The Central Plateau: NZs’ Volcanic Zone

We normally sleep like 8hours back in Switzerland (healthy babies) and here in NZ while we camp, we sleep 9-10hours on average (healthy/lazy/holiday babies). How can you blame it on us if there is just not a lot to do in the evening? Reading – Who does that on holidays? TV – Sorry we have not seen a TV for some time. Sometimes you don’t even get phone coverage for two days. At times the morning weather is just so shi*ty that you wanna stay in bed whole day. Who wants to leave the warm blanket when everything around you is cold and wet…like today? We had some rain in the night which created magical mist/fog in the morning that everything looked grey so we stayed in bed until 8:30am J. Later we drove the rest of this abandoned road through scenic and untouched rainforest and did not see a single car for more than 45min! We had impressive views of Mt. Ruapehu, the highest peak of three volcano mountains in Tongariro National Park with over 2’700m, as soon as the river valley road ended. Unfortunately the weather was not that good. The peak was covered all day with fog and it got worse in the afternoon. We had a stop at the Carrot town of Ohakune. The lady at the information site gave a few recommendations of activities we could do around the area and you could tell that she really loved her country. A drive to the end resized_IMG_8470of the Mountain Road at 1’600 above sea level and a lunch overlooking some snow patches around us was next on our agenda. We also passed by ski-resort places that looked abandoned but would probably come to life again in winter. We planned to do some hikes today but as sky got darker and darker we cancelled our plan. It was betterresized_IMG_8475 weather to drive instead of hike so we continued further and went to a DOC site at Mangahuia in evening. We were still unlucky as the other two volcano mountains were also covered by furious dark clouds so we couldn’t spot them. Maybe tomorrow we will be lucky enough to see Mt Ngauruhoe, the volcano which starred as Mt Doom in Lord of the Rings movie. Fingers crossed!

Waking up to partly blue sky, it was starting to feel warm as soon as the sun shined on our campervan. Night and day temperature can vary quite a lot here, warm sunny day and cold windy night. Like last night! But well ya, as we camped at 1000m above sea level it was not of much surprise that it felt cold during the night. After our breakfast we drove to Whakapapa Village. Whakapapa (pronounced as fa-ka-papa) Village is a cute little town, almost as cute as its name, which draws attention on tourists due to its numerous hikes around the resized_IMG_8747volcanoes. One could even hike 7hours on an unmarked trail to the top of active volcanoes. Not wanting to risk our lives, we had a 2.5hrs return hike to Taranaki Falls and enjoyed the scenery. During our hike we talked to two Asians ladies who walked for 5-6hrs with sneakers, handbags and cotton/jeans clothes (It could actually be quite a silly thing to do on such a fast changing weather as if it rains these ladies would have to freeze with wet clothes in cold winds for hours). After the hike we had a short drive on Bruce Road to the highest point on the mountain reachable by car. The weather and cloud changed every few minutes during the entire day. We then continued our journey northwards via Turangi to Taupo. Taupo is on the northeastern shores of the Lake resized_IMG_9022Taupo, NZ’s largest lake. We camped at a free campsite of 5 miles bay at Great Lake Taupo with beautiful sunset. There are only 1.5 weeks left and yet still so many things to see! On a side note, we are proud that our camping routine is now well established and as economical as possible: grocery/food shopping every 2-3 days; refilling water supplies and dump grey water every second day to allow shower and cook/cleaning in the meantime (and now in less than 5min done – in the beginning we took, well, maybe 20mins?) etc.. We estimate we save up to 200 NZD a week by only visiting commercial campsites once a week to charge electronically devices and camping the rest of the time a free spots. That being said, we still withdraw few hundred NZD every few days and are sometimes puzzled where the money is going to…Well, that’s not South East Asia anymore…

New Zealand can be so pretty on a good weather day that you can’t stop yourself to stop every few minutes to take photos. You sometimes feel like a movie star starring in a movie because it is just so beautiful: just hopefully you are not Gollum in the Lord of the Rings! 😉 We got up at the lake side with perfectly clear weather. Thanks to the clear resized_IMG_9042blue sky at Lake Taupo, we were able to see the three mountain peaks CLEARLY in the background! The summit of Ngauruhoe which had been shy for the past two days was even visible today. After having a breakfast at picnic area overlooking the lake and mountains we had our routine with food shopping and some household. After getting our “house” ready for another few days we went to visit the Huka Falls. These waterfalls are located at NZ’s longest river, the Waikato, where 15% of NZs’ electrical energy is produced. We then continued to discover The resized_IMG_9062Craters of the Moon where we saw multiple hot steams making their way to the earths’ surface. The friendly retired volunteers running this place introduced us in the secrets of this place and we had some good chatters with them. You could somehow tell that they are proud of their country and love showing off what it has to offer. At the craters we had our first practice to get used to the “rotten eggy” smell due to Sulphur in preparation of our next stop, Rotorua (the Mecca of geysers and volcanic activities). Although it was not exactly the best weather to bathe, we weresized_IMG_9095nt bathing at the river at a special area where a hot spring flows into the Waikato. It felt very good. It required some getting used to it as we entered the water because it was a special sensation to feel layers of cold and hot water mixing together (Freezing on the legs while our upper body gets red from the hot water on the surface feels quite odd). Our next overnight stay was at a crowded hippie place called Reid’s Farm Reserve. It was definitely one of the most crowded campsites we have visited! It was a cold night again: Night temperatures were down to 3 degrees again.

