in a back carrier. The dad looked exhausted having just climbed up the steep steps from the base of the waterfall to the top. The baby didn't sound very happy either and was crying loudly. The mother looked slightly happier as she was bringing up the rear and only had herself to get up the steep incline.

We then started to make our way down the steps as we were going the opposite way round as the young family. It seemed very steep at first with no handrail to hold onto, so I was questioning our decision to do the walk that way round. However the gradient declined slightly after a bit and there were a lot of steps (well over a hundred), so in the end I was quite relieved to have been going down at that point. Near the base of the falls we got chatting to a young woman from Alaska who was hoping to do the 'Crossing' during her short stay in the area. I passed on what I had heard being said about the wether and conditions when we were in the visitor centre. All indications were that the weather was going to be very wet with poor visibility tomorrow. Also I understood that at this time of year the top section required ice axes and crampons, which she had experience of using having come from Alaska, although she didn't have any with her. I suggested she might be able to hire them, and we then we wished her well and we all went on our way, she a little faster than us. The view at the bottom of the waterfall was equally beautiful, and having looked at the photographs since, hard to get a sense of the scale of the thing.

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We carried on walking along the track that had been clearly visible from the top, reaching another small waterfall a short distance away.

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We then followed the river for a while through the woods before having to climb up quite a few steps before reaching open heathland again, with views of the peaks and towards the Chateau Tongariro.

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We were getting a bit tired by this stage but with a last push we were back at the Chateau where we had booked a table for afternoon tea. After our walk we were pretty hungry so we pretty much polished off all the food we were served, although we decided afterwards that this was enough for the day and so didn't have an evening meal.

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Once we had polished off our tea we went back to the visitor centre to have a more thorough look at the information there and I also checked out the status of the road that went up towards the mountain from the centre. I was told that it was metalled to the top and the woman checked the webcam and said that it was a bit cloudy but that there should be some visibility.

On that basis Nigel was happy to drive up the very winding Bruce Road to the top. As he drove it became obvious that the cloud was thickening and that we were unlikely to see any of the peaks. We could see a short distance when we got to the ski chalets and lifts, but the cloud quickly closed in and it became hard to see anything much beyond the end of the car and the odd patch of slightly grubby snow nearby.

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We waited a while hoping that the cloud would lift again but it failed to do so and in the end we gave up and Nigel drove back down the mountain passed the lava field and the heather until we reached the visitor centre again. We continued driving north and then turned west and made our way back to our what had become our home for a couple of days. With no meal to worry about we just relaxed for a few hours. Just after 9pm I was sitting reading in the lounge and Nigel was in the loo when I felt the whole house judder. When he came out we both looked at each other in surprise and agreed that we had just experienced an earthquake. We researched on the Internet to make sure we weren't imagining things and to check out its magnitude. It turned out to be a 5.7 on the Richter Scale and a short distance from a place called Pongaroa, some 100 miles from where we were staying. It caused a bit of a stir for the rest of the evening and we couldn't but help keep checking for other seismic activity of which there was quite a bit that evening. Eventually we both got off to sleep and made it through the night safe and sound.

Posted by Gill's Travels 17:38 Archived in New Zealand Tagged waterfalls mountains tongariro volcano new_zealand Comments (0)

Nature and Landscapes

Sunday 11th October 2015

sunny 17 °C

We were booked in to do a glowworm tour this morning, our sole reason really for coming to Waitomo. We needed to be in the village by about 9:45am so we were able to have quite a leisurely breakfast. It didn't take us long to check out and we had time to look in the visitor centre in the town briefly before we needed to meet our local Maori guide Mangu. There should have been twelve of us but half the group hadn't arrived just after the departure time so sadly for them they were left behind. On the journey up to the cave we were given information about the local area and Mangu also explained about the legislation/ case law stating that farmers own the rights the the cave systems that open onto their land. That meant that Spellbound the company that we were with and one other were able to have exclusive rights to the caves that we were going into.

The drive was about twenty minutes or so up a gravel track and gave us great views of the surrounding countryside. The landscape was very hilly, with lots of steep dips filled with trees and it was explained to us that this was created by the collapse of cave systems. We were dropped of and the six of us made the short walk to the cave entrance whilst Mangu parked the minibus.

