Journal of a visit to New Zealand, via Singapore

The Land of the Long White Cloud
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This page last updated: 29th November 2005.
Day 22: Mount Tarawera Map

Day 22 We awake to a fine bright morning. From the balcony I hear birds singing in the garden of the Large House. Judith serves up a very delicious breakfast, quite the best we've had. John transports our luggage up the steps to the car.

State Highway 5 is now a two-hour drive to Taupo, but in 1874 it was a two-day journey across 43 fords. Even in 1991 only 1755 vehicles a day used the road. It is a very hilly route. The number of possum road-kills testifies to a much higher usage today. On one stretch, a huge harrier was feeding on one, just as a car was coming down the hill. At the last minute the bird flew in the wrong direction. There was a car behind me going up the hill. A flurry of feathers in my wing-mirror confirmed the worst.

After a section of ancient native forest, a road leads off to a viewpoint. The Waipunga Falls came about after the Taupo eruption of 186AD when molten rock called ignimbrite cooled down as it poured out over the valley and eventually formed this 30-metre drop.

Taupo is a large town on the side of Lake Taupo, the biggest lake in New Zealand. After calling at the information centre, we decided to go down to the Huka Falls lookout. Here there is a large carpark with toilet facilities, the charges for which go towards maintaining the carpark. We buy some ice-creams to cool down and take a short walk to look at the falls. Though interesting, they are not particularly spectacular (especially after Milford Sound). We decide against a jet-boat trip up to the base of the falls and head on to Rotorua.

Here we meet our first NZ traffic-jam. There is certainly a great deal more traffic on the North Island compared with the South Island. Nonetheless, with the help of a good location map, we find our way to Swiss Lodge. Here we are welcomed by Christina. She shows us to our room at the end of the main building. It is a lovely big room with adjoining bathroom. She makes us a pot of tea and we sit outside the french windows. The lodge is situated at Kawaha Point some two miles from the town centre on the eastern shore of Lake Rotorua. It has its own landing stage. Christina arranges for us to take a flight with Volcanic Air Safaris later in the afternoon.

The float-plane picks us up at the landing-stage. Our pilot is Steve Davis, but he doesn't play snooker. We fly across Lake Rotorua, over Mokoia island and on to Mount Tarawera. The eruption here in 1886 devastated the surrounding area. The plane flies right over the crater with clear views of the rift. We then fly over a number of very scenic lakes and thermal areas before returning over the city and landing back at Swiss Lodge.

In the early evening we drive down into the city, following the lakeside as much as possible. It is relatively quiet and we find a small caf—. Afterwards we take a short drive and discover Kuirau Park. On the 26th January, less than two months previously, an eruption occurred. Mud, steam and debris were thrown into the air. Notices warn visitors to enter at their own risk and not to cross the makeshift fences. Christine stays in the car, while I go walkabout discovering ash-covered trees, small lakes of boiling mud, and large swamp lakes over which hot sulphurous clouds blow. This is the weirdest scene I have ever encountered. Beyond the park are the modern buildings. Much of the grass is green, but it is not a place for picnics or football. The fumes, as long as one stays away from the thickest clouds are not overpowering. This is a truly unexpected marvel.

By the time I leave the park it is almost dark. We try to find our way back to the lodge but have lost all sense of direction. We find ourselves circling a suburban estate. Eventually I pull into a garage. I discover that we are only a short distance from our destination. We finish the evening with a pot of tea in the lounge, talking with our convivial hosts, Christina and Heiko.

Journal - Day 23 Photographs - Day 22