As we woke up there was again a lot of fog due to the proximity of the site to the river. resized_IMG_9140Tempted of getting some good shots our photographer left the van at 7:30am in the morning leaving her asleep behind. Returning to the campervan there were some nice shots on the SD card and, less proudly telling, a lot of mud on the pants from almost falling into the river because the ground was so slippery (Yes, men should really not leave the house without their women. Stuff like that would never ever happen with them on our sides, really ;)). As it was ANZAC day (a day in remembrance of war in Australia and NZ) a lot of shops and attractions were closed. We drove further north to Rotorua, one of NZ most touristy areas. While entering the town we drove on the main road for about 3km only being able to see the sides dotted with motels and hotels. We were wondering how many thousands of tourist beds they have to offer here. The eggy smell in the air got worse and worse and was somehow penetrating (imagine the smell of fireworks if you cannot get the “picture” of how it feels). After studying our travel guide, online recommendations and a short consultation (and rather unprofessional) consultation at the i-Site we were confused about what to visit in this town. There are just too many choices of similarly marketed sights and attractions all not quite getting to the point of what they offer. And commercial they are: in this region one cannot visit any sight unless paying at least 30-40 NZD per person (on the South Island we didn’t not pay for any site just to visit it). In the end we booked a ticket to visitresized_IMG_9174 the Wai-O-Tapu volcanic area (not the most famous attraction but rather focusing on spectacular nature then culture) for next day. We had a short stroll around town and lakeside area where mud pools and steam dominated the scene. Early afternoon we drove some 30km back south to the Waitike valley for our intended overnight stay (a thermal bath area with a small campsite next to it offering a good value combo of campsite and bathing for 40 NZD). We saw plenty of steam in the air already a kilometer or so before being there. Although we were early (2pm) there was resized_IMG_9210this shocking sign “no vacancy” in front of the camping. Lucky as we are we got the last powered site again (Later we found out that a family having their annual reunion made reservation for half of the campsites). Had some laundry done and went for bathing in the hot pools. Soaking in the 34-40 degrees hot pools (the water actually springs naturally about 100m away from where you bath and is about 98degrees hot) felt wonderful. The bath was indeed that good that we went for another session after dinner in the dark. Sleep was exceptionally good, and warm, that night.resized_IMG_9254

The first half of the next day was dedicated to our visit to the Wai-O-Tapu volcanic area whom we bought the tickets for. The attraction was split into three different areas, all     located at a different places: a mud pool, a huge volcanic area with lakes and craters and a 20m geyser. The latter we visited first as it erupts daily at 10am. It was a very odd scene for us as we saw the huge car park and cars queuing up there. 5min later we found ourselves in a soccer stadium like audience rank watching a water fountain…and…after 2mins everything was over and the Chinese pushed to run to the cars to get to the next spot. We took our time letting the crowd escape (we definiresized_IMG_9275tely didn’t want to visit the lakes with all of them). So we went to the mud pools first and then headed well after the crowd to the main park. The walk in this surreal volcanic area was magical and impressive. We decided to go for the longest walk combining all tracks together and wandered through dozens of smoky, smelly craters, caves and lakes in all forms and colors for about two hours+. The place felt so surreal that only two things kept us away from dreaming: the bad eggy smell and the eventual drizzle and rain from time to time. Walking arounresized_IMG_9355d in the park with so many other visitors also pointed out how important marked pathways are and to protect these places. Unfortunately there are so many people who think they are more special and have to take their selfies from behind the fences what upset us quite a bit. After discovering the Wai-O-Tapu we drove back to Rotorua and stopped at Redwoods forest for another 1.5hrs hike in beautiful forests ending up at a panoramic lookout offering great views over the town of Rotorua (…and the Te Puia, the main attraction with a huge geyser. Hah! So we saw that one too without spending another 50 NZD per personJ). After an eventful day we camped for free at hidden spot between Rotorua and Taurunga.

The weather was long forecasted to be bad for the start into the new week but we didn’t expect it to be that bad. Heavy rain and wind increased during the night not easing until the next evening. It was pouring down endlessly the entire day. We drove to Tauranga at the Bay of Plenty and spent the day mainly indoors. Some coffee and internet, food shopping and refilling was on the agenda. The weather was so bad we didn’t dare to do a lot outdoors. In the evening at least the rain almost stopped. Hopefully the next day will be more hiking friendly as we wanted to get to the lookout of Mt Maunganui.resized_IMG_9369

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