In which we luge overlooking Lake Rotorua, get even more geothermal thrills and get seriously muddy in Hell's Gate
09.02.2013 - 12.02.2013 28 °C
After all our walking so far on the trip, it seemed wrong not to attempt the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, touted as New Zealand's greatest one day walk. There's a reasonable amount of scaremongering that goes on about the walk, with lots of warnings about its difficulty. I think it could be pretty treacherous in bad weather but we were lucky and had a great day on the walk. When we reached Taupo we found out that half of the track is closed because one of the volcanoes erupted in December so it isn't safe. Eek! So instead of doing the full walk one-way, the track is now a loop which turns around at the highest point. We asked around and everyone we spoke to who had done it before the eruption assured us we were getting to see all the good stuff, so we went ahead and booked a shuttle to Mangetapopo which is the start of the track.
The trail is really split into four sections. The first hour to Soda Springs is a gentle uphill through scrub land, with views of the volcanoes starting to loom in the distance. You walk alongside rocks from lava flows and bright orange streams.
At the end of this you reach the ominously named Devil's Staircase, a steep uphill for about 45 mins. The map said to allow an hour for this section but our Himalayan trained legs got us up there no problem! You also start to get a view of the surrounding valley.
After this it gets really cool. A flat section leads you through what feels like a lunar landscape with ash dust strewn with rocks and the volcano Mount Ngauruhoe looming next to you. What makes that even cooler is that Mount Ngauruhoe was used as Mount Doom in Lord of the Rings. We could even see a small stream of smoke escaping from the top of the crater.
From here its a short but steep and scrambly uphill to the top of Red Crater.
The route ends up here with a view of the beautiful Emerald Lakes. You can just see the active volcano behind the bigger lake, still steaming. Apparently they're expecting another eruption, we were both relieved and slightly disappointed it didn't happen while we were there (we said see signs on the route telling you what to do if an eruption occurs... it basically said RUN!)
We chose this view as our lunch spot and tucked into our picnic before heading back, arriving back 6 hours after we set off. On the way back we were able to get a better view of the active volcano too.
That night we had to move out of our backpackers to a local motel because Taupo was really busy. But the motel (Bradshaws Motor Lodge) was actually really nice, and we met lots of nice people, and shared a few drinks sat out on their sunny porch (we're still trying to get through all that wine we bought in Marlborough).
On Sunday we spent the morning running errands in Taupo before driving to Rotorua. We made a beeline for the Skyline gondola which takes you to the top of a hill overlooking Lake Rotorua.
But we weren't there for the view. Oh no. We were there to luge. For anyone who doesn't know what luge is (this included me until a few days ago) you sit in a plastic kart which is like a sledge with wheels and handlebars and ride it on tracks down the mountain, pulling the handlebars to lift your wheels off the floor to brake. Then you get a ski-lift back up and do it all again! The tracks vary from the nice, gentle 'scenic' route to the frankly terrifying 'advanced' which is full of steep, banking corners and hills you can almost lift off. You'll have to imagine how big the smile was on Marcus' face (mainly because its hidden underneath all that beard), but suffice to say he was a very happy boy.
Marcus thinks I look like Mario Kart in this one...
After all that excitement we checked into our backpackers, Crank, in central Rotorua and had a few beers (and I won at foosball!)
That brings me to yesterday, our last full day in New Zealand (boo). In the morning we treated ourselves to breakfast out and walked back along Lake Rotorua for about an hour. This turned out to be really interesting, Rotorua is geothermal central and the edges of the lake bubble and steam. It draws loads of wildlife in too so there were lots of birds around. The only downside being the whole place absolutely stinks of sulphur!
In the afternoon we went to a geothermal site called Hell's Gate (so-named by George Bernard Shaw who thought he'd come to the end of the world when he visited). We wandered around the site (sticking strictly to the path... some of the sulphur and mud pools are bubbling at over 120 degrees!) The place is absolutely unbelievable, it feels like nowhere else we've been to, full of bubbling mud pools, steaming sulphur pools, a 40 degree sulphur waterfall (that Maori warriors used to bathe in after battle to help heal their wounds) and bubbling and rumblings underground.
To top it off, you can have a mud bath in mud straight from one of the pools. Fun, but we did come out smelling like rotten eggs!
Today we're driving back to Auckland and then flying to Santiago Chile. Feeling very disappointed that our NZ adventure has come to an end, I think you can tell from all these (very long!) posts what an amazing time we've had. Having said that, we've almost become a bit immune to all the beauty, so before we start taking it for granted its time to move on. As a Kiwi guy told me, you want it to be the cake not the bread and butter. So, vamos a Chile... hasta luego!