Wednesday 8th February 2017
We entered Rotorua feeling a little jaded, it had been a long day, but our apartment was nice and we had the prospect of the Polynesian spa that sat on the lake front, to look forward to. Rotorua town didn’t tick the boxes for us, very new, obviously built with tourism in mind, it lacked soul. Our spirits dropped further as we entered the spa, the foyer was crowed with people and was rather tacky, the feeling of uncleanliness not enhanced by the sulphur smell emanating from the volcanic hot pools. We hastily paid to upgrade to the ‘luxury ‘ experience but luxury wasn’t really what came to mind. The pools were hot and would have been relaxing had they not been so full of people, the lake views were minimal and the closeness of the swalking seagulls slightly disconcerting . We stayed for half an hour put the expense down to experience and rapidly retreated back to our apartment. The tourists in Rotorua seemed to be mostly Chinese, viewing New Zealand in tour buses, we planned our next day around where we thought the tour buses might not venture.
The main attraction of Rotorua is its geothermal activity, most of the parks feature geysers that go off in the mornings, so hoping to do what everyone else wasn’t, first thing we headed for the Redwood forest. We were treated to a relatively empty walk through the trees but this wasn’t an ordinary walk, here they have strung an elevated walkway 12m up through the mighty Redwood pines. Way above us we had the spreading green canopy of the redwoods, below we had the forest floor covered in shrubs and ferns and at eye level we had the incredible, fiborous bark of the massive Redwood trunks and the vivid green tops of the black tree ferns.Each platform and walkway is suspended by cables and straps around the largest of the trees, no nails or other destructive methods have been used in its construction. Rick took mental notes, the design of his next tree house taking shape in his mind. Surprisingly these huge trees, unlike their Calfornian cousins that take thousands of years to reach their large size, are fast growing and only a hundred years old, planted by the growing demand for timber at the turn of the century.
Next we moved on to Orakei Korako, a geothermal park 70k from Rotorua and hopefully not teeming with people. The drive itself was worth the trip, the day was clear and sunny and the landscape etched by its volcanic history, fascinated us. In between the large ranges of hills were areas full of steep sided perfectly conical hillocks, we speculated without conclusion how they may have been formed.
We drove into a half empty car park and let out a silent cheer. In front of us was a tranquil lake, created in the valley by the damming of the Waikato river, all around were lush forested hills and on the opposite bank was the white silica terrace. The silica terrace has formed over thousands of years by chemically saturated, hot ground water gushing to the surface and running into the valley, it sat like a scar in the otherwise picture perfect setting.The afternoon had become hot and the walk around the terraces, bubbling pools and native bush was often steep but it was very much worth the effort. A fascinating afternoon to end a great day.
Monday morning we headed south for Wellington on the very bottom of the North Island and a six hour drive. The volcanic experience peaks, literally, as you past Tongariro park. The tallest of the three mountains, Ruapehu, incongruously in the near 30 degree heat of the plain, is still topped with snow, while Ngauruhoe, that at times still vents super heated gases, is the perfect image of a volcano
We found a side road and stopped for today’s cup of tea with a view.Unfortunately as we approached Wellington the weather began to close in and we entered Wellington in the drizzle, the wind had turned to the south and the temperatures dropped ten degrees. We got the impression that it was probably a handsome city with its long waterfront area and pretty Victorian terrace houses perched in the surrounding hills but it was difficult to be sure through the dank gloom.
A good indoor attraction was what was needed and we weren’t disappointed by the To Papa museum. It has to be the best museum we have ever visited. Full of colourful, informative exhibitions covering New Zealand’s geography, wildlife and social history., we spent four hours with our sore feet the only sign we had been there so long. The most absorbing section was a special exhibition about New Zealand’s role in the disaster that was the battle for Gallipoli in the First World War. The story was incredibly well told, concentrating on personal accounts from the time and illustrated by actual artefacts and unbelievable larger than life models of the individuals whose narrative we were following. Created by the Weta Caves Studio that produced the special effects for the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies the detail was amazing from the accuracy of the clothing to the hairs and wrinkles on the hands and faces. An extremely moving experience that really bought home the futility of many of the First World War battles, in fact the futility of all battles in all wars.Today we have arrived in Picton in the South Island after the ferry ride across from Wellington, unfortunately the weather is still bad so there wasn’t much chance to appreciate the scenery as we came in. Forecast to improve tomorrow, fingers crossed.