Our travel experiences constantly surprises me. I never thought I would walk on an island which was a live volcano. We were told that live volcanoes were measured on a scale of 1 to 5 as to volatility, and that the three active New Zealand volcanoes were grade 1. That did not sound so bad until we were told that White Island would be 2 ½ if it were closer to the mainland population. Now why was this information delayed until I was walking on White Island?
Once safely back on land I felt very brave. Our next task was to phone Coastal Caravans, the Jayco dealer for this area, to inform of our return. The owner drove into Whakatane and transported us back to his dealership where our home was being repaired and the self containment plumbing work was being put right. This had proved to be a much bigger job than expected but the work was almost finished when we arrived at the yard. All the Jayco Dealers we visited in Australia, and the two so far in New Zealand have been very helpful and a joy to do business with; the owner of Coastal Caravans, his son and all of the other staff were probably the best yet.
We waved goodbye and set off down the road following good instructions to Awakeri; a camp site where there was thermally heated swimming pools, allegedly kept at 37 C. For the price of the normal camping fee we could use the Olympic sized pool or the smaller one. The last hour between 8.30pm and 9.30pm was for camp users only and the pools were re-opened at 7.0am with the public not being allowed to enter before 8.0am.
On arrival at the camp we observed several motorhomes displaying the motorhome club badge and who clearly was enjoying happy hour in the camp dining area. Sylvia explored whilst I set up the electric and water supply, and to our joyous surprise we were greeted as long lost friends. The group had been part of the vans we met at Arthurs Pass on the 22 February in the South Island. We had conversed with one man for some time and showed him around our van; it was really nice to meet with him again. The unexpected death of one of their members had prompted the journey to his funeral and the group was now on their way home.
After happy hour we had our evening meal and then met up with our new friends in the pool. Because of the night time drop in temperature we were all in the smaller pool which retained most of its heat. To control the temperature of thermally heated pools cold water is added, however, at night time it is not worth the bother to mess with the temperature settings. In the morning the pool will return to the 37C.
The earlier conversations continued, this time whilst just being lazy in hot water. It is amazing how hard work this is. After about an hour of this torture we got out feeling very tired and I think we enjoyed a very good night’s sleep. I say think because my night’s memory stopped once my head hit the pillow.
We set our alarm and was in the pool for 7.20am to enjoy another laze in the hot water. Who says you can have too much of a good thing. After another pleasant soak we met our friends in the camp kitchen for breakfast. They had been given a large number of pieces of King Fish which were in the form of fish steaks, and we had been invited to share. This was my first experience of eating King Fish and I hope it wont be my last; congratulations to the chef of the group. It was sad to say goodbye but we were given several addresses and may have the opportunity to meet again.
Today we are going to visit the Tarawera Falls which were recommended to us by Jon, our pop site host. These are situated well inside Maori land amongst miles and miles of pine forest. First we must visit the town of Kawerau to purchase for a small fee, a permit from the tourist office to allow us to travel on the Maori land. Kawerau proved to be a nice active town which has a very large thermally heated swimming pool and this is free for all of the townsfolk and anyone else to use.
All vehicles in the forest area had to drive with headlights on for safety reasons. At first we traveled on good roads and these eventually began to deteriorate. As we got deep in the forest and round one bend I spotted 4 wallabies scampering back into the undergrowth, and was able to quickly direct Sylvia’s gaze to the last one in sight. We had not been fortunate to see any of the 30,000 wallabies which live in the forest below Oamaru in the South Island so this was an unexpected pleasure.
It took a 20 minute walk to reach the Tarawera Falls which were as spectacular as we had been promised. The water at the falls comes from the Tarawera Lake. The information sign informed, ‘the cliff infront of you is the end of an ancient lava flow that is believed to have poured from an erupting Mount Tarawera about 11,000 years ago. The high cliffs have resulted from rapid erosion of the thick lava flow, mostly occurring when great floods have passed down the river. The lava is highly fractured and the river flows downward through joints in the rock. About 30 metres, (99 feet), back from the cliff top the Tarawera River disappears into the subterranean chambers, re-emerging through the rock face infront of you.’
The result of the above was we were able to view a magnificent waterfall appearing from a hole high in cliff, and this was joined about halfway down on either side by more water gushing out of the rock face. The walk continued along the river course which disappeared underground on two occasions, all the way to the lake but we did not have enough time for the two hour walk. Instead we retraced our steps until able to take the road to the lake. After negotiating more rough roads we arrived at a Department of Conservation campsite by another lovely New Zealand lake, and the Tarawera River outlet which is a protected breeding area for Brown Trout.
The toilet notice interested me the most. In order to protect the lake and waterways the toilet system was based on a Swedish design which has a sealed chamber with organic matter. The rules made it clear that only body waste should go down the hole and that on leaving the toilet seat should be left up and the door open. The last line of the notice read, “Because of the methane generated by this system those wishing to smoke in these premises should do so with care”.
We successfully found our way out of the forest after driving on more than 42 miles of rough roads and 8 miles of sealed road, and returned to our camp with the hot water pools for another night. Tomorrow our journey will be for a large part along the gravel road leading to Lake Waikaremoana.