The fish ain't bitin' but the geyser's blowin' ...

Trip Start Jun 04, 2005
Trip End Apr 05, 2006

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Flag of New Zealand  ,
Tuesday, November 8, 2005

On Friday afternoon 5 November, after a drive of approximately 5 hours, we reached the rather large town of Rotorua at mid-afternoon. On the way, we'd passed hobbit country - the rolling green hills where the set for Hobbiton in the Lord of the Rings was built - and we'd stopped to buy some lovely fresh local asparagus, a whole kilo of the stuff!

Lake Rotorua and surrounding 14 lakes supposedly offer some of the best trout fishing in New Zealand, so we stopped off in town to buy a three-day fishing licence. With map of recommended fishing spots in hand, we headed straight down to the lake shore. It's a huge, round expanse of water, beautifully clear; we were encouraged when we spotted a local with a sizable, freshly caught trout. Rich worked the bank by the mouth of a stream for a few hours, with no luck.

In the late afternoon we headed to a campsite on Blue Lake, 20km or so south of town. On the way out of Rotorua we caught a whiff of sulphurous gas from one of the many thermal site in the area... our plan was to visit one of these during the course of our stay. The Blue Lake (or Lake Tikitapu by its Maori name) is a pretty stretch of sapphire coloured water surrounded by forest and a popular spot for water-skiing; the campsite is on the lake shore, so Rich headed down to the water's edge for a few more casts (still no luck!).

In the middle of the night we awoke to the sound of a gale whistling through the trees, and we lay restless in our sleeping bags as our small tent caved in and buckled under the force of the wind. The next morning we moved the tent to a slightly more sheltered spot, and, as dark clouds rolled in, we headed into town for some internetting and shopping. It definitely didn't look like hiking or fishing weather!

In the afternoon the sun came out and the wind died down a little, so we drove out to a few of the surrounding lakes for some more fishing. That licence was expensive, so we made damn sure we got our money's worth! While I strolled around enjoying the forests of tree ferns and beeches on the lake shore, Rich worked the banks and jettys, using every lure in his tackle box and even swimming to retrieve a lure when it got stuck. Still to no avail... Rotorua may be a top trout fishing destination, but he wasn't seeing any of the action.

And then finally, at sunset on Lake Okareka, his luck turned. It was a fluke, really: a fairly large trout came swimming past the jetty he was standing on (the water is so clear that you can spot them as they pass by). Rich frantically cast in its direction, dangling the lure under its nose, but it took absolutely no notice. Again and again Rich cast toward the fellow, practically touching it with the lure.. it just didn't seem interested and obviously wasn't feeding. But finally the fish must have become so annoyed with this metal thing jiggling around its face, because it struck out and took the lure, while we looked on from the jetty, astonished. It seemed like cheating, but we finally had our fish. Yum, it sure tasted good!

The next morning the weather was a little brighter, through still windy. We packed up camp and headed down to Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland, supposedly the most spectacular of the many thermal sites in the Rotorua area. The brochure promised that Wai-O-Tapu's Lady Knox geyser erupts every day at 10.15am on the dot, and needless to say we were very curious to know how a geyser can be expected to perform so punctually. We made sure we arrived on time and took our seats in the outdoor amphitheatre beside the white flue of the geyser.

Well, lo and behold, all was revealed to the crowd of 150 or so onlookers at 10.15 sharp. Without giving it all away to folks who might visit the place one day, needless to say the Lady needs a little stimulation to perform... and there's quite a nice little story as to how her secret was discovered. If you really want to know more, email me and I'll tell you.

The network of paths through Wai-O-Tapu reveals about as many thermal phenomena as you can imagine... steaming pools of hot water with crusts of multi-coloured mineral deposits at their edges; mysterious caverns encrusted with sulphur crystals; craters with bubbling mud in the bottom; puffs of sulpherous smoke rising from small flues in the ground and boiling, bubbling water oozing out here and there; pools of water turned bright green and luminous yellow by dissolved minerals. Quite amazing and all so colourful, but really smelly!

After casting a few more lines and enjoying a picnic on the banks of Lake Rotoiti, we headed up north in the direction of the Coromandel Peninsula. On the way into Tauranga we had the nail-biting experience of very nearly running out of fuel... we coasted into the town on the sniff of an oily rag but, with it being Sunday in rural NZ, simply could not find an open petrol station! We just made it to the freeway, where an Esso finally appeared only just in time. Phew!

We arrived at Hot Water Beach on the east of the Coromandel Peninsula at about 6pm, just in time to see the last of the make-shift thermal pools before the high tide engulfed them: at Hot Water Beach, a thermal spring oozes out of the sea-sand just above the low water mark. For two hours around low tide, folks go and dig holes in the sand and bathe in the warm water that fills them. Unfortunately we were just too late, but we were still able to paddle in a warm pool just before the tide flooded it.

That evening, our last New Zealand camp was at Hahei Beach, about 8km north of Hot Water Beach. While sipping beers and looking out over the sea at sunset, we reflected on our time in NZ and how much we'd enjoyed the place - the comfort and familiarity of the culture and the language, alongside the awesome natural sights the country has to offer. Conservation is very high on the Kiwi listof priorities ... after all the environmental travesties we'd witnessed in Asia, it was a pleasure to see nature's wealth being so highly valued and conserved.

In the morning, after packing up, we walked the 40mins or so along a clifftop trail to Cathedral Cove, a beautiful crescent of white sand tucked away between towering limestone rock formations. A spectacular place to say farewell to a country we'd come to love.

And so, the drive back to Auckland began. We arrived in with ample time to hand back the car and check in for our 5pm flight to Santiago. Bye-bye, beautiful New Zealand, we'll definitely be back again one day for some more tramping, a holiday in a batch, and a few more trout!

Lake Rotorua on Friday 4 November to Sunday 6 November, Sunday afternoon to Haihei Beach and Hot Water Beach, Coromandel, fly to Chile on Monday 7 November.
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