Rain, mudpools and a sweet Maori village
After checking out, we drove into Taupo to get some info at the always helpful i Site info centers. We had been looking into a cave exploration trip in Waitomo, and decided to book it there at the info center. We were planning to stop in Waitomo after visiting Rotorua for a half-day adventure before making our way up to Auckland. Our first stop on the self-guided Suh family tour of Taupo was Huka Falls. The falls were just 10 minutes north of the downtown, and we entered the free park for a look. We weren’t sure what kind of falls to expect, but we were ready for anything after our lazy day yesterday.
The first viewing platform was right over the top of a rushing river quickly making its way towards a small cliff. The river was surprisingly wide, and water was a beautiful blue-green color with white bubbles all around from the rapids. We walked down and around to another platform and got a look at the water going over the cliff. The falls themselves were nothing spectacular, but the view looking out on the pool under the falls was amazing. The white water spread out quite a ways from the falls before settling in to a nice green color, and the river cut through the middle of a huge forest. We learned that Huka Falls is the most visited place in New Zealand and we can understand why, since it’s beautiful and easily accessible. On our way to the second site we stopped off at another viewing platform, this time up on a hill with an aerial view of the falls and pool.
The sky was getting pretty cloudy and started to sprinkle on us a little, but when we pulled into the Craters of the Moon area the rain had stopped. Craters of the Moon is a thermal area with steam rising from a lot of sinkholes, and some bubbling mud pools too. The ground is different colors due to the different minerals and heat, but we weren’t able to see much of this because soon after we entered the park it started dumping rain on us. The walk around was supposed to be 40 minutes, and we had gone about 15 when the rain really started coming down. We finished the rest of the course at a half-run, dripping in rain, and scrambled back into Trina to change and dry off. As we were warming up we made a couple sandwiches and decided to start our drive to Rotorua. We were hoping to stop at another thermal park between Taupo and Rotorua, but the weather hadn’t improved and we just kept moving.
We got to Rotorua after an hour and a half, and went right to Whakarewarewa, a Maori village and thermal park. We had a guided tour included in the admission price that started right as we walked in, and our Maori guide explained all about the village. When we walked in, there was steam coming out of the ground all over the village, and the smell of sulfur was really strong, especially right in a steam path. The Maori people really took advantage of the thermal activity in the area, and used the natural heat for cooking, bathing, and burying their dead. Our guide was very nice but a little awkward, and there were 4 Americans with us and a pair of Aussies. The ovens they used were essentially boxes buried in the ground with slits for the steam to rise up. With these ovens, they could take a chicken right out of the deep freezer and leave it covered in the box for 1-2 hours and it would be fully cooked. There was a booth right next to one of the ovens that sold samples of steamed corn, and we shared one as we continued our tour. We walked around to a geyser viewing area, but they weren’t going off, and we sought shelter since it started to rain again.
There was a shelter next to their bathing area, where we learned that the village bathes together in an area that consists of four pools filled by the overflow of the hottest pool in the village. This pool boils consistently at 150 degrees Celsius, and they use this water to fill their bathing pools in the morning. By the time the workers return home at 5pm, the water is a nice temperature for bathing. There are no curtains or any privacy to speak of, so the villagers must all be very comfortable with each other. There are currently 70 families living in the village, and the tours are open to the public from 9am to 5pm.
During the rest of the tour, we learned about some Maori instruments and ceremonial dresses, the architecture and symbology, tattoos, and ended with one more stop to look at the geysers, but they never erupted while we were there. They supposedly do every 45 minutes, but we weren’t in luck on our tour. On the way back to the exit we stopped in a couple shops, but nothing caught our eye.
Susan was craving Mexican and our Lonely Planet said there was a Mexican place in the shopping mall nearby, so we drove over in the rain for some food. We looked around but it seems that the Mexican place went out of business, so instead we got a few groceries and went to the Top 10 park. We bailed out on seeing a Maori concert since we weren’t too motivated to go back out in the cold and rain, and instead got to bed early to get some rest for our cave adventure the next day.