Stay flexible is definitely the motto for touring New Zealand! Our plan today was to drive down to Turangi, by way of the the Tongariro National Park, where we intended to to do a couple of walks. Well, it rained heavily all night (caves may have been closed again today...) and more was promised for the day. As a wet weather alternative, we considered going on the Volcano loop, a scenic driving tour around the National Park. As the town of Whakapapa was both where we would begin our planned walk and close to the Volcano Loop, we decided to go to the information centre there to get info on the road conditions and other possible activities.
Along the way, we stopped at a a lookout near Piriaka. The views were lovely, but a car that pulled in shortly after us gave us a start. It came from the direction of Whaakapapa and had about 15cm of snow on its roof!! That just about immediately killed any idea of going for a hike and made it even more imperative to get info on the roads of the Volcano Loop.
Not too long after we resumed our drive, we saw snow on the hills in the distance - then patches of snow in the fields beside us and, before long, plenty of snow all around! Didn't see that coming! I guess our research was a little deficient... As we turned off the highway for the last few kms into Whakapapa, the snow started falling and we lost interest in even the scenic drive! However, we wanted some info and it was time for lunch, so we pressed on to the village.
There was heaps of traffic around but, by some miracle, we scored a parking spot right alongside the information centre. Our smugness soon turned back on us, however - the centre was closed because the staff couldn't get to work as they were snowed in! Never fear, coffee will fix everything - but that didn't work either as one cafe was closed and the other had a long queue. By now, the snow was really coming down so, invoking the time-honoured strategy of discretion being the better part of valour - and acknowledging the fact that we didn't have snow chains - we beat a hasty retreat to the somewhat balmier climes of Turangi, eating our lunch on the go!
The snow followed us all the way down to 700 metres, so we were pretty pleased that Turangi is at 350m. We soon found our digs, the Creel Lodge, and were delighted with it. We have a fully equipped one bedroom suite and the Lodge is right alongside the Tongariro River. With the now-rain continuing to fall, off and on, we procrastinated over what to do and finally decided on driving the five kilometres to the Tokaanu Thermal Walk. We knew it was a small thermal area - only a 20 minute walk around - but figured it would serve as a good intro to the area. And besides, how wet can you get in 20 minutes?!
We reckon the weather gods must have directed us to do this because the rain held off for our entire walk. Small though the Takaanu Thermal area is, it is very interesting with excellent interpretive boards. We were able to get up close to boiling water, bubbling mud and steam vents for a very good first look at a thermal area. What with the heavy overcast and threatening rain, marsh grasses and steam, the whole area had an uncanny feel of the Dead Marshes from Lord of the Rings. A very good little outing and best of all, it's free!
With the rain back, we gave up on visiting any other lookouts and headed back to the Lodge. After settling in and a cup of coffee, we opted for a quick walk along the river - at least we wouldn't be far from 'home' and we had brollies! The Tongariro River is apparently a trout fishing hotspot and indeed we did see a few hardy souls, in their rubber leggings and waterproof smocks, wading about, throwing lines around and looking wet and miserable! We are sure they were actually quite determinedly happy about it!
The walk was very pleasant and we didn't get too damp, then it was time to cook dinner. After last night, the challenge was on to create something simple and tasty and we have invented a new dish that will be added to the home menu. No revelation of the secret herbs and spices, but our "Chicken Turangi" was delicious!
Tomorrow, we have a plan to spend the day on and around Lake Taupo, so we are hoping for a bit of a weather break.