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Once there we put on helmets with head torches and entered the cave. A short way in, we stopped and switched off our lights and took a look a some glowworms. It took a few seconds for our eyes to adjust to the dark but once they did it was amazing how many of the small blueish specks of light we could see. Mangu told us quite a bit about the life cycle of the larvae who spend nine to twelve months in this stage, in contrast to the two or three days as a fly during which time they mate. We were also told how they make the silk threads that they use to catch their prey.

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We then walked deeper into the cave and boarded a small inflate able raft. This was propelled by Mangu using a simple rope system which made the journey very quiet.

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Both photographs courtesy of Spellbound Tours

By this time our eyes were really getting accustomed to the dark and we were encouraged to leave our cameras and torches off for the time being. In order to stimulate the light producing quality of the worms, Mangu clapped to create the vibrations that make them believe food is present. Sure enough even more glowed, and the older the glowworms the brighter the light.

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Photograph courtesy of Spellbound Tours

He manoeuvred up and down the stream so that we could get a really good look at them and then we were able to get our cameras out and take some photographs. My ones of the glowworms were not very successful but the pictures we took of the silk webs more so. As we moved downstream the sound of a waterfall nearby became very loud which was quite disconcerting given that it was completely dark apart from the light from the glowworms. In order to keep our eyes adjusted to the dark once we got off the boat we kept our head torches off and relied solely on the light from our cameras. This meant that once we got back to the first main cave area we were able to see many more glowworms than when we first entered the cave system. Once out we walked to the field where Mangu had parked the minibus and we had tea or coffee and biscuits.

It was then only a short walk to a second cave. This was a more traditional set of chambers with rock formations such as stalagmites and stalactites. Mangu pointed out places where a cave had collapsed or a stream diverted. We also saw the skeleton of a now extinct Moa bird with its large dangerous looking talons.

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Once we had finished exploring this cave system we went back in the minibus to Waitomo. It was interesting looking at the scenery and at one point we saw some men on quad bikes moving a few cattle, there must have been more people than animals which amused me. When we got back to the village we had a meal in one of the local cafes and then got on our way towards Tongariro.

As we approached the National Park we got tantalising glimpses of Mount Tangariro (6,453ft), Mount Ngauruhoe (7,503ft) and Mount Ruapehu (9,176ft) the more traditional cone shaped of the three volcanic peaks. At one point they were clearly outlined against a blue sky.

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When we arrived at our accommodation we went up to the owners house first, which was a few hundred metres away from The Tree House where we would be staying. Tim directed us back explaining that our house was unlocked, so back we went. There were about 60 steps from the parking area, so it was a bit of a struggle getting our bags in, but once we did we poured ourselves a gin and tonic and started to relax. Tim joined us and he explained how things worked. After he left we finished exploring the house and admired the views of the two most northward peaks and then made our supper and settled in for a relaxed and peaceful evening.

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Posted by Gill's Travels 22:50 Archived in New Zealand Tagged landscapes mountains new_zealand waitomo glowworms Comments (0)

How the World Began (part 2)

Saturday 10th October 2015

semi-overcast 15 °C

I was sad to be leaving Rotorua today. It isn't that the town itself is particularly special, in fact it is a little run down in places. However I really liked the hotel, and the peace and relaxation it offered once the door was shut behind us. In addition there are lots of interesting things to do within the area and we could have easily spent another few days exploring. We weren't in any particular hurry to get to our next destination and we had decided to delay our departure from the Rotorua area and go to Wai-O-Tapu geothermal park this morning. One of their key attractions is the Lady Knox Geyser which is 'seeded' every morning at 10:15. This meant that we had to be out of our accommodation a little earlier than usual. We arrived at the visitor centre in plenty of time to get our tickets and then drive the short distance to the geyser. There was plenty of seating and we positioned ourselves in a spot where we thought we would have a good view. A guide came just before the advertised time and explained a little about the geyser and why they set it off with surfactant (it's cycle is erratic meaning that not many visitors wouldn't see it erupt). It took about five minutes or so for it to explode into action but when it did it continued for nearly an hour and was still spluttering when we moved on. In some ways it was more spectacular when it slowed down a bit as you could then see more of the water droplets coming out of the vent.

