Waiting for the weather  

I thought that kiwis were smaller birds


The snow-covered slopes of Ruapehu were calling. From that first view across the green hills of Waitomo, we knew that we had to go to the mountains to ski on an active volcano. However, the weather on this mountain is notorious - it traps lots of snow (currently 2.4 m base), but when it is not snowing or raining, the wind on its exposed slopes can shut the ski fields down. Moreover, the fair Nello and I have degenerated into fair weather skiers and a waiting game was about to begin.

The day after our walk in Waitomo the rain returned and a week of meandering across the North Island, keeping within a few hours drive of the mountain, waiting for that perfect ski day, began.

We left Waitomo and headed across the central plateau, driving through rain-saturated pastures on the steep bare hillsides, micro-terraced by a century or more of trampling by sheep,past hills invaded by gorse and broom, through some remnant patchs of forest and into a region dominated by broad expanses of pine plantations. I was reflecting on the industriousness of our forebears in removing virtually any trace of native vegetation in their drive to make the land "profitable" and the irony that the biggest economic sector in New Zealand is now tourism, with millions of European and Asian visitors coming to see the natural habitats of the country, when a strange waft entered the car. I gave the fair Nello a quizzical look, only to see she was looking at me in the same way ..... we had arrived in Rotorua.

There are a number of thermal regions in and about Rotorua, all characterised by rising plumes of steam and sulphurous gases. We spent a few days here, taking the obligatory soak in hot mineral springs and doing short walks around two of these, Hell's Gate and Wai-O-Tapu, together with hundreds of other tourists in sun rain and/or strong winds. The images here probably don't do the areas justice, but give a bit of a feel for geothermal landscapes. Visiting Rotorua also enable us to catch up on Darren, Tanya and daughter Jessica, old work colleagues and friends from home, now living here.


The steaming cauldrons of Hell's Gates

A bubbling mud volcano

Hotwater Falls (38ºC)

The Champagne Pool at Wai-O-Tapu is a spring with a surface temperature of 74ºC

Sinter ledge of the Champagne Pool

Sulphur deposits from the Opal Pool overflow

The Lady Knox Geyser gives its not-quite natural eruption - it is primed to blow at 1030 each day

Leaving Rotorua on a forecast of sun, rain and high winds, we headed for Taupo, briefly visiting the Huka Falls (which Nello remembered from a trip here with University friends 30 (oops! a few) years ago. At Taupo, Ruapehu tantalised us by glistening in the sunlight, but the thought of the 60 km hour winds on the higher slopes helped us decide to turn east and head for Napier. Clouds rolled in and heavy rain fell as we crossed the mountain range.

The ice green waters of the Waikato river flow out of Lake Taupo ...

... before entering a narrow gorge....

...and thundering out at the Huka Falls

Ruapehu calling - view across Lake Taupo

The sky had cleared again by the time that we reached Napier - famous as the capital of Art Deco architecture, having been rebuilt in that style following a devastating earthquake in the 1930s. Here we spent 3 enjoyable days - Napier has a lot of charm, nestled on the edge of a plain between Hawkes Bay and the snow-capped Ruahine mountain ranges. As for Art Deco - well you like it or you don't - I do, so long as I don't have to live in it.

Definitely Art Deco

Art Deco fountain

Not all art is deco - this fountain is definitely "modern"

Shop facades in Napier

View across Hawkes Bay to Ruapehu (120 km away)

It was becoming impossible to escape the call of Ruapehu. Even here on the east coast of New Zealand, the snow-capped volcano demanded our attention. However, not before we undertook our second walk, another unexpected gem and a great beach walk along the cliffs of southern Hawkes Bay to a nesting colony of Australian Gannets.

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