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January 26th 2011 - Wanganui

23rd January 2011 – The weather didn’t improve at all today! In fact if anything it got worse! The rain continued to lash the campsite and then, as if that wasn’t bad enough, the wind got up as well! Fortunately all the standing water around the campsite gradually soaked into the ground and the puddles finally disappeared. At least that meant we could go to the loo without being ankle deep in water!!  So very sensibly we decided to stay for another day!


Finally, late afternoon there was a lull and Clive and I took the opportunity to go for a walk down to see the beach.  Wrapped up in our waterproofs just in case!  Wow, what a beach!  Unfortunately it was shrouded in mist, or sea fret, or haar, or whatever the kiwis call it! The surf was pounding on the beach and there wasn’t a soul to be seen.  It is an amazing beach though, incredibly long and I am sure when the sun is shining it is fantastic. Well actually I know it is because my nephew Nick has told me so! 


Papamoa Beach in the mist!


On the way back from the beach we called at the home of one of Nick and Sam’s friends.  In fact it was where they stayed for their last week in New Zealand after they had handed the keys to their house over.  Unfortunately their friends weren’t in, however a young Austrian lady who was looking after their cat just happened to come around the corner as we were ringing the doorbell and she told us they were away for a few days.  We left her our card with a message to call us.  The reason for our visit was that my great niece, Molly, had left her favourite silver sandals in their garden and we were hoping to pick them up and bring them home for her.


The rain started again so we hurried back to the campsite and hunkered down in the campervan for another night of wind and rain!


24th January 2011 – The rain has finally stopped, well almost, it was kind of like a heavy mist, just sort of damp!  The Scots have a wonderful word for weather like this, its “dreich” (pron. dreekh, the kh as in loch!).  We got everything stowed away and headed out of the campsite but we decided before leaving Papamoa Beach that we really had to go and see Torbin Place, where Nick, Sam and the children used to live.  We found Torbin Place but couldn’t find their house, No 9!  We knocked on the door of No 4 as we knew that Nick and Sam’s very good friends and neighbours, Raewyn and Jason lived there with their two children Eden and Harrison.  They were in and delighted that we had called and insisted that we stay for coffee. They are really missing Nick and Sam and I know that they in turn are being sorely missed too.  We hit it off with them instantly and Jason and Clive discovered something they have in common, their love of English comedy!  Now I am not talking alternate comedy here, I’m talking Benny Hill, The Two Ronnies, Eric Sykes etc etc.  Now as it happens Clive got a DVD for Christmas from Lindsey; The Morcambe and Wise shows!  Jason was ecstatic!  He suggested that we should call back at Papamoa Beach on our way back from South Island in a few weeks time so that we can stay with them and have a comedy night! We’re definitely up for that and are looking forward to it already! 


Jason, Raewyn, children Eden and Harrison and their friend Camrin


We finally tore ourselves away with a promise to return and headed off to our next destination – Rotorua!


We arrived in Rotorua mid afternoon and decided to have a look around the town.  We were here back in 2000 and really enjoyed our stay but things have changed quite a bit since then.  We parked the van and went for awalk around town.  There is the most amazing building here, which is now the Rotorua Museum but is actually quite old and was originally the first bath house built to accommodate all the Victorians who travelled here to “take the waters”! 


Rotorua's Museum


The area around the museum is known as The Government Gardens and there are several bowling greens situated in front of it and a pavilion for the Rotorua Bowling Club. As we were walking down the avenue from the museum we noticed two guys looking a little non-plussed and gazing at a large rectangular pond.  We then realised that said pond was in fact a flooded bowling green!!  We stopped and had a chat with them, they have quite a challenge ahead as at the weekend there is a bowling tournament and they need all their bowling greens so the fact that this one was six inches under water was not good!  We noticed another guy across the other side of the flooded green plunging a rod up and down in one of the gratings trying to free it and get the green to drain. We wished them luck and carried on with our stroll!  The thing that sets Rotorua apart from other towns is that there are steaming, bubbling pits dotted about in random spots.  The aroma of rotten eggs is constantly in the air as the sulphur laden steam permeates the town, its quite amazing!


Bubbling, steaming vent in the centre of town!


Clive decided he fancied a pint!  I remembered the last time we were in Rotorua, when Vicki was with us, that we went to a pub and I recalled sitting outside in a sort of beer garden.  I mentioned it to Clive but couldn’t remember what it was called, however I was sure there was a pig connection!  I had a vague idea which street it was on and we headed up there, sure enough there it was, The Pig and Whistle!  What a memory I have!  So we nipped in and had a drinky poo then headed off to find a campsite. We soon found one on the shores of Lake Rotorua and got ourselves booked in but then we nipped back up the road to a Chinese takeaway we had spotted earlier.  Ooh it was lovely food and made a nice change from salad!


