Getting the expensive days over and done with…
We’d already paid $79 each to visit Hobbiton, so decided to get a couple more of the expensive things on our to-do list out of the way sooner rather than later.
Day 142 – Wednesday 12th October 2016
Waking up in somebodies front garden was a new experience for us, but Liz had to leave for work at 06:30 so knocked for us quickly to say goodbye and then took off. She left the house unlocked so that we could use the shower and kitchen which was absolutely ideal, and we made sure to be our way by around 09:30 to avoid overstaying our welcome.
Our first stop of the day was something that we’d never heard of before, but came recommended by a friend. We drove for fifteen minutes until we arrived at a walking trail, which we followed as far as the Pataruru Blue Springs. I can honestly say that I’ve never seen clearer water or such natural vibrant colours before, check this out:
We didn’t walk the entire trail because it was due to rain, which eventually it did, but not before we made it back to the van. Warm and dry we drove for another hour as far as Rotorua, which is probably the smelliest place I’ve ever visited – thanks to excessive hydrogen sulphide emissions the whole place smells like rotten eggs. We popped into the Visitor Information Center, asked for things to do, walked away with a ton of tourist leaflets, and finally decided that we’d spend a day at Te Puia – home of New Zealand’s Maori Arts and Crafts Institute amongst other tourist attractions.
We arrived at 14:00 and stayed for well over three hours, in which time we had a guided tour of the grounds, then a traditional Maori experience, and lastly some alone time to wander around for ourselves. Our guide was part Maori and part Scottish (what a combination) and quite clearly loved her job, as enthusiasm shined through from start to finish:
We visited Te Whakarewarewa (good luck pronouncing that one), a sixty hectare Geothermal Valley which included stops at the Pohutu Geyser, some natural bubbling mud pools and a live kiwi bird enclosure, then concluded at Marae, a traditional Maori gathering place. Potuhu Geyser is the largest active geyser in the southern hemisphere, reaches heights of up to thirty metres, and erupts once or twice an hour. Almost next door we found the bubbling mudpools, which sit at an average temperature just below the boiling point, making them far too hot for us to jump in!
The enclosure only actually had one kiwi bird inside, a two year old female, who usually shares her space with an older male, but it’s mating season and he was a little forward with her so ended up being removed.
The traditional Maori experience started outside where our group was greeted by the Maori Chief before being led into the Marae:
Inside we were invited to watch several traditional Maori cultural performances which were absolutely incredible to see, but did feel a little bit touristy for our liking. Most people left after the show but we stayed and walked around on our own, which gave us the chance to take a few more pictures without having to battle against other tourists to get to where we wanted to be.
It wasn’t until nearly 18:00 that we finally left, then drove as far as Tokorua before stopping for the night. Our campsite, Arohena, was another hidden gem. Situated right on top of Lake Arapuni we spent another night falling asleep to the sound of water nearby, but thankfully this time there was less chance of being wiped out by giant waves!
Day 143 – Thursday 13th October 2016
This morning there was hardly a cloud in the sky, our van overlooked the lake as it glistened in the sun and the sound of cows echoed through the hills. I literally couldn’t have wished for anything more perfect. I was so impressed that I even got a bit trigger happy with the camera just so make sure that the moment didn’t go unrecognised:
Abbie went for a quick paddle before we left, as she does, and then we set off in the direction of Waitomo:
Abbie’s brother Josh, who visited New Zealand maybe six years ago, told us that if there’s only one thing that we definitely can’t miss out on it has to be the Waitomo Glowworm Caves, so we couldn’t let him down. We even found a -25% discount code online before paying for our tickets too which came in handy!
Our tour included the exploration of three levels inside the cave and concluded with a boat ride through what’s called the Glowworm Grotto. Unfortunately there’s a no photography rule, so we left our cameras behind and made the most of the experience for ourselves. Both of us were left lost for words – the only way I can describe the experience is like looking up at the night sky on a pitch black evening and seeing nothing but stars, or like piercing a million tiny pinholes in a bed sheet and then laying underneath it.
Given the chance we would have stayed all day long, but as our tour came to an end we had no choice but to leave. We weren’t sure what to do after that so drove to a nearby McDonald’s and planned on using the Wi-Fi to make a decision, where coincidentally I had a Facebook message from an old friend who advised that we pay a visit to Tongariro National Park, which is exactly what we done next.
Along the way we happened to find ourselves caught up amongst the Targa Tour 2016. As we plodded along in our battered old Toyota Hiace an endless pack of super cars darted past us, each staring as if to ask how on earth we’d ended up on the same road as them. They all stopped at the Chateau Tongariro Hotel, a two minute walk away from Whakapapa Motor Camp where we spent the night, so we stopped by to take a few photographs while we had the chance:
We wanted to visit Mount Doom before settling down but the clouds were so low that it was pointless. We gave it a miss, hopeful that the weather would fix itself up by the morning, then caught up on laundry and then went to sleep when our Wi-Fi allowance expired. That’s right, we were only allowed a certain amount of data per person, which was annoying but better than nothing though I suppose. Anyway, it encouraged an early night too, which probably wasn’t such a bad thing to be honest.