Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Tourism

May was a month of two parts for me. At the beginning and end of the month, I flew intensely - but that'll be covered in my next post. In the middle of the month, my girlfriend visited me, and we went and did some of the touristy things I'd missed out before. In the six days we had to spend together we:

  • Did (most of) the Tongariro Alpine Crossing
  • Visited Taupo, and had a go on the Huka Falls Jet
  • Had a look at some of the steam vents in Rotorua and went to a Maori Hangi dinner
  • Sat in the spa at Te Aroha and laughed at the pitifully small Mokena Geyser
  • Pottered around Hamilton Gardens - I've covered this before though.

She also had a look at the Hobbiton movie set but I was busy flying being cancelled due to huge amounts of rain.

Obviously it was lovely to see my girlfriend after a couple of months - in many ways I'm very sad to not be heading back to see her before October or so!

Tongariro Alpine Crossing

Wikipedia claims that the TAC is one of the most popular one-day walks in NZ, and with views like this it's easy to see why:

A view of Mount Ngauruhoe on the ascent.

The whole walk is takes 8 hours or so, and covers roughly 20km. In theory, you walk it one-way and then get a taxi or bus back to your starting point, but we elected to walk to see the main sights, and then walk back again - which was probably roughly 25km. We started from the Mangatepopo Carpark at about 10AM. Initially, you climb up a fairly gentle valley - and get lulled in to a false sense of security. The volcanic debris near the path - a mixture of pyroclastic and lava flows leaving heaps of man-sized boulders - towers over you in places and is very impressive.

After 90 minutes or so of this you reach the end of the valley and climb up a ridge for another hour or so to reach the South Crater. This is pretty intense. While you're doing this, Mount Ngauruhoe is on your right hand side getting larger and larger - the picture above is of Mount Ngauruhoe. As you climb, you gradually leave all plant life behind and once you get in to the South Crater you simply can't see anything alive other than the other people. It's an odd feeling.

The South Crater isn't that exciting - other than being flat, and apparently not being a real crater. The surrounding mountains are very beautiful from here though.

Next up is a fairly steep and very energetic climb up a steeply sided ridge to the summit - where you can see in to the Red Crater, down to the Emerald Lakes and across to the Blue Lake. This is spectacular spot - it's literally unlike any terrain I've ever seen before. The next couple of pictures should give you an idea:

The Red Crater from the summit of the walk

One of the Emerald lakes, looking back towards the Red Crater

After a scramble down to the Emerald Lakes, we had to set off back again. Unfortunately this means climbing back up to the summit! This part of the track is loose sand and is very difficult. I was exhausted by the time we made it back to the car just before 6pm, but it'd been a stunning walk (and great exercise!).

Taupo

After a vigorous day on the Tongariro Crossing we elected for something a bit more sedate the next day. I'd never been to Taupo, and my partner was keen both to see it and to go on the Huka Falls Jet boat. I don't think either of us were that excited by the town at Taupo really - it's a smallish town with nothing much to show for itself. It's the attractions outside that really make it shine. With a bit of time to spare before our boat ride we went across to look at the Huka Falls from dry land. To me, they look like oversized rapids rather than proper falls, but they're an amazing azure colour.

A view of the falls from one of the higher viewing points

There are a large number of walks nearby. They looked excellent, but sadly we didn't have much spare time left - if I went back I'd probably spend some more time wandering around.

With that we moved on to the Jet Boat. Since this is a wet activity, no photos! It's good fun - you sit in a "jet boat", which seems to be an overpowered flat-bottomed boat, that the driver takes you up and down the river in. Of course, to make it more exciting, it's pretty fast and the driver spends his time pretending that he's going to hit you in to the walls - or spinning the boat. That's a weird feeling - the driver flicks the boat back and forth and it eventually seems to come "unstuck" and spin round through 360 degrees or more.

Personally, I didn't find it scary - but judging from the noises coming from the other passengers, some of them did! It's very good fun though, and you get another good view of the falls. Worth a visit if you're nearby I think. Oh - don't go in the rain. Not even a little bit of rain. It stings like nothing I've ever felt before!

Rotorua and Hangi

My partner was very keen to try a Maori Hangi dinner and to see a "real" Haka. After a bit of deliberation, we settled on the Mitai Maori Village just to the north of Rotorua. It's about $100 a visit, which is perhaps a bit steep - but if you approach it as a slightly touristy thing (which it is, I think) you shouldn't be disappointed.

The evening is reasonably well choreographed. It starts with a welcome, and after uncovering the Hangi then you get shown a demonstration of a traditional Maori War Canoe - essentially some of the village's warriors paddle a rather impressive carved canoe to you while trying to intimidate you with war cries.

The main interest bit of the evening is a bit like a play. You sit in what it effectively a theatre, and the staff (some of whom are actual Mitai villagers and some who aren't) give you a run down of some interesting bits of Maori culture. There's the ritual challenge for visitors, a demonstration of the Haka, some practice warrior games and a few "traditional" songs. It was entertaining at least - and the missus seemed to like the bare-chested and well-sculpted men showing off their warrior prowess. Can't blame her for that!

The dinner itself actually turns out like a slightly smoky-flavoured English buffet - roast meats, salads and steamed vegetables. There's quite a bit of it to eat at least!

After dinner you get taken on the local glow-worm tour. This is cool - although there's a few too many people in each group I though. It took me a while to realise I was looking at glow-worms though - they're much smaller and less bright than I expected! Still, we don't get them at home, so it was still a bit exciting...

Te Aroha, Geyser and Spa

I'd had enough of driving back and forth towards Rotorua after three days and roughly 14 hours of driving already, so when it was suggested that we try some hot pools, I suggested we try the pools at Te Aroha, partly because I wanted to see the Mokena Geyser. Allegedly the Mokena Geyser is the world's only soda water geyser. I guess that's a claim to fame, right?

Te Aroha is a small, quiet, town, but it seemed friendly and had a good vibe to it. It'd be a good place to stop if you're touring nearby. We started off with some lunch at a local cafe, and then headed up to look at the geyser. Sadly, it didn't really meet my expectations - I'm pretty sure I could pee just as high if I tried:

Mokena Geyser. OK, this is about 50% of the best height it reached, but still.

Well, it was worth a giggle at least!

After this, we decided to try one of the hot pools. Unfortunately, the hot pools in the spa weren't quite what I thought they'd be. Rather than some stone pools dug in to the ground, you get a choice of a wooden hot tub or a pair of old-school baths. They're all in private rooms and filled with naturally hot water from the springs. Actually, it was good to chill out and I quite enjoyed it - I think it was $35 for 30 minutes when we were there, which isn't too bad really.

After all of this excitement, I'm a bit low on cash for a few weeks, so you can expect the next couple of posts to be back to flying - yay!

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