From Deco to Hot Thermal Springs
From our deco digestions we moved on to things more warm, chemical and a whole lot more fiery. We were headed to the Great lakes of the North Island, Lake Taupo and Rotorua. We’d heard and read a great deal about these places so we were looking forward to this. The promise of hot mineral baths and great lakes was the order of the day.
From Napier you head inland 140Km, two and half hours later, you find yourselves in Taupo. The drive sees you leaving wine country behind. You enter the land of the ‘Thermal Tourer Explorer Route’ as it is monikered in the road maps and on signposts along the route. The journey is interesting, but until you reach Waipunga Falls there is little to stop for other than a pee and a coffee, unless you have time for a tramp/walk as there are plenty of tracks off the main highway.
You travel through a few hilly bits but as you approach Taupo you are in serious logging country evidenced by the double road trains hauling huge felled tress you meet on your way, we had a lucky escape!
Smell the Sulphur
It is clear when you are approaching Taupo as you begin to smell the region, before you see it. Although in a weird way your body seems to become responsive to the climatic changes. You catch faint whiffs of sulphur and other chemical smells and you know the earths hidden tumult has made it to the surface in these parts of New Zealand.
As we’ve mentioned in previous blogs we are here during Waitangi weekend; sure enough thousands of New Zealand’s inhibitants had decided that a weekend by the lakes was just the ticket, just like us.
We arrived in Taupo town and the place was rammed, a quick stop at the I-site and a long queue to interrogate the local knowledge providers and it was clear we were going to struggle to find a site for the night in the main town.
We tried one site in town which also promised thermal mineral pools, but all they could offer us was an overflow site in the car park. Which on inspection was was something we weren’t prepared to pay for, not being an official powered site. They wanted to charge the full price, we toddled along and decided to head out of town and find something quieter.
The decision was a good one and we ended up driving about 40Km south on the lake to a small township of Tokaanu where we found a nice quiet site with its very own mineral spa and hot pools which was included in your camping fee (for the sum of NZD$38, or £18 for both of us).
We settled in, BBQ’d some of our fresh farm produce, acquired in the Napier outskirts, and had what can only be described as a pampering evening dipping in and out of the mineral spas and finishing off with a private Jacuzzi before settling into a most restful nights sleep. You have been spared photos of us semi naked in the pools… hippos wallowing springs to mind.
Taupo was just too busy for us, so we headed to Rotorua, which is only about an hours drive away. On the way we stopped at the Huka Falls and Aratiatia rapids. The falls are interesting, but we are getting a little blasé about waterfalls now having seen the fiords and other falls along our journey in the South Island. The Aratiatia rapids are worth the stop though.
At pre determined times during the day the dam on the river is opened to let water cascade down the gorge; if you time your visit to coincide with one of these spectacles you get a great insight of the power of water as it’s force is unleashed through the dam and you see a quiet trickling river transform into a torrent of energy as the water builds up then cascades down the valley.
All charge an entrance fee to view the thermal activity and all offer similar sulphur and volcanic pools and geysers. The official sites all charge anything from NZD $38 – $45 per person we did not really want to sample all of them. We plumped for Wai-o Tapu and you are offered an interesting self-guided hours walk around the various thermal volcanic activity.
It was breathtaking, literally. From the champagne pools producing delightful bubbles and volcanic steams to the bubbling mud pools; which are a short drive (and free) a little away from the main centre. Whilst driving in our campervan, you pass the odd pool dotted along the road, but as you dont know the temperature or acidity level I’d say it was a bit of a gamble jumping in. so probably best go with the locals to thermal springs centre – there are many according to budget and requirements.
We then arrived at Rotorua town and decided that it was just far too busy for our now laid back chilled, sulphur, mineral pool induced relaxed mood so we decided to keep on moving onwards to the Bay of Plenty and hopefully some scenic drives and plentiful bays.
We didn’t partake, but this is a great place to do helicopter flight viewing volcanic activity. The journey, and crowds, were definitely worth it for the hot springs and geothermal experience alone.