Our destination for today was Waikite Valley Thermal Pools. The campsites there include access to the thermal pools which I knew Majella would enjoy. The shortest/fastest route suggested by our navigation aids was around the west side of the Tongariro National Park, past Lake Taupo, and on toward Rotorua. I wanted to go east and take the Desert Road along the east side of the park and then by the same route. We had not travelled that way previously and the goal of this trip is to visit places we have missed on other visits.
In addition to running the little fan heater on low through last night we had made use of the extra bedding that had been provided. With the heater and doonas and blankets above and below we slept much warmer and better. Still we were reluctant to crawl out when we woke just before 7:00 am. Eventually I braved it and switched the heater to high. Majella crawled out a little while later.
After breakfast we tidied up and were on our way soon after 8:30 am with Majella taking her turn again. By that time the sun was high enough to be lighting up some of the visible face of Ruapehu. It was another clear bright day and, at 2ºC, a bit warmer than we had feared with little or no frost around our camper when we got out.
That changed as we headed east. Perhaps we gained a little altitude but the ground, especially in shadows, was soon very frosty and in some areas the frost had stiffened the tops of toi toi and shrubs. I took a drive-by photo but it took a while to find a place to stop for a more considered photo. We turned into what was signed as a ‘forest’ but was more properly the entrance to a pulp mill. Finally we understood where all those logs we had seen yesterday were going. The sawmill just up the road probably accounted for its share too.
Soon we reached Highway 1 which runs from Wellington via Palmerston North and Auckland to the top of the North Island. That would be an interesting trip to take some time. We turned left and headed north with intermittent views of the eastern face of Ruapehu as we passed gaps in forest. The forest disappeared as we entered the ‘desert’ with brown grass and low dark shrubbery. That allowed me essentially uninterrupted views of the snowy mountain.
We stopped at the Desert Road Lookout which afforded a view across brown plain toward the snow covered mountains. The sky was clear above the mountain in front of us but there were low clouds gathering at the northern end of the range.
As Majella drove on the cloud rolled in and the mountains disappeared behind a wall of mist. We must have gained considerable altitude as the road twisted and patches of snow and ice appeared on the roadside. It began to rain and, with the car registering lower temperatures, down to 0ºC at one time, Majella began to hope that it might snow to fill her bucket.
There was no snow and we descended the other side of the highlands after passing the signs to ski fields. The temperature warmed, but not to 2 figures, and we paused to brew morning coffee by the lake.
I had set the TomTom (when it was in one of its occasional working phases) for our destination. The ETA was midday which was sooner than we needed so we ventured on a diversion into Taupo. I think Majella thought it was lunch time but it was barely 11:00 am and, reminded of that, she agreed it was much too early for lunch.
A little way along the road to Rotorua we spotted a sign for the Craters of the Moon and went to investigate. We spent an interesting hour or so on paths and boardwalks through an area of thermal activity that has been growing larger for the past few decades at least. There are many vents from which steam escapes with an occasional whiff of sulphur and some spots where the sound of boiling water or mud can be heard. A variety of hardy vegetation enjoys the warm moist microclimate and we saw some small birds in the area.
By the time we were done there it was lunchtime. Not far along the road Majella spied the Wairakei Terraces Day Spa which advertised a cafe. We went in to investigate but toasties were not what the doctor wanted to order and we moved on. Not much further on we found Lava Glass which also advertised a cafe. The display space was full of amazing, and expensive, glass objects made on site by the artist. Majella was tempted by the colorful vases and other objects but decided she had nowhere at home to put one if she could have decided on what colour to have.
The cafe had several empty tables with reserved signs, a good indication we trusted, and one table for two was available. We both enjoyed the excellent pasta special – penne with creamy basil pesto sauce and chicken – with coffees.
Majella drove on through lush green countryside. Occasionally we saw what looked like steam rising from a random patch of pasture. Of course, in that part of New Zealand it was steam rising. The whole area could go up at any moment.
We were momentarily tempted by the Wai-o-tapu Thermal Wonderland. We drove in, parked, looked briefly, and decided one thermal field was enough since it did not look greatly different. By that time we were less than 10 km short of our destination and headed on, arriving just after the 2:00 pm checkin time posted on the gate notice.
I checked in and Majella parked the van in our space. Within minutes we were in our swimming gear (this is NOT Japan) and up to the pools. There are six ‘pools’ including private spas. We tried four until Majella found her favourite infinity pool perched above the boiling creek with a roof above to ward off the rain. It was the Goldilocks of pools. Eventually I was detailed to return to the van for a camera to capture the moment and was then prevailed upon to return the camera to the van and rejoin Majella in the pool. After an hour or more in hot pools we were both more prune like than usual so it was time to move.
We walked back to the van, dressed, and then walked the short Eco Trail to Manoroa Spring from which the facility draws its water. The exact geology is unknown but there is speculation of an underground link to the Waiotapu area we visited this afternoon. Water comes out of the ground at 98ºC and can be seen bubbling in a large pool at the end of the short walk. The water used in the park pools is piped in from higher up and run through a series of pans to cool it below 40ºC for use in the pools. The creek bubbles and steams impressively.
As we passed by the cafe on our way back to the van we bought ice creams. Majella took some persuading that it was warm enough to eat ice cream but eventually succumbed.
Because we had a substantial lunch, dinner will be simple fare that we have in the van. Then we can settle to what we hope will be another warmer night of sleep. With the heater going the van is now at shirtsleeves temperature which is a promising sign.