Expect the unexpected – and today, the unexpected was that our plan for the day went as expected!
Finally, a day with little rain and even periods of warm sunshine, made for a good setting for our first adventure of the day. We drove from Turangi alongside Lake Taupo to the town of Taupo. The lake, one of many volcanic lakes in the area, is beautiful, with a twisting road along the shoreline that makes driving it interesting and provides many scenic views.
We arrived at the town dock and met our skipper, Jamie of Barbary Cruises, for our sail on Lake Taupo. He owns two sailing boats, one 92 years old and the other around 46. He has refitted both and replaced their diesel engines with electric motors, which we really appreciated as the almost total lack of wind meant that the motors had to be on for the whole trip. Being able to enjoy the sounds and smells of being on the water – and not diesel - was a real bonus.
Jamie is an interesting and entertaining skipper, and his description of the Mine Bay Maori carvings, that can only be accessed from the water, was excellent. Carved into the rock face as recently as 1980, the main portrait and smaller surrounding pieces are both beautiful examples of Maori art and culturally significant.
Because of the lack of wind, the trip was much longer than anticipated, but we still arrived back in time to make it to our next objective. This was to see the Aratiatia rapids on the Waikato River, which drains Lake Taupo. This particular stretch of water has been harnessed to drive a hydroelectric power station and is now essentially a spillway. What makes this spillway impressive is that the natural run of the river is untouched At scheduled times each day, the power station releases water into the spillway and, over a period of several minutes, the gorge transforms from a dry gully of boulders to a spectacular, roaring, kilometre long series of rapids. Most impressive! As an added bonus, the rapids were the scene of the Great Escape by the Dwarves in The Hobbit – Desolation of Smaug movie, so naturally it is now a high point on the Hobbit/Lord of the Rings circuit all around New Zealand.
From roaring water and fantasy, we turned our attention to the main feature of this region, thermal activity. There are many areas of thermal activity all around Central New Zealand and this is one of the more famous in Taupo. It is much bigger than the walk we did yesterday at Tokaanu but, strangely, we found it less impressive. To be sure, it is very interesting and we saw plenty of steam vents, mud pools, and deep fissures in the ground, but it lacked something – perhaps it was because it is mostly open ground or maybe just because it wasn’t the first thermal park, but we were not as amazed as we thought we would be. Still, plenty of room left for amazement as we have other similar places on our agenda!
Our final stop was to see the Huka Falls. Further upstream from Aratiatia, these falls a combination of rapids and small falls, ending in a ten-metre main fall. There are several observation points to view this impressive stretch of waterway and we called in on most of them! It’s not possible to have too many waterfalls!
By the time we had finished the day, it was just about dusk and we were treated to a very good sunset across Lake Taupo as we returned to the Lodge. One other thing we learned on this drive – don’t take this hire car out at night unless we really have to! The lights are appalling! Anyway, we made it back without a problem and were treated to a second round of Chicken Turangi for dinner.
Tomorrow, we head off Matamata to visit Hobbiton. There are many locations around New Zealand that draw on their connections with the Rings/Hobbit Movies, but Aratiatia and Hobbiton are special because, while many locations are, well, just locations, these two are tangible places where it is easy to imagine being part of the movie scenes.
Weather for tomorrow is looking good!