New Zealand part 4: Volcanoes and Hot Springs
1 Jan. Happy New Year! It’s 2014 here in the antipodes! A lazy breakfast of yogurts, coconut flavor and passionfruit flavor. Shower, pack up. Heading to see some LOTR sites today! On our way out of town we decide against the Te Puia geyser & Maori center. Another trip. Later we drive past a sign for Waimangu Volcanic Valley. Hmm, sounds interesting. We had no fixed agenda for this trip, so we enjoyed stopping at things that sounded neat. Our serendipitous stops turned out to be some of the best parts of the trip.
The park includes a 4 km walk, almost all downhill, and a bus to take you back up. 3 bus stops along the way for various energy levels. Start walking around 1045. Over 30 points of interest on the map! Too many cool things to describe them all. Frying Pan Lake with steam rising up off most of the lake, and burbling mud pots at the edges. Emerald Pool was very green when we were there–sometimes it is blue. Echo Crater is a sobering spot where the volcanic eruption took lives. The area claims to be the youngest geothermal area in the world. The most recent eruption was 1974. A very large eruption in the late 1800s killed a number of people. Inferno Crater Lake was a peaceful looking place with very hot water. The hot water stream is at 50 deg C. What a thought–a scalding stream! Bubbling pools and steam all over. Extensive water management ditches and culverts make more sense when you realize that it might be very hot water coming down the paths.
We walk all 4 km, taking tons of pictures, and reach the end around 1220. 2 coaches (buses) pick up people at the pier at the end of the trail. There are emergency assembly spots along the trail, in case the volcano decides to burp. The cool streams had frogs making great noises–we never spotted a frog though. This area is on a “continental divide”: where the India/Australia and Pacific plates meet. It’s the only volcanic area in the world whose activity origin can be pinned to an exact day: 10 June 1886. It was wonderful!
The cafe at the top had a GF sandwich pre-made! Kelly had a bacon and egg pie. That is something they do very well: pies. Not dessert pies, but savory pies. Bacon and egg, steak and ale, mince (beef), lamb and mint. All sorts of pies. I think we should bring pies into fashion in the US. We get Kelly a nice shirt out of sporty material, with the NZ All Blacks logo.
After this we continue on towards our goal of Tongariro National Park. We stop at a few gorgeous overlooks. Head through some towns. The main state highways aren’t interstates/freeways/tollways. They are more like our smaller state highways. Unless you’re in a big city, it is two-lane only and may or may not have a shoulder. It might not even have a white line on the outside of the lane. Speed limit is 100 kph (62 mph), and you are supposed to get over to allow someone behind you to pass. There are occasional pull-offs to do this, or you can wait for a nice open straightaway and turn your left signal on, slow down, and get to the outside edge of the lane. This can occasionally be scary for the driver accustomed to US roads. It is more often scary for the navigator in the left seat who sits frozen, shouting “too close! too close!” or “that’s the edge!” or once in a while “aaaaaaaaagh!”
We pass along Lake Taupo, a very large lake in the middle of the island and a prime holidaying spot. Then we take a 7-kilometer unpaved road back to a carpark for the Alpine crossing in Tongariro. This is where you embark on your crazy mountain crossing if you are so inclined and have the necessary gear. There are several large peaks, and one of them is unmistakably Mount Doom! Whoa! We make our way back out the scary unpaved road to the main highway. Then into Whakapapa. The letters “wh” together are pronounced “f” so it sounds like fa-ka-pa-pa. There is an amazing chateau with the most splendid backdrop: the Chateau Tongariro. Go look it up.
They are booked for the night (probably too expensive anyways). We go online and find Tussock Grove Boutique Hotel. I wish we could have stayed several days here! It was a bit hard to find, but was so worth it. On the way to the hotel we stop at Tawhei Falls but don’t find the place where Smeagol chases a fish downstream—as it turns out this is because it’s the falls where Smeagol eats a fish below the Window on the West. Get to the hotel around 1830 and the proprietor is cheery and welcomes us nicely. And of course gives us milk.
The room is amazing. It’s obviously a ski lodge, with ski holders along the halls, an outdoor hot tub, hot cocoa packets in the tea box (the first!). There are 8 suites, and ours is 2 levels with a seating area and bathroom on ground floor and large bedroom and couch/TV area on first floor. Windows everywhere. There is a weird bedspread with a flap to cover the pillows. That’s another non-UK thing: they use top sheets and blankets, not duvets. Our proprietor had recommended the Cypress Tree for dinner, so we head into town. We drive since the larger area of restaurants is not within walking distance. Good thing we drove–it started bucketing down rain during dinner. We ended up at the Cypress Tree. Again, lots of things labeled GF. I have a salmon risotto and Kelly has lamb rump with beetroot (beets). Great food.
The rain lightens up a little as we run to the car. Back to our wonderful room and enjoy an early night.
I’ve been traveling in Hawaii and New Zealand and will be posting links to the pictures soon.
Whenever we travel my wife does a travel diary while I take most of the pictures. I use her notes as my references for later use for books and other things. She has been gracious enough to allow me to share them here on my site for those who are interested.