After our exciting caving trip, we hopped back into Sunny and drove a bit east to a town called Taupo. Taupo is located on the shore of a large freshwater lake. Upon check-in to our hostel we learned that our long-planned and anticipated Tongariro Alpine Crossing hike was certainly not going to happen. We had set aside 2 full days in Taupo to increase the likelihood that the crossing would work out for us. We learned the weather was going to include gale force winds and snow on the mountain and that the required shuttle service was not taking people to the park. Plus, as further evidence of the severity of the weather, the Iron Man competition scheduled that weekend had been canceled. I guess it is safe to say that if the Iron Men can't do it, we shouldn't even try. We were really bummed, but there was nothing we could do to give ourselves more time there or to change the weather, so we had to let go of Tongariro (Apologies to anyone who was hoping we'd see some Lord the Rings action on this trip. This was as close as we got.)
So, we found ourselves with a few unplanned days that were weather restricted. What to do? What to do?
Oh, yeah! Eat!
Eating out in New Zealand is very pricey so we were selective about when and where we splurged on meals in restaurants. L'Arte was worth it! Not only did we get giant, from-scratch breakfast feasts, we also got to check out the art on the walls and on the property. There was even a full-sized, mosaic, outdoor living room that we could have lounged in (too cold to enjoy that day, see above note regarding gale force winds). We knew we were chose well when we walked past the chef out cutting herbs from the garden on our way in.
The weather in town wasn't terrible enough to keep us in our room all of the time. We were hankering to get out and move our bodies and see some stuff. With a pretty basic map from the park people, it was possible to set off and see some hot springs and Huka Falls, possibly more.
So, we walked from our hostel to a New Zealand Walkway.
These hot springs feed into the cold river and make for a popular place to soak, swim and, apparently, to steal things.
We weren't prepared to jump in and swim, but we did both enjoy testing the water. When asked about the water temperature, Paul said, "I don't think I'd make my shower water any hotter."
I would've liked to take a soak in that water, but we were just starting out our hike and had Huka Falls ahead! The river we hiked along to get to the falls was so clear and clean.
That is, it was until it got squeezed through this narrow passage! The rapids were loud and forceful as they came through and approached the falls. The force turned the water white and aqua. Have a look:
The falls themselves were also quite powerful, but I think I preferred the rapids.
At this point we decided to continue hiking on to Craters of the Moon, a thermal park some unknown distance away. We figured out pretty quickly that our map was not drawn to scale as the hike took much longer than we anticipated. I have to admit that by the time we got to the very long and boring park entrance road with no sidewalk or shoulder to walk on and it started to rain on us while cars were speeding past, I had really wished we had turned back at Huka Falls. It wasn't so much the hike there that was bringing me down, but the thought that once we got there, we still had to hike all of that in reverse to get home! I learned something about myself. I am much more motivated by loops or one way hikes. This whole walking back where you just came from thing is not enticing!
By the time we got to the park, I was checking my watch and calculating the amount of time it would take us to see the park and hike back to our hostel. Then I was factoring that against how little food we brought and how little happiness I felt about the whole scenario. I am not sure how they knew, but the ladies at the ticket booth saw us and almost immediately said, "Did you guys walk here?! We can call a shuttle to bring you back to town when you are done, if you'd like." I almost leaned into their little ticket booth and kissed them! With that happy news, we took a little break, had a snack and with regained joy and energy, headed into the park.
The park was full of pits of thermal anger. Some of it them were steaming while others were bubbling mud pits. All of them were stinky.
The area is shifting, so we were warned to stay on the boardwalks. They have to monitor and adjust where the boardwalks are to make sure visitors stay safe. It was really disappointing to see that people had tossed litter into some of the craters. Bits of wrappers and beverage containers do not belong in such an other worldy place. Some people!
We took the optional hike up to the lookout to get a view of the whole park and to check out Taupo in the distance. Paul gives you a better look in this video and points out where we had walked from (for 4 hours!) to get there. Also, I look goofy in the background because I am trying to keep the wind from blowing my contacts out of my eyes!
There is a more thermal action for you on our YouTube page, if you are interested in videos of fumaroles and bubbling mudpits. They are sort of mesmerizing.
By the way, the shuttle drive was glorious and possibly the best $5 I spent on this trip! Plus, we got the bonus of a super interesting chat with the shuttle driver. He had a lot to say about tourists from the US and other countries and how we impact life in New Zealand. Apparently, it is partly our fault it is so expensive to eat out and buy things there. It is a good thing I was enjoying our conversation because when he got to our hostel, he turned off the van and essentially trapped us inside until he got another pick-up call from dispatch.
One more random tidbit about our time in Taupo: this was the only place during the entire trip that we had a room with our very own bathroom. The room was huge and even had a mini fridge. If we were to get stuck somewhere with rainy, windy weather and be limited in what we could do, that was a pretty good place to be stuck! I even got some knitting done in our room, which was a really rare thing on this trip. Although, we did enjoy some forced downtime, we cut our time in Taupo down from 3 nights to 2 so we could fit in a bit more before the trip was over. That's right! Sadly, it is almost over.