6-7 January: Whanganui to Taupo and back to Omokoroa

Author: Mr A

Location: Whanganui, Motuoapa, Rotorua and Omokoroa

The drive up from the west coast port of Whanganui up to Taupo gave us some fantastic scenery. Plunging waterfalls, snow capped volcanoes (that have caused two of the worlds most violent eruptions), alpine vistas, and finally a lake boasting a surface area larger than Singapore! New Zealand just keeps throwing us into a sensory overload.

Mount Ruapehu – active volcano covered in snow.
The roads are not too busy around here…

We made a small diversion for a nostalgic visit to the Chateau at Tongariro where friends of ours got married. It still had all the charm we remembered so fondly.

Chateau Tongariro – we stayed here in February 2003 for friends Jenny & David’s wedding
The grand old house decked out in 1920s decadence, and playing the music too…
When we stayed here the mountain was decked in thick fog…we didn’t see it for three days!

We had kindly been invited to stay the night with a friend’s family who own a holiday house right on the shore of Lake Taupo. We’ve both stayed with them before, but it still took our breath away sitting in the lounge looking out at this view.

Looking across Taupo

I decided to take a kayak out for an explore in the late afternoon sunshine, and took advice from our hosts and found myself immersed in this wetland separated from the main lake by a narrow channel. I had one of those “I am so privileged to see this place” moments…stopped paddling and just drifted along in the absolute silence with only water birds for company.

A hidden corner of Taupo, where the water’s less than knee deep
Looking out towards the north of the caldera
This wetland is home to a very rare species of orchid – the Swamp Orchid

A cracking dinner of fresh NZ whitebait and prawns, with such good company, had us again reflecting on the ingredients that make you want to call somewhere home. I can certainly see why so many Kiwis come back after careers offshore. Yes the North Island is changing, certainly getting busier in parts, but the contrast to where we have travelled in the north and west of Australia in particular, is just so stark. The constantly changing scenery here for instance. In one day we have travelled through all of these remarkably different landscapes. The summer climate here is also such a literally refreshing change. Although averages are creeping up, we haven’t once felt we didn’t want to be outside in them in the day and usually they dipped enough at night to give us a good sleep. We also never seem to be far from a shop that can sell us fresh produce and a quality bottle of wine! Important things…makes you think…

However, even though the grass seems greener here, literally, there’s some things that aren’t as you would hope. For instance, in NZ you are nearly twice as likely to be killed in your vehicle than in Australia. New Zealand ended 2018 with its road toll at 382 – with 3.6 million light vehicles registered. In Australia we ended the year at 1,143 fatalities with 19.2M registered. We can ponder about why the huge difference – no research I could find covers this scope, but having driven here for a month, driver behaviour leaves me feeling very nervous. For instance, almost every other vehicle that I watch come up in the mirror tailgates us. It seems second only to rugby as a national sport!

Secondly, we have decided to miss out on a number of walks/sights because of a concern about the security of our vehicle and its contents. The glass of smashed car windows was littering many of the car parks we saw at the start of walks. Car break ins are all too common in the tourist spots. Many of the reviews we read of places we wanted to go had people reporting car thieves working in the area. Not good for brand New Zealand.

Having said all of that, we both went out on the kayaks in the morning and revisited the wetlands, which looked different again in the morning light and had one of the most memorable paddles ever in this land of outsndaing natural beauty.

A very different looking Lake Taupo greeted us at 7am
Beautiful still waters reflecting moody skies
Mr A paddles towards the secret entrance into the wetlands
Paddling in the clouds
The silence and stillness is breathtaking
Mrs A is impressed…worth getting out of bed for!
Somehow the cloud cover adds to the overall atmosphere
Yes, we are having fun!

We paddled back to the house for showers and a cup of tea with our hosts, before heading off on our way. We lunched beside the Aratiatia Rapids on our way back to Omokoroa – literally just happening to turn off the road and arrive as the power station was releasing a huge amount of water . We didn’t realise it would only last 15 minutes, so failed to take any photos – it wasn’t ‘too’ bad a view once the dam was closed again though! Top tip for future travellers in this area – check out the release times and get there to have a look – it was impressive!

AratiatiaRapids with their ‘standard’ amount of water – you can see the darker areas of rock where the water had previously gushed through about 3 metres deeper and much faster!
The incredible blue-green waters down river, just past the hydro power station which controls the flow

New Zealand has so much to offer the traveller, just be careful on the roads and park your car somewhere safe, with plenty of witnesses!


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