Tag Archives: North Island

Bubbling mud & stinky geysers

I can’t remember if it was because I first saw it on telly when I was a kid, or because my mum told me about it (she lived in New Zealand when she was a teenager), but Rotorua was one of the first places in the world I remember wanting to visit when I was a child.

After all that waiting, arriving in the town was a bit of a disappointment. The guidebook had assured me that the whole town stank of sulphur from the surrounding geothermal areas, but in fact where th bus dropped me off, there was not a trace (maybe it was something to do with the weather or the direction of the wind), and the town itself was absolutely dead. Things didn’t pick up much when I checked into my hostel, which had to be the worst hostel I have ever stayed in (the Base Hot Rocks, in case you’re interested – avoid like the plague. Dirty rooms, a bathroom where the door didn’t lock, the world’s thinnest duvet, no curtains on the window, slow expensive internet, bored staff, a tiny TV that only seemed to have one channel, and all the atmosphere of a morgue).

*plop*

But it wasn’t the town itself I’d come to see. So I hopped on a bus and headed out into the suburbs to Te Puia, one of the many geothermal areas in and around the city. And it didn’t disappoint. The paths weave their way though a bizarre volcanic landscape, with pools of bubbling, boiling mud all over the place, continuously spouting geysers, and finally, that stink of sulphur all around.

Geysers in Te Puia

Sadly, I didn’t get to enjoy it for too long, as I soon got stuck in a torrential downpour, forcing me inside to wait til it ended (although at least I was able to use the time to see a kiwi – they really are incredibly cute. Although I doubt they’d be very good as a pet, being nocturnal and all).

The town’s other highlight is the government gardens, with the huge, mock tudor, former thermal baths (now the Rotorua museum) sitting in front of manicured bowling greens – a nice, typically English colonial touch, taking a bizarre alien landscape and turning it into a little bit of home, even if that does mean that you get clouds of steam wafting from some nearby volcanic vents wafting across the greens as they play.

A little bit of England in New Zealand (steam not pictured)

You can see all of my photos from Rotorua here.

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Hiking past Mount Doom

With only six days to spend in New Zealand, I didn’t have time to do very much. But it wasn’t hard to choose what to do. I’d often read that the Tongariro Alpine Crossing is one of the world’s best day hikes, so after a couple of days relaxing in Auckland after the long flight from Chile, I headed south to Taupo.

On arrival, the first thing I did on checking into my hostel was ask about doing the crossing the following day – and was gutted to find out that it had been closed for the past couple of weeks because of poor weather conditions, and was unlikely to be open again for some time. I soon met various people in the hostel who’d been waiting in Taupo for several days without luck. I really should have checked the weather before heading down, and planned something else. But then a bit of a miracle happened – at 2pm the daily weather forecast came in, and it was a complete turnaround. They were expecting a glorious day – and therefore the walk was on.

After yet another ridiculously early start, we soon found ourselves at the start of the walk, slightly apprehensive about the fact the first part of the walk contained the devil’s staircase – a short section where most of the day’s ascent would be tackled in one, steep, gruelling section. Luckily for me, the benefits of all that hiking in the Andes seemed to be still present, and while tough, it was still far easier than I’d expected (ah, the joys of not hiking at high altitude) and after an hour or so we were at the first plateau, with a great view of Mt Ngauruhoe (better known as being the setting for Mt Doom in the Lord of the Rings films) rising up above us. The view wasn’t quite as good as I’d hoped, as the day was quite overcast, although it appear to be starting to clear a little.

In the summer months, the walk is even better, as you get the chance to do a tough side-scramble up the slopes of Ngauruhoe – but in early spring there’s just too much snow, so we just had to be content with gazing up at it (I think my legs were quite grateful for that at least), and soon we were on our way across the plateau of the south crater, before tackling the second big ascent. This one wasn’t half as steep or as long as the previous one, but was nearly as tough because this section was covered in snow, making every step far harder than it should have been.

Mt Ngauruhoe

It was all worth it when we got to the top though – by this time the clouds had cleared completely, and we found ourselves on top of a snow-clad, active volcano, with incredible panoramic views across a huge chunk of the North Island, even as far as to Mount Taranaki on the coast. Now normally you’d expect the highest point of a hike, covered in snow, would be a pretty chilly place to stop for lunch – but one of the big advantages of hiking up a volcano was that the rocks on the crater rim are all nice and warm, offering me the perfect spot to sit down and chill out, admiring the views, warming my bum in the process.

Jumping Mt Doom

Full of ham sandwiches and Anzac biscuits, we were soon ready to head on our way – but not before I’d taken the opportunity to get my latest jumping photo, with Mt Doom in the background. One of the great things about jumping photos is not just the end result (a bit more fun than your average posed snap), but they are always fun to take, normally requiring numerous attempts to get that perfect mid-air shot. It’s also pretty infectious too – after I’d shown people the picture of me, everyone wanted a go, so we spent another good half hour or so with everyone on the group jumping up and down.

Tongariro Lakes

The way down is just as spectacular as the way up – soon after the steaming crater, we passed by a couple of bright turquoise lakes, the colours looking even more pronounced when set against the snow. On the final patch of snow it was time for some more silly pictures, with one of my group deciding it would be the perfect opportunity to make some snow angels. So we all stopped again and leapt down into the snow. Snow angels are far too much fun to be left to children.

Making snow angels = fun

As we made our way out of the crater, the landscape changed dramatically again, giving us a great view out towards Lake Taupo and the hills around. We stopped at a hut on the way down to admire the views for a while, before finally heading back through the final section, through a forest, back to the car park and thoroughly knackered after a great day’s hiking.

Lake Taupo

In the end, I was so lucky with my timing – that night saw a huge dump of snow and further storms, meaning the crossing would be closed for the following few days at least (which also put paid to my plans to go skiing the following day).

You can see all my photos of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing here.