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I said at the end of the last blog that we were about to leave Rotorua. Before we do there are a couple of things I want to mention.
We saw when we arrived, that Rotorua has an Evening Market each Thursday. We thought it would be a good chance to meet with some locals, chat with them about their products (thinking local crafts etc. here) and may be pick up a couple of things as memories to take home. We arrived about 6pm and the market was in full swing. At one end a duo had set up an awning to keep the sun off and were playing rock and roll guitars. They were quite good but sadly we only saw one lady from those gathered round get up and dance. The ambient smell of sulphur had been replaced, albeit temporarily by the smoke and smell of numerous fast food outlets. Mainly Burgers, but also on offer I saw Kebabs, Fish and Chips, Mexican food and a host of other outlets selling street food. The smells and sights were very stimulating and made me feel quite hungry! However the Cholesterol and Fat alarms were ringing loudly in my mind so we walked on.
Rotorua Night Market Clockwise from top Left: Rockin’ out Kiwi Style; Handbags but no glad rags; One of many street food trailers; “You Dancing?” You Askin?”
There were one or two stands selling trinkets, handbags, necklaces and scarves but mainly fast food stands. It passed a pleasant hour or so but beer/wine and food called so we headed for Eat Streat (That is how it is spelt on the sign) for a drink and a meal.
After The Street Market we needed a drink, and yes some of that is water…it was still very hot!
Whenever we roll up somewhere we are always looking for a decent coffee shop for our morning fix, to plan our day or write up the previous days diary. Lyn concentrates on writing her book. We have struggled a little in Rotorua but by accident one morning we stumbled across the local Garden Centre. Now some of you may know that we are regular coffee drinkers at Wymondham Garden Centre when home.Next to the Lemon Tree Cafe in Wymondham, it is the best in town so we had to try it out, just like a home from home. Fixation cafe was at the back of the outdoor plant section and nestled in a corner surrounded by an amazing pond which ran around three sides of the building. It had a wooden verandah and was doggy friendly which pleased Lyn greatly.
The coffee was excellent, so were the cakes. So much so that for the last 3 days of our time in Rotorua that is where we spent part of each morning. Oh and the resident cat was very affectionate but was camera shy so sorry cat lovers, only 1 picture.
Coffee Time Clockwise from top left: As it comes – The saucer adds a touch of class!; Muffin the cat; Part of the landscaped pond; View from the Verandah
From Rotorua it is a short two hour drive to Turangi which sits at the southern end of Lake Taupo. We are entering Lakes and Mountains country on North Island. This area is geared for the Winter Sports season so in their high summer is very quiet.
Turangi is a small place, almost a commuter town, with the main North South highway running down the eastern edge of the town. It has a very good I-site with loads of information on where to go and what to do. Much of the activity on offer is geared towards the adrenaline junkies who frequent the backpackers lodges on the outskirts of town. However we did discover some good walking trails to try out and being close to the mountains means some better landscape photography opportunities. To the north is Lake Taupo and to the south Lake Rotoraira. A number of smaller lakes are dotted about the landscape, formed out of years and years of volcanic activity so this could be the Lake District of North Island.
About 30 mins drive from Turangi is a small village called Whakapapa (the Wh is pronounced as “F”) which is the centre for all alpine activity in the National Park in the winter months. It has a massive hotel, Chateau Turangi, facing down the road as you drive in, and appeared for this day to be the meeting point for the local Harley Davidson owners group. There must have been thirty odd bikes parked up outside with owners gathered in a group . The I-site is 100 metres up the road and is geared for skiers and walkers alike. It also has an exhibition about Volcanoes, showing what happens when it all goes wrong and action you take when it starts to erupt and you are in the village. There are a couple of cafes close by and about 3km up the road, the obligatory chairlift, which we discovered was only partly working. The top half is shut down for servicing. The whole scene though is dominated by a large snowcapped volcanic mountain sitting malevolently behind the village, named Mt Ruapehu. The last major eruption of this volcano was in 1995/1996 and was the first one to be recorded on a webcam and uploaded to the Internet. There were two further small eruptions in 2006 and regular warnings issued since then but so far no further major activity. It is estimated that major eruptions occur every fifty years or so. In winter this mountain is where most of the ski runs are formed so if it starts bubbling there is that added adrenaline rush in addition to the skiing!
Three views of the Chateau Turangi: Clockwise from left: With the Harley Owners Club; With the dormant Volcano partly covered in cloud behind it; The Harley riders waving at a Drone.
The village lies within the Tongariro National Park and is close to one of the most popular one day tramps on North Island, The Tongariro Alpine Trail. This is a 19km tramp that takes you close to two of the three volcanoes in the park. It is a point to point walk so you have to arrange transport to take you and pick you up at the other end. It is said about 10,000 people walk this track each year. We were not to make it 10,002.