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Once we had our fill of the Lady Knox Geyser we drove back to the main bit of the park to have a look at the other attractions. There were three sections to the walk and we decided that we wanted to do all of them in order to maximise the number of features that we could see. The main thing that struck me was the array of colours that can be found in nature. Whether this is the sulphurous coloured rocks or the yellows and blues of the Artist's Palate, the green and ochre of the lichen on the ground and growing on the trees, the soft opal greens of the Frying Pan Flat and some of the waterfalls, or the more intense emerald green of the Lake Ngakoro and the pea green of Devil's Bath.

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Perhaps the most spectacular is the 700 hundred year old Champagne Pool which is 65 metres in diameter and 62 metres deep. It has a combination of minerals and metals including gold, silver, mercury, sulphur and arsenic colouring the water turquoise and the sinter ledge bright orange.

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When we had finished looking around we went back to the visitor centre where we ate a late lunch, after which we started making our way to our bed and breakfast in Waitomo which was a couple ours away. The scenery was lovely for much of the way, but as is often the way there were tantalising glimpses with few places to stop and even less time to explore.

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By about 5pm we had arrived and checked in. We were able to relax in the guest lounge for a while and also eat a supper of cheese baguettes that we had prepared earlier. Our room was pretty but quite small and the whole house was perched on a little hill with great views of the surrounding countryside. Our host was very friendly but was perhaps a little too hyper for my taste. Despite being perfectly friendly and comfortable it didn't really do anything to change my mind about traditional bed and breakfasts.

Posted by Gill's Travels 01:00 Archived in New Zealand Tagged rotorua new_zealand geothermal Comments (0)

How the World Began (part 1)

Friday 9th October 2015

sunny 16 °C

We had booked a trip to one of the geo-thermal areas today but as we didn't need to be there until about 1pm we were able to have another slow start and relax in our apartment for most of the morning. We then left to make the 30 minute journey to Waimangu Volcanic Valley at about midday. As we left the highway to drive the last few kilometres, the countryside was heavily wooded and gave no indication of the geothermal activity that was present nearby. We arrived at the visitor centre and explained that we wanted to do the full walk down to the lake which is about a two and a half mile walk.

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The footpath initially went past the southern crater, which was a deep emerald green in colour and from there we walked along the edge of the Echo Crater and watched the steam rising from Frying Pan Lake. There was an atmospheric rock formation called Cathedral Rocks which had steam rising up from the lake as well as fumaroles releasing steam into the atmosphere.

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As we walked past these formations, every now and again we would get whiffs of sulphur. From the overflow stream from Frying Pan Lake we took a short diversion to the incredibly bright blue Inferno Crater lake which has a 38 day cycle during which time the water level rises by 12 meters before discharging into the streams that eventually flow into Lake Rotomahania.

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It was fascinating looking at the steaming streams and waterfalls that are a feature of the valley.

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As we continued on our walk we went past the bright ochre coloured Marble and Warbrick Terraces, spluttering out steaming water and mineral deposits shaping and reshaping the landscape as they do so.

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The further we got on the walk and the more bus stops we passed (there are three on the way to the lake) we saw less and less people. We had about two hours to make the walk down to alongside the stream to Lake Rotomahania from where we had arranged to go on a 45 minute boat trip to see more geothermal features, many of which were linked to the the eruption of Mount Tarawara 131 years ago.

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This joined two small lakes and increased the overall size of the flooded area many times over. There was only Nigel and I on the cruise and it was surprising that they still went out with so few people, but as we had walked two hours to get there we were pretty glad they honoured the booking. We were taken across the centre of the lake from where we could see the main crater of the volcano and then continued along the shoreline seeing more fumaroles and mini geysers as we went.

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The strap line for the park, which is How the World Began, really seemed to fit the area. When we got back to the mooring we were able to catch the bus back to the visitor centre from where we drove back to Rotorua stopping at a supermarket en-route to get provisions in order to cook a risotto for dinner. Before I started cooking we took a hour out for a gin and tonic and some relaxing time in the hot tub.

Posted by Gill's Travels 19:07 Archived in New Zealand Tagged landscapes lakes rivers rotorua new_zealand geothermal Comments (0)

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