After breakfast, we left Chris and Laurie on their way to Weta Cave and we started our trek north. We headed up Highway 1 with our original intention to stay on it through to Cambridge where Alison Flett lives ( our friend Jim in Edmonton's sister. But we changed the plans along the way.
Our first stop was at Otaki where there was a preponderance of outlet stores. I found a Merino wool something for Clair as well as a couple of necklaces for the girls and Chris got Merino wool long johns. I have avoided "Icebreaker" brand because it is now made in China and it seems weird to buy it. Instead, I've had luck in small local shops.
Next stop was Levin where it cost $110 to fill up the tank with about 50 litres at $2.12 per litre. Shortly after, we left the highway and took a detour to Himatangi Beach. Beautiful beach that seemed to go on forever. It is funny that people drive on the beach here. It had the most amazing sand dunes in behind that they are keeping people off in an attempt to revegetate them. Looks to be successful. After a walk on the beach and a snack, we headed out.
We went back to the highway and headed north to Bulls where our plan changed and we took Highway 3 to Wanganui. Wanganui is a really pretty town. It is on the Wanganui River which is the first river we have seen full of water since we got to New Zealand. The whole country seems to be in a drought. The city centre is very quaint with small shops and restaurants, hanging plants, awnings, the whole bit. We had a nice lunch at an outdoor cafe. When we were leaving, we noticed this tall tower on top of the hill. It's the Durie Hill Memorial Tower. So we went on a quest to find our way to it. Unfortunately it was blocked off for work being done on it. I suspect they are "earthquake proofing" it. Many public buildings are blocked off for that reason. I think since the Christchurch earthquake, they are much more focused on it. We would highly recommend Wanganui as a town to stay in ( even though we didn't). It is a neat place.
Next we headed north again on Highway 4. This is where the day became fun or terrifying depending on your perspective. The highway is narrower and windier than the one we took into Wellington. Keeping in mind that we drive on the left here and the cliffs fall off in that direction, I was the terrified one. I'm surprised I could pry my fingers off the handle of the car door when we got out! The scenery though was amazing. The highway basically curves and climbs
until it gets to the turn for Ohakune and then levels out. At this point, we are at Tongariro National Park. It is an area with 3 distinct mountains. One of them, Mount Ruhapehu, has a ski resort on the south side of the mountain and another on the north side. Whakpapa Village, the north side ski area, became our end destination for the day. It turns out the mountain is an active volcano that has erupted big time in 1994, 1995 and 2007. There have been warnings in 2011 ansd 2012. We found that out AFTER we had checked into a hotel. Our hotel is the highest elevation hotel on the North Ialand called Skotel. There is also a very fancy Chateau here. Between here and the actual ski hill 6 km up the road, it looks like the moon with black lava rock and very little vegetation. People have built ski homes up at the hill hanging out of the lava rock. It is bizarre given the history of the area - but then the town of Rotaruta is build in the crater of an old volcano and they don't think that's weird.
On our drive today, we saw a peacock by the roadside, Chris saw a kiwi bird, there was a sheep on a curve in the very narrow windy road and we heard a bird in a tree (at one of our stops) that made the strangest noises. We don't know what it was but had not heard anything like it. And we saw millions of live sheep and dead possums. There are no animals on these islands to be natural predators Again, weird.
I guess that's it for today. Tomorrow, I will add some photos for yesterday and today. Need to get them organized first.