It was from Whakapapa that we walked the Taranaka Falls Trail, a short 2.5 hour walk to a waterfall in the lower hills. The trail took us through beach forests, and open alpine shrub land. The Falls sit approximately half way round the loop walk and as the path climbs to the half way point the falls can clearly be seen in the distance. Over to the left of the path in the distance is another volcano Mt Ngauruhoe and further into the distance the third in the chain and the shortest Mt Tongariro. We stayed a short while at the falls; there is something quite relaxing about watching a waterfall drop 20+ metres into a pool below whilst listening to the noise it makes. However that noise was interrupted by the sound of thunder in the distance. Time to make our way back to the village as there was a storm brewing. Not surprising as it had been a very warm and muggy day.
From top: Lyn photobombs a stream scene; Lyn at the Taranaki Falls; Two shots of the falls.
As we walked back into the village it was clear that we had come in behind the storm. The roads were wet from recent rain but we had missed the downpour, but not the lightning display which stood out in the distance as we walked back.
Top to Bottom: The view back down the valley from Taranaki Falls; A storm approaching; Mt Ngauruhoe, one of the volcanos in the Tongariro National Park.
About 45 minutes drive south of Turangi is the National Army Museum of New Zealand. It is located in a township named Waiouru, which when you get there, exists only for the army base on the edge of town. The drive down takes you through the only desert in New Zealand , the Rangipoo Desert. It is not a desert in the conventional sense with sand dunes and camels crossing, however it is a vast barren flatland of reddish grit and green scrub which the NZ army use as a training ground. Naturally there are keep out signs everywhere though it is not fenced off. There are some good viewpoints of the mountains to the west though.
Two views of the “desert” with the volcanoes in the background
Waiouru’s facilities were very basic, a number of fast food emporiums a couple of petrol stations and this museum.
Whereas the town was a little ramshackle and run down the museum was modern, fresh with ideas and exhibits and some really interesting displays. The highlight must be their special display showing the New Zealand army involvement in the first world war, specifically their participation 3rd Battle of Paschendale in 1917. There were written accounts, photographs, a graphic display of battle showing a wounded horse, yes they still charged in on horseback in WW1. Most moving were the photographs and an exhibition of prints by a British photographer, Brett Killington. Brett had visited the site of Paschendale for this exhibition and taken shots of the area as it is today, but using a pinhole camera he had made himself and 5×4 film plates. The effect was to re-create photos as they may have been in 1917 and he has succeeded in that aim.
Clockwise from top: Introduction to the Passchendale Exhibition; 12 pictures by Brett Killington; Despatch riders motorbike (BSA 400) WW2
The rest of the museum took us through the history of the New Zealand Army from its initial formation during the New Zealand Wars through two world wars and subsequent conflicts in Korea, Malaya, Vietnam, Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan. Much of their later involvement was through the auspices of the United Nations where they provide support such as peacekeeping, Disaster Relief such as in East Timor and Security Assistance such as Bosnia. It gave a fascinating insight into New Zealand place in the world.
From here we journeyed to Ohakune which is another Alpine resort at the southern end of the Tongariro National Park. There was more here but again, midsummer the only visitor activity were the walkers. We found a forest walk to do before heading to a cafe/bar for a refreshing sparkly water only to be told rather disparagingly, “we don’t serve that here, only beer and coffee”. So we left as it was too early for beer and too hot for coffee. The temperature as we left was over 30 celsius and as we drove up the main road towards Turangi we could see the clouds building, just as they had on Sunday. This time we were not so lucky. The rain started as spots on the windscreen but within a few seconds we were caught in a phenomenal downpour which forced us off the road and to park up until it had cleared. With this was one almighty Thunderstorm. We were pulled over for about fifteen minutes before we judged it safe to continue. By the time we got back to Turangi the temperature was back up to high twenties and it was hot, sticky and humid. It appeared that not one drop of rain had fallen here.
Stormy Weather – This downpour forced us to pull over. These shot through the windscreen.
And After the storm.
Turangi sits close to the River Tongariro, reputedly one of the finest Trout fishing rivers in New Zealand, if you are into that sort of thing. There is a trail which runs alongside the river which we walked. Along this trail you have to cross two narrow suspension bridges, the sort which swings if more than two people at a time step on to them. We saw a few fishermen but what was most delightful was seeing local children of all ages out on their own, no parents watching over them, having great fun swimming in the safer parts of the river, cycling down the tracks playing free and uninhibited. What a contrast to the UK.
Clockwise from top left: Tongariro River; Major Thomas Brigde, one of two “Swingy” bridges on this walk; The other Swingy Bridhe; Lyn on the Swingy Bridge.
This was a lovely walk part shaded but it was another hot day so in the sun it was very warm.
We have around 6 days left on North Island before our crossing to South Island. We still have Napier and Wellington to “do” yet.
Us out and about.