We allowed our dinner to settle for an hour or so then got changed into our togs and took advantage of the free mineral pools on the campsite.  There were three of them.  Two round ones under cover, one was about 36 degrees and was very pleasant, which we spent quite a while in, we then went over to the rectangular pool which was actually open to the stars, except we couldn’t see them cos it was cloudy!  It was marginally cooler than the first one.  We stayed in a few minutes then went back to the round ones and decided to try the other pool – flipping heck it was hot!  It was more like 40 degrees!  We didn’t stop in that one very long, it was just too hot!  We had another few minutes in the pleasantly warm pool then headed back to the van and bed, glowing all over!


25th January 2011 – After breakfast I went off to the kitchen block to wash the pots, when I got back I found Clive feeding the birds – not just any birds, Pukekos!! They were sooooooooooo funny!  He was also feeding a little hoard of Sparrows and was throwing crumbs to them, which the Pukekos were chasing after, their feet are so huge they really don’t run well at all.  If ever a bird fell out of a cartoon it was the Pukeko!


Hungry Pukekos!


We left Rotorua behind and headed off on the road to Taupo but on the way we realised we were passing the Waiotapu Thermal Reserve.  No visit to Rotorua is complete without exploring one of the thermal valleys so we decided we just couldn’t pass this one by.  We have actually been to it before, back in 2000 but were really looking forward to seeing it all again.  Unfortunately we had missed the opportunity to see the Lady Knox Geyser blowing her stack, as that happens at 10.15am daily and by this time it was after 11.00am!  However we had a wonderful time, even though it was still drizzling a bit.  We didn’t bother with waterproofs, it was too warm, we just got damp! 


These thermal parks are just amazing, you are very, very close to Mother Earth here and realise just how powerful and unpredictable she can be!  One of the most impressive sights is The Champagne Pool.  This occupies a sinter lined 700 year old explosion crater which is steep sided and 62 metres deep, water enters the pool through a deep conduit at a temperature of about 200 degrees C and cools within the pool to about 74 degrees C with a pH of 5.4.  The water then flows over a flat area known as The Artist’s Palette (due to the different coloured mineral pools on its surface) towards sinter terraces, the temperature then drops to about 15 degrees C and the pH increases to about 7.6.  The gas bubbles rising to the surface are carbon dioxide and the orange coloured edge contains arsenic and antimony sulphur compounds rich in minerals including gold and silver.  Unfortunately I can’t show you a photo of the whole Champagne Pool as it was shrouded in mist!


Champagne Pool - can you see the bubbles?


We also saw steaming, bubbling craters of graphite mixed with crude oil, lakes of lurid green, turquoise and grotty looking grey which did not look very pleasant and one pool, The Devil’s  Bath, which was the most bilious of yellows!  A couple asked Clive if he would take their photograph in front of it, so we asked them to reciprocate!   


Clive and I with the Devil's Bath in the background!


Whilst we were peering into one of the weirdly bubbling craters my NZ mobile phone rang!  It turned out to be Sandra, Nick and Sam’s friend in Papamoa Beach – she had found Molly’s silver sandals -  hooray!  I have now contacted Raewyn who is going to collect them from Sandra and we will pick them up on our return to Papamoa Beach in a few weeks time so we can take them back to England with us.  I just hope Molly’s feet haven’t grown too much since last October when she left her shoes in New Zealand!!


All in all Waiotapo Valley was a wonderful experience topped off by a visit to the fabulous shop at the visitor centre, where they sell wonderful New Zealand arts, crafts, souvenirs and clothing at very reasonable prices.  We bought ourselves some lovely new tee shirts to replace the ones we bought here ten years ago and are still wearing!  Maybe we could discard the old ones now, they are getting a bit long in the tooth!!  We also popped into the café for some refreshments before heading off once more, this time for Lake Taupo.  We had one last call to make though before hitting the main road, we couldn’t pass up a visit to The Mud Pool!  This is exactly as the title says, a pool of boiling, bubbling mud – it’s awesome!  Every now and again one spot in the mud lake will suddenly swell up and explode in a shower of boiling mud, the fun part is trying to capture it on camera as it happens.  I did manage to catch a few.  Here’s one, there will be more in the gallery.


Exploding mud!


It was quite a long drive from Rotorua, a good couple of hours in fact.  We finally arrived and went straight to a Top 10 campsite and got ourselves booked in for the night.  It was a brilliant site, probably the best we have been to.  The facilities were fantastic, very clean and very modern. We had dinner then settled down for the night, we were quite tired really.


