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Our Travels in New Zealand Part 1

Author: Mal Part (More Trip Reviews by Mal Part)
Date of Trip: March 2007

The pathway runs alongside the Wairakei River, the longest in NZ and the river that drains Lake Taupo, the largest lake in NZ. In fact, the lake is so large that Singapore could be dropped into it and would be lost.

The walk is ordinary, but the river itself is as beautiful as I’ve seem – aquamarine water and crystal, crystal clear. After about 2 miles, the pathway opens out to the Huka Falls themselves – the effect is dramatic and noisy. Naturally, all the elements of Kiwi exploitation of their points of interest are there: jet boats arrive on the lively side of the Falls and speed their screaming customers close to the white water, a helicopter swoops in for a closer look, while the Kiwi Experience tour bus ticks over in the car park. But, the Falls are exciting, a natural wonder, so, if no damage is done, why not exploit it?

We have a good look around and take a few photos, and then set off back along the walkway to pick up our car. The round-trip takes us just over 2 hours – a slow time for a 4-mile walk, but it’s hot, and they are ‘up and down’ miles, not flat ones!

Our next stop is “Craters of the Moon” – a small geothermal area a few miles further out of Taupo. It’s run by the NZ Dept of Conservation (DOC), who charge only $5 to get in, so it’s a bit of a bargain.

There are a lot of fumaroles leaking steam and one large pool of bubbling mud. It’s another interesting 45-minute walk and a good curtain raiser to the other geothermal parks we plan to visit later in our itinerary. Having built up a good appetite, we lunch on “Fush ‘n’ Chups” and a glass of wine before readying ourselves with warmer clothes for the cruise on the lake.

The lake trip is very exciting. The yacht was built in California in 1926 based on a Scandinavian design. It raced in the US and was owned by Errol Flynn at one stage, having won it in a game of cards. It reached NZ in 1947 and later became a protest vessel for Greenpeace before being wrecked in Auckland Harbour in 1976. Restored in 1982, it has been a pleasure boat on Lake Taupo since 1983. The Barbary is a ‘real’ yacht – the skipper uses the engine to clear the harbour area but, after that, it’s sail all the way.

The complement for the cruise is 12; the skipper, an Irish girl, 3 English couples, a German couple and two English girls travelling together. There is plenty of excitement on board.. Although we sail past some Maori rock carvings and other ‘interest’ points, it’s the sailing that makes the trip. There is a good breeze blowing, and the skipper asks if we’re all up for some real sailing? Getting a resounding “Yes” (that drowns out a couple of hesitant relies), more sail is added and the yacht leans over such that we are told to scramble to the upper side to balance it – we make excellent and exhilarating progress.

We return in the late evening and by this time the wind is quite chilly. We’re not very hungry and dine on nachos, wedges and beer before getting back for an early night.

Day 11 – Journey to ….. ???

We’re up again before 8am and pack up the car for the journey to …….. well, we don’t actually know? The plan was to do a stop-over in Palmerston North (see Note below), but Sue at the Otorohanga i-Site said that our planned route would be out of our way, and that Palmerston North had very little to recommend it She suggested sticking to the SH-1 and stopping somewhere on the west coast, just north of Wellington. So, that’s our plan …..

It’s a bright and sunny day and most of yesterday’s haze has already been burnt off – the lake is placid and beautiful – it accompanies our journey for the first 14 miles.

On the way, we see a sign for the NZ Army Museum – it’s in a very unlikely spot, and I’m not much on museums (especially ones about war), but it advertises toilets and the “Rations Café”. We imagine that the army serves big portions, so we stop for breakfast.

=================================== Note: Palmerston North is a strange name for a town. We later discovered that they originally named it Palmerston but had overlooked the fact that there was a Palmerston on the South Island. Mail got all screwed up so eventually made it Palmerston – North Island, which later got shortened to just Palmerston North.

While waiting for our “2 poached eggs on homemade bread” to arrive, a group of over-60 year olds at a nearby table get up and leave. They apologise for all their noise and explain that they’re off to a bowls competition and they’re excited! One holds back for a longer chat, and asks us where we’re off to? We tell him our plan, and he suggests a stopover in Paraparaumu – it’s where he lives!!! He recommends Wright’s Motel – “it’s quieter than the ones on the coast road” - and says that we should eat at the Deli Café overlooking the sea and Kapiti Island. Duly noted down, we head off with this as our new plan for Day 11.

Our journey south from Taupo takes us past the Tongariro National Park and its three major mountains – Ruapelu (3727m), Ngauruhoe (2291m) and Tongariro (1967m). They look very familiar – this range was widely used in the filming of Lord of the Rings (LOTR), and Ngauruhoe is Mount Doom in the film.

Eventually we arrive at Paraparaumu and find Wright’s Motel with no trouble; we pay $100 for the night and get the usual three-bedded room and free milk for a welcoming cup of tea. The room looks very familiar, and then we realise that it has the same bed covers as the Tui Oaks in Taupo – the motel we just left! We spend much of the rest of the day lounging about, sunning ourselves and drinking tea.

I take some time to up-date my journal and expenses account. Being away for over 6 weeks, two payments will be due on my credit card and I want a sense of what to pay off while we’re in NZ. I’d put sufficient money in our bank account and planned to use my debit card. But, basic bank debit cards do not work in NZ; only a VISA or MasterCard-backed debit card, or a full credit cards work. My accounting tells me roughly how much to transfer to MasterCard at the end of the month. The total to date is $2272 (about (£842). This sounded a lot until I realised it covered just about everything we’ve spent so far: all motels, all petrol, all meals, all excursions, the ferry to South Island and the TranzAlpine train tickets. I’m reassured.

Paraparaumu is a nice little seaside town and we take the time to have a walk around before dinner - there’s a great sunset over the sea, so I take some photographs in the hope that I’ve got THE sunset of all time. We also come across a second-hand car showroom. It’s fantastic; they have an amazing collection of classic British cars including many MG B GTs and a couple of Jaguar Mk 2s. We eventually pull ourselves away and find the Sunflower Café for a dinner of Tempura, Udon Noodles with Beef, cheesecake, espressos and a bottle of wine ($88.50).

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