Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Why does it always rain in Taupō?

After a surprisingly long coach journey (just under 5 hours) we arrived in Taupō, which is halfway between Auckland and the capital, Wellington. Lake Taupō is the largest lake in New Zealand and it sits in the caldera of a dormant super volcano!

Lake Taupo with Mount Tauhara in the background

Māori arch down by the lake front

One guide I read described Taupō as "the Queenstown of the North Island", although I really don't think it deserves this title, even five years since we last visited. Yes it offers lots of adrenaline-pumping activities such as sky diving, bungy jumps, jet-boats, waterskiing, sailing, etc., but most of these activities aren't easily accessible from the centre of town. Taupō also lacks the vibe that Queenstown has, it's difficult to put my finger on it but it felt a little too quiet at times.

Lake Taupō is beautiful but the town often lacked atmosphere

It also seems that we have a knack of picking days to stay in Taupō where it looks like it's going to rain! Last time we were here it rained constantly for four days and we never got a chance to do the Tongariro Crossing. Yet again, the rain made an appearance for our stopover - it wasn't even like it was heavy rain, it's just annoying, persistant drizzle. As far as I know Taupō doesn't have higher than average rainfall than anywhere else in New Zealand.

On our only full day in Taupō, we decided to revisit the Huka Falls, but left out the "Craters of the Moon" as this was possibly one of the longest walks we did on our last trip (and yes it did rain that time). Starting off from our hostel we walked to the picturesque Taupō bungy site, set high on the cliffs above the Waikato River. Not long into the walk the heavens opened with drizzle and this became a on-off feature of the day. From the bungy site we picked up the Huka Falls Walkway and stopped off at the hot water stream. There is a pleasant and well used spot by the bridge where you take a dip for free in the geothermally heated water.  Although we didn't bring any swimming gear we tested the water for temperature and it was amazing how hot it was.

Me and Lizzie testing out the temperature in the Otumuheke Stream

"It's a mighty hot in here"

Continuing along the walkway, we walked along the East bank of the river for about 45 mins. It was quite an easy and enjoyable walk to the falls but there were a couple of steep hills with some sheer drops if you got too close to the edge.

The Waikato River is crystal clear but has some strong currents

The Huka Falls are quite unusual as they're not the spectacular waterfalls you would associate with some parts of the South Island but are formed from a narrow split in the bedrock. This results in 200,000 litres of water per second being forced through this channel plunging down a 9 meter drop - that's enough to fill five Olympic swimming pools per minute! After descending the falls, the river is a breathtaking blue colour due the mass of tumbling air bubbles it picks up, which also gives the falls their name, after the māori word for 'foam'.

The falls from Huka Falls Road lookout

A creative shot using a long exposure to capture the force of water

The footbridge spans over the Waikato River in the middle of the falls

At the bottom of the falls was a jet boat giving thrill seekers a close up view. Interestingly enough, the jet boat was actually invented in New Zealand by William Hamilton in the 1950s.

The walk back along the Waikato River seemed a lot quicker and we even found a fun park to play in!

Lizzie first down the zip line!

Now my turn!

Ironically, the day we left for Napier turned out to be the nicest day weather-wise! Heading down to the lake front, a group of about 25 rugby players from the (Waikato) Chiefs turned up, stripped off and headed into the lake to cool off, along with their newest signing and New Zealand Professional Heavyweight Boxing Champion, Sonny Bill Williams. Apparently, he's also the first New Zealander to play international matches in Rugby League and Rugby Union. I think Lizzie was secretly enjoying watching all the semi-naked men.

It's not everyday a rugby team turns up to dip in the lake!

I did read in the newspaper that the Chiefs would be in Taupō playing a pre-season match but I'd never imagined we'd see the whole team within touching distance. I guess it shows that you can be the right place, at the right time!

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