Volcanoes, Golf on a Lake and Hot Springs - Oh My!

Trip Start Mar 08, 2011
Trip End Jun 11, 2011

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Flag of New Zealand  , North Island,
Monday, June 6, 2011

The start of the Tongariro hike was a short 15 minutes from the campground (mostly because we were off-roading in our now beat up camper for 7kms to get to the parking lot). The weather was a bit wet, but nothing too hard that would prevent us from going on the hike.  Rain doesn't bother me, but it would have been nice to at least see the tops of the volcanoes.  The first few kilometers of the hike are fairly flat and uneventful to say the least.  The landscape reminded me very much what we saw in Iceland, that of a different world.  Because we were on a volcano, there were pitch black rocks everywhere.  In between those rocks were bright green shrubbery.  From what mountains you could see, there was snow on the peaks, but looking in the distance throughout the area is desert.   There are also numerous signs telling you what to do in case of a volcanic eruption.  About an hour into the hike we made it to the soda springs which is a stream that travels through the area.  At this point it start to rain and the incline increases dramatically.   Amy decides that she made it far enough (good thing we did not tackle the full hike).  I can see ahead that the trail turns off, so I am curious and decide to walk a little further.  There is definitely a marked off trail, but unlike a lot of the other hikes in NZ, there are not wooden steps to make the incline easier.  I make it to where the trail turns off and the scenery starts to get even better as the elevation is higher.  Once again, just up ahead, the path turns in a different direction, so I continue to move a little forward to see what was around the bend.  This continued a few more times, with the view getting better and better around each turn (and the path getting significantly steeper).  After another km or two I decide to turn around because I left Amy behind and she does not have a cell phone or the keys to Britzy (the brochure to the hike tells you to dress warm and carry a cell phone with you in case of emergency).  I decided to head back to not keep her waiting.  The other reason to turn back was because our campervan was in the parking lot and the hike was not circular.  So if we would have continued to the peak, which was still an hour and a half away, we would have to turn around making the hike twice as long (the full hike ends in a different parking lot).  I now understand why they consider this to be the best one day hike in NZ.  I just wish it would have been more dry and clear. 
We make it back to Britzy and start to head towards Rotorua which will be our home for the next 2 nights.  Amy and I had built up quite the appetite from the 7km hike, so we find a picnic ground for lunch.  This picnic ground was right on Lake Taupo, and we were the only people there, so we were able to enjoy our pb&j on our own private beach.  Once filled up we continued on to the town of Taupo.  Jill from the tourism radio tells us about all of the great things to do in Taupo, two of which peak my interest.  The first was the bungy, which I missed out on in the South Island.  But similar to Adam, I am not sure I could walk up, spur of the moment, and jump off a bridge, so no bungy for me.  The other was a Golf hole in one contest with a chance to win $10,000.  It has been a while since I picked up a golf club, but after the damage to Britzy, I figured $10k might come in handy.  We pull over (making sure to carefully park the campervan without damaging any other cars) to get details. 

The setup is similar to a driving range, but you are hitting the golf balls into a lake.  And rather than one of those Zamboni looking machines picking up the balls, there is a guy in full scuba equipment with a net to retrieve the balls.  There are two contests to compete in, longest drive and hole in one.  The longest drive of the day so far is 250 meters.  That is typically farther than I can drive it, but maybe if I get into one, I could beat it as 250 meters is not that far.  I pay the $5 and get my three balls.  The first one I completely miss and it only goes 100 meters.  The second one I connect with and it flies out there.  I go to check the machine which measures the distance and it says I only hit it 134 meters.  At this point I know the machine is broken.  Granted I don’t know how far I can hit the ball in meters, but it traveled at least 250 yards (and a yard is pretty close to a meter).  Disgruntled, I hit the last ball which once again reads 125 meters.  At this moment I decide to try my luck at the hole in one.  I am told that on average, they get a winner once a week.  Who’s to say that won’t be me.  I buy a bucket of 15 balls and grab a pitching wedge.  There is a pontoon 111 meters out with three flags.  Every time your ball lands on the pontoon, you get one free ball.  Once again it takes me a few swings to get back in the rhythm.  I waste the first 10 balls before finally settling on an eight iron with a three quarter swing as this is giving me more accuracy.  I immediately land two balls on the pontoon, but since it is made out of wood, the balls bounce off as if it were a trampoline.  I hit the green a few more times, but nothing sticks.  The game starts to get addicting now that I have my swing down, so I buy one more bucket.  The second bucket turned out much better, I even landed one ball that stayed on the green, landing 8 inches away from making me $10,000 richer, and another ball that hit one of the flags and ricocheted away.  But in the end I walked away poorer than we started. 

There was plenty more to do in Taupo, but we continued on to our next stop, just outside of town, to a glass blowing factory.  It was called a factory, but I think store or concrete rip off center would be a better term.  There were plenty of interesting items to buy, but all priced at double what they should be.  There was a glass blowing demonstration, but you had to pay $15 a person to see that (which would be deducted if you purchased an item).  Like all the other tourists at the factory, we walked out empty handed. 

Another 40 minutes of driving brought us to Wai-O-Tapu.  Being near volcanoes, Rotorua is known for all of the hot springs, with Wai-O-Tapu (the self-proclaimed "thermal wonderland") being one of the biggest.  The park contains numerous springs, geysers, wildlife, and a mud pool.  We arrived at 3:30 just in time as they close the entrance gates at 3:45.  The entire park closes at 5 and it takes between 30 minutes and 75 minutes depending on which route you take.  We decide to take the long route (which in the end only took 45 minutes) in order to see everything (except the geyser which only goes off once a day at exactly 10:15am).  The first thing you notice is the smell of sulphur, which also smells like rotten eggs or gastro intestinal discharge/methane/flatulence (or whatever other name you want to give it).  The beginning of the wonderland contained a few craters that were created from underground acid which caused the ground to collapse.  Some craters contained boiling water, others contained sulphur crystals.  Then we came to a large pool known as the “Artist’s Palette” because of all of the different colors.  Unfortunately I do not think my camera did it justice.  The rest of the park was more amazing views, craters, and pool, with the best being the last, named “Devil’s Bath,” which was a fluorescent green color.  On the way out, we stopped by the mud pools, which we later found out was free since it was located outside the park.  The mud pools were quite impressive in the brochure as it looked like lava, but a little disappointing as it was just bubbling mud. 

We drove the last 20 minutes to the Top 10 Holiday Park Rotorua.  The plan was only to stay two nights, but they were running a deal, stay 3 nights and pay for 2.  We decide to take the extra free night and if we decide to leave Rotorua after two nights at least it didn’t cost us anything.  The woman at the desk was quite helpful as she explained to us the activities, shows, and spas in the area.  We made it to our camp spot and made a fantastic pasta and wine dinner before retiring for the night. 
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