Friday, April 5, 2013

Black Water Rafting

We drove over to the Waitomo Caves on Sunday to explore the phenomenom that is blackwater rafting. It’s quite a drive from Taupo, so we set out with plenty of time to spare. We stopped off in a small place called Benneydale, which has the dubious distinction of having an English name in the heart of the King Country, where the place names are almost uniformly Maori. There is a reason for this, naturally, and it’s all explained here. We had coffee in an establishment run by a Frenchman of Senegalese extraction, and his Dutch wife. It was odd.

We arrived with plenty of time to spare so, having booked in and signed the statutory waiver that anything that happened to us would be our own stupid fault for indulging in such dangerous pastimes, we were at a bit of a loose end. The girl at the counter suggested we take a walk around the Ruakuri scenic reserve, which is an area of limestone caves and is in fact what sits above the cave that we would be exploring later. Along the way we found a difficult-to-photograph fantail:

After our walk we returned to the blackwater rafting site, where we were fitted out with wetsuits and white gumboots, and then driven to our jumping-off point. We grabbed an inner tube appropriate to our height and girth, and were then drilled in the correct way to enter the water: backwards and arse first, whilst holding one’s flotation device firmly over said arse. Any other method was likely to result in the loss of the inner tube, and as it’s pitch black in the cave, it may be swept away downstream not to be seen again until you reach the end.


Faceful of water

We then entered the cave. First up we posed for photos with the cave wetas, and then began our journey through the cave system. Some of this was on foot, and some of it in our tubes, having launched ourselves over a waterfall. At one point we needed to form a train by putting our feet up on the ring in front, and being gripped under the armpits, whilst gripping the feet of the person behind us in similar fashion. We switched our head lights off to fully appreciate the glow of the glow worms, and our guides gave us the usual spiel about their life cycle. For the final part of the tour we were told to keep our lights off and find our way out to the daylight by ourselves…something we all managed without too much difficulty. The water level in the cave was quite low, due to the drought which has affected the country over the last month or so – our guide pointed out the level at which the water normally flows.

After climbing out we took the short trip back to the centre for a shower and a warming cup of soup, before heading back to Taupo for dinner at The Brantry. That pretty well ended our Taupo adventure – the next day we drove back to Wellington and what appears to be officially the End Of Summer.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Orakei Korako

On Saturday we set out to the north of the lake to visit the geothermal centre of Orakei Korako. The park is reached by a ferry across the Waikato river, after which we were left to walk around the park, with the strict proviso that we stick to the paths, and assume all water that you see is going to be hot; so don’t go sticking your foot in it to see how hot, because it’ll cook your foot.

The park contains a number of geysers with variable periodicity – they don’t go off like clockwork. One of them was bubbling around a bit whilst we were there but there were no spectacular eruptions.

The mud pools were not spectacular as after several weeks of drought, the mud has all but dried up, and what was left could be heard gurgling at the bottom of a pit, but out of sight. We’ll just have to go back when there’s been a bit more rain to top the pools up.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Huka Falls

Unsure of how busy the town was likely to be at Easter, we drove into town and parked early so that we would have a parking space all day. We then walked from the centre of town up to the base of Spa Thermal park, which takes a route via the Waikato river – the longest river in new Zealand – where there is a hot pool; people swim here and find the right mix of hot water from the pool and the cold water of the river to suit them. 

That's steam coming off the water

We hadn’t brought our togs as we weren’t expecting this – I’d heard about it from a colleague, but we had a different destination in mind: the Huka Falls. These are formed as the river narrows dramatically from around 100m across to only 15m where it crosses a hard volcanic ledge. The flow rate is regulated downstream by Mighty River Power company, who operate a series of hydroelectric electricity generating plants along the Waikato river. The falls can also be viewed from the Huka Falls Jet, which takes people in to within a few metres of the falls.

We walked back to town and went for lunch at the Vine Eatery in Scenic Cellars, before heading back to the iSite to be driven out to our next activity – a kayak trip to the Maori carvings in Mine Bay – by our Hayden, who was actually called Cory this time, and was from Colorado. The carvings are actually fairly recently made – they were started in the late 70s and completed 4 years later. We stopped for a break on the way back, and had the traditional hot beverage and chocolate brownies and cookies. We then changed positions and Nicola steered for the remainder of the journey.

My view for most of the trip

Main carving

Picture taken by Cory

Additional carvings

Important cookie eatage

Cory brewing up

Once we got back to our motel, we filled the hot tub, which is heated by natural springs, and had a good long soak of our aching shoulders.

We rounded off the day with dinner at the Waterside Restaurant.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013


We made an early start and took SH1 up through Porirua and the Kapiti coast, on our way to our Easter weekend in Taupo. We stopped of at Bulls for coffee, and then later at the Brown Sugar cafĂ© in Taihape – the gumboot capital of the world – for some lunch, and finally arrived at our destination at around 4pm. We checked into our motel then took a walk along the lakeside and into town.

The streets are paved with gumboots

The town of Taupo sits in the north-east corner of Lake Taupo, New Zealand’s largest lake, which is formed in the caldera of a volcano. We are in the heart of volcano country here, having passed the three peaks on the way up: Tongariro, Ruapehu, and Ngauruhoe (better known as Mount Doom to “Lord Of The Rings” fans). These are where the North Island’s main ski fields are, but are also active volcanoes – indeed, Ruapehu has twice shown signs of activity in 2012, in August and November, and clouds of volcanic steam can still be seen on the hillside.

Volcano with added smokiness

The lakeside is lined with hotels and holiday accommodation, and there were still people out in the water and on the beach as we walked into town. The main area has a number of bars and restaurants, and we stopped for a refreshing beer in the Pub’n’Grub, before heading back towards our motel and then a little further on to find our dinner for the night at the Beach Brasserie.

Sunset over the lake