Sunday, February 6, 2011

Taupo to Tongariro National Park, February 1 - 5

Lake Taupo with Mt. Ruapehu in the distance
 Ken was the most interested in Taupo for 3 reasons - Huka Falls, the Maori carvings on a rock face overlooking Lake Taupo and the Ora - the Garden of Well Being. We accomplished a visit to all three.

Huka Falls is one of the most visited sites in NZ. Lake Taupo at 619 sq km is the largest lake in the country and it drains down the Wairakei river towards the sea near Auckland. Six km from the town of Taupo the water is channelled through a narrow gorge of volcanic hardened rock where it falls at a rate of 350,000 litres per second over an 11m bluff into a foaming cauldron below. The power of the river is harnessed to produce 15% of the country’s electricity. (Ken is thinking of becoming a tour guide)  Very nice, Ken, but it’s no Niagara Falls! Let’s get on to Taupo for ice cream.

Fran with the mighty Huka Falls in the background

 After ice cream ( which is excellent and very inexpensive - $2.50CAD for 2 LARGE scoops) Ken dragged Fran off to see his second site - the Maori rock carvings.  He forgot to mention that they can only be seen from the water. Hence - a boat ride. After an hour of bouncing around on a particularly choppy lake, one of the roughest evenings the captain had ever seen, we reached the carvings. They are worth the trip.

Maori carving, Lake Taupo
Maori carving, Lake Taupo

 After a lovely supper on the harbour, we retired to our condo to sit on the balcony, sip wine, and watch the sun go down. Ken is redeemed.
Sunset, a glass of wine and a view.

 The next day we went to the Ora - a beautiful garden developed in the Maori style. Ora means well-being and that is exactly what one feels sitting there.

Fran in the Garden of well Being. It won the gold medal in the Chelsea Garden Show.
 From Taupo we headed to Tongariro National Park for three days. The park is dominated by three active volcanoes - Mt. Ruapehu, Mt. Ngauruhoe and Mt. Tongariro. The last major eruption was 1995.
It is a popular skiing destination in winter and an active hiking region all year. Ken and Charles planned to hike the Tongariro Crossing - a 19 km trail that crosses all three mountains. Unfortunately, as we arrived, so did rain and gale strength winds in the upper altitudes. The crossing was closed for our three day stay.

Mt. Ngauruhoe - the first and last view we had of it. It was Mt. Doom in the Lord of the Rings trilogy.
Tamaraki Falls.
Fran and Mangawhero Falls in the rain.
 Undaunted, we hiked trails at the lower elevations, where it was only raining, had afternoon tea and scones at the Bayview Chateau Hotel and retreated there for after dinner drinks. A glass of 16yr old Lagavulen was only $10CAD. The rooms, however, were a different story. One can pay up to $1000.00NZ per night if one chooses. We chose the 2 bedroom hiking cabin at $100 per night. Hey, we had the same view and the use of the Chateau’s facilities. Not cheap - practical is what we agreed upon.

Tea and scones at the Bayview Chateau.

The drive from Tongariro to Napier amazed us. In the space of two hours we went from alpine, to desert, to sub-tropical to pasture and finally to wine country by the ocean. What a country!

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