However, on the way there we stopped at the Karangahake Gorge. The region was once full of mining activity. While strolling along the gorge we came along what is left of it. One can even enter part of the old mines (very dark, believe us).
As you probably know New Zealand is more or less one big volcano located on the Ring of Fire. This means plenty of geological activities from earthquakes (e.g. the devastating Christchurch earthquake of 2011) to volcano eruptions (e.g. the White Island eruption killing 20 people in December 2019).
It’s, therefore, no surprise that Rotorua is renowned for its geothermal activities and even greets you with a sulphur smell upon arrival (okay, the town stinks like rotten eggs).
The next day we visited the Thermal Wonderland. Besides a geyser (activated once daily by pouring a washing-detergent-like powder into it) this impressive park has an array of natural pools in all shapes and colours (due to the different minerals in it). We definitely enjoyed it.
We rounded off the day with a visit of the impress redwood forest in Rotorua.
Glow Worms and Hiking
The next day we had split program. While Kevin hiked around the Waitomo Caves the rest went to see glow worms – both were very nice (unfortunately we were not allowed to take photos inside the cave).
The Crossing of a Lifetime
The next day was reserved for a New Zealand highlight – the Tongariro Crossing. This six- to seven-hour alpine hike offers spectacular views of the multi-cratered Mount Tongariro – an active volcano.
The day started in good weather when we left Rotorua for the 70-minutes-drive to Mangatepopo where the track starts. Unfortunately, once we arrived there it was all misty and rainy. It didn’t help that the ranger at the car park mentioned that the overnight temperatures had been minus 15 degrees the previous night.
After much deliberation and trusting the weather forecast, which predicated sunshine on the top at noon, Kevin decided to have a go at it and just turn back case things would get ugly. Hazel preferred to stay back and spend the day with her parents and sister in law.
After a gradual start, the track starts to incline more and more. After a lot of steps, Kevin reached the plateau on top. At first, the visibility was barely 10 meters but then suddenly a bit of wind pushed all the clouds away and the sky opened up. It was like in a tacky movie – greatest timing ever.
After a further ascent, Kevin reached the first viewing point which offered truly spectacular views (but have a look at the pictures for yourself).
After a well-deserved lunch break and a last scramble, he reached the top. Here the 360-degree view in perfect weather was out of this world. Hard to describe in words.
The hike down also didn’t disappoint with its two colourful mountain lakes (due to minerals) and geothermal steam. And for sure, needless to say, the views were very pretty as well.
All in all the Tongariro crossing is one of the best day-hikes there is. An absolute highlight in every aspect.
After arriving Taupo we had a look at the roaring Huka Falls before heading first for dinner and then to the spa (Kevin’s leg needed it).
Napier – Art Deco Capital of New Zealand
The next day we started with a visit to the Aratiatia Dam. The dam is opened three times a day and it’s quite mesmerizing to see how the water level in the small gorge rises spectacularly within a few minutes.
Afterwards, we headed east to Napier. The coastal city was almost completely destroyed by an earthquake in 1931 and has afterwards been rebuilt in a distinct Art Deco style. An indeed we felt a bit like in the Great Gatsby movie while wandering the main streets of the city.
After a night in Feilding (not exactly the party capital of the world), we headed to Lower Hutt which is a suburb of Wellington.
The next day was unfortunately already the last day of Hazel’s parents and sister-in-law in New Zealand. So we made it count and drove up to Wellington Botanic Garden which offers a nice view of New Zealand’s small but fine capital.
After heading to the gorgeous rose garden we hit the city for some last-minute shopping before enjoying a last meal on this trip together.
Sleeping: We stayed in AirBnBs – have a look around as there are a lot of offers.
Hiking: As mentioned above the Tongariro Crossing is a once in a lifetime hike. The track is very well maintained and has no big technical difficulties. If you are reasonably fit then go for it. More information here and here.