26th January 2011 – we were up bright and early this morning, before 8.00am in fact! As soon as we had had breakfast and tidied up we headed off to have a look around the town of Taupo.  We also stopped off in a lakefront café for a coffee and it was very pleasant indeed just sitting there looking out over the fabulous lake.


The awesome thing about Lake Taupo is the fact that it is actually a huge collapsed volcanic crater, a caldera.  As far as we know this last erupted around 700 years ago but it was the previous eruption around 181 AD that created the caldera and was reputedly the largest volcanic explosion within the last 5000 years!  I have to say here, one does actually take one’s life in one’s hands when visiting New Zealand, after all the whole of North Island is basically a volcano, or lots of them in fact!!  Travelling through the country this is in evidence everywhere!  Then of course there are the earthquakes!  We are heading to South Island in a couple of weeks and the last we heard Christchurch is still shaking! It had another quake of 5.1 on the Richter scale just last week – eek!


After our coffee we set off once more and took the road which runs adjacent to the East shore of the lake.  We pulled off at a picnic spot half way downto look back at Taupo itself, the view was stunning.  The shore of the lake is strewn with rocks and I picked a familiar looking one up and sure enough it was pumice!  I took it with me and it is now in my sponge bag!


Clive on the shores of Lake Taupo


Finally we left the lake behind and started climbing up into the Tongariro National Park.  This is the high country of North Island where some of the highest volcanic peaks are situated, such as Mt Tongariro, Mt Ngaurohoe and the biggest of all, Mt Ruapehu, which is just under 2,800 metres and which last erupted as recently as September 1995!  Unfortunately Ruapehu’s peak was shrouded in cloud today and we couldn’t really see it!  After climbing for some tim we stopped off again at a view point and had an absolutely stunning view of the whole of Lake Taupo, just had to take some more photos!


Stunning view of Lake Taupo

We stopped to make some sandwiches and have a cuppa in National Park Village.  This place has lots of bars and café’s and booking offices for various activities including what they call “crossings”, these are guided walks through the National Park taking in the passes through the volcanoes – we’re not quite up to that really!  At the junction near where we parked was the most awesome piece of sculpture I think I have ever seen! It is totally made from pieces of  “driftwood” and is absolutely incredible and perfect down to the last detail!


Driftwood Kiwi


We continued on our way after lunch but were totally unprepared for the amazing landscape we were to travel through over the next few hours.  Unlike anything we have ever seen before.  I mentioned earlier about North Island being one big volcano, well it was never more in evidence than in this part that we were travelling through. Conical hills, now grass covered, but with obvious slippage which forms ridges around the slopes.  These are formed of volcanic ash which has been eroded by wind and water over the years into dramatic shapes.  The road was cut through these hills and it was obvious that over the last few days, following three days of very heavy rain, there have been numerous rockslides onto the road, which have now been cleared and several stretches of road were also under repair, again!  At the sites of many of these rockfalls water was still streaming down the rock face where it had undermined the top layer.  We were very alert to the possibility of dodging boulders bouncing down onto the road!  Talking of boulders, there was a lot of evidence in the cuttings of layers of volcanic ash from various different eruptions over the eons.  One layer in particular was heavily strewn with boulders of all sizes.  We also saw huge boulders in the fields at the side of the road which had obviously been spewed out and deposited miles away from some eruption or other in the dim and distant past! 


Boulders scattered around in the fields!


All in all it was fantastic experience and we hardly noticed how long the journey took from Taupo to Wanganui, in fact it turned out to be nearly three hours!


Approaching Wanganui (W pron. normally) we were travelling alongside the Whanganui (Wh pron. F) River and it is huge!  It is easily as wide as the River Thames is in places and by far the biggest river we have seen since our arrival in NewZealand!  We found our campsite and booked ourselves in then headed back into town to do a bit of shopping.  Wanganui has a lovely town centre, it is very elegant with lovely wide streets gracefully decorated with beautiful hanging baskets, it was really very pleasant indeed.  We also wanted to visit the Memorial Tower as it evidently boasts a fantastic view of Mt Ruapeho and more to the point Mt Taranaki!  We had caught a very distant, hazy glimpse of Mt Taranaki on the journey here, it is a classic conical volcanic cone and Clive was really excited about seeing it.  We finally found the monument, parked the van and climbed the 176 steps(!) to the top. The views from the top were awesome but imagine how disappointed we were when we discovered that somebody had nicked Mt Taranaki! It just wasn’t there!  However there was a bank of cloud stretching all across the horizon and obviously Mt Taranaki was hiding behind it!  We thought for a minute that David Blane had been here and done one of his amazing magic tricks!!  So we are now going to have to wait till we get to New Plymouth, which is at the base of Mt Taranaki and just keep our fingers crossed that the mist has cleared and the peak is visible! 


Watch this space…………………!

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