Saturday 26 November
26.11.2016 - 26.11.2016 20 °C
After yesterday's wash-out, there was ground to be made up today.
My campsite was just a few miles from my first objective, Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland, "NZ's most colourful and diverse volcanic area". It was always going to be a losing battle for anyone who has visited Yellowstone (which contains half of the world's geothermal features) and this was perfectly illustrated by the local version of Yellowstone's Old Faithful - which erupts naturally every hour or two to a height of 30-60metres. Here, audience-seating is within a few yards of Lady Knox geyser, while a ranger stood on it to add a surfactant to activate it briefly to a height of max 10 metres. However, the big plus to this site is that it takes only an hour or so to walk around, compared with at least two days to tour Yellowstone properly. All the heat, boiling water, mud and minerals being pushed out of the ground are a good reminder not to take for granted the earth beneath our feet - not for nothing is New Zealand also known as "the shaky isles".
Objective Two: head back 97km north to Hobbiton Movie Set, where the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit were filmed. Problem = have to be booked on a tour and it is a very popular destination. Discussion with Tom resulted in him booking me on to the 1315, arrival at 1300 please - I just had to get there in time... Of course it took longer than hoped, so I was cutting it very fine, only to find it so busy, there was apparently no parking available... Managed to squeeze in next to some building work and ran to the ticket-office. Long queue...then the system froze... No choice(?!) but to go the front and say I'm supposed to be on the 1.15 and it's now 1.14... Super girl checked list, thrust a ticket at me and said "Run!" All's well that ends well - made it as the door was closing. First impression of Hobbiton was that it could have been built within Bodenham Arboretum and Farm near Kiderminster! It's a relatively small area in the middle of a working farm located within rolling countryside and the village was created for external shots only, so the hobbit-houses are merely facades - very attractive (had there not been hordes of tourists!) and I would have been disappointed not to have visited, but I'm not the biggest fan of the films, so perhaps it was a little wasted on me. Also building work detracted from the overall vista (new toilets and an extension to the Green Dragon pub, which is not just a facade).
Objective Three: time to dash back the way I'd come via Rotorua and the ticket office for the Tamaki Maori Village = "NZ's most awarded Cultural Tourism Attraction". I was booked in for the 5.00 show, but had been told I had to visit the office to exchange a voucher from the motorhome hire company for my ticket. Seems I could have saved myself some stress and not done that, but anyway I made it in time and self-drove (most guests arrive on coaches from Rotorua, included in the ticket) to the venue just a few miles from last night's campsite! Actually very entertaining set-up, demonstrations and show, although the temperature had plummeted and it was impossible not to to feel for the cast, who were barefoot and relatively undressed! They did a great job and we were served the best meal I've ever had at a themed event.
Yay, three tourist attractions separated by a total of 200km in one day! Time to hit the road again to head a further 70km south to Lake Taupo and be back on my itinerary. No campsite booked, so spotting a sign for one Tom had mentioned, I turned off the main road into a forest a few km before the lake. Arrived to a very small site with several peacocks strutting around, while alpacas and many breeds of rabbits in pens observed all activity. So I've 'camped' and am hoping the peacocks sleep well - handsome but noisy creatures! And I didn't know they roost high up in trees - wish I'd seen them get there. Time to do nothing for the first time today.
Lake and waterfall exploration tomorrow, before driving to Napier - "a charismatic, sunny, composed city with the air of an affluent English seaside resort and a unique concentration of art-deco buildings" - to meet up with Tom for a quieter day in Hawke's Bay on Monday exploring wineries, before heading to Wellington on Tuesday to be joined by Jess to cross to South Island on Thursday.