Written in the car headed to Taupo, about 12:30 pm on Friday, February 18
As an add-on to the Te Po tickets, we got free passes to Hell’s Gate, one of the local thermal parks (a $30 value). This is one of the few attractions around without a Māori name (although it’s attached to the Wai Ora Spa), and with a logo reminiscent of a video game or an energy drink, I didn’t have a lot of hope for it.
The park turned out to be pretty good. It had a front area with some bubbling pools, including some black ones called inkpots (vs. mud pots). We also found that the site had been named by George Bernard Shaw, hence the lack of a Māori name. Then there was a walk through the forest to a second, larger thermal area. Mom only went 1/3 of the way around the upper level before taking a cut back to near the end, while I walked to full circuit and saw (among other things) the Steaming Cliffs and the Mud Volcano (which crusts over and has a small eruption every couple weeks). Much of it felt like my memories of going to Yellowstone 35-some years ago; my mother was there a couple years ago and says that rock paths and wooden walkways I recall are no longer as accessible as they were when I was a kid.
The cynic in me had some difficulties in accepting that everything at Hell’s Gate was real and not manufactured. The bulk of the grounds looked like poured concrete, just like you see a fake rock installations in Las Vegas or at Disneyland. (But what at those poured concrete installations supposed to look like but this?) Steam vents and bubbling pools are easy to produce via pipes in the rocks. I’m sure it was all real (or most of it, anyway), but it sure felt “imagineered” because I’ve seen so much that has been.
The weather in Rotorua has been overcast and drippy, kind of like the Seattle area in the late spring would be. It looked like it might turn out nicer today, so I wore my kilt and a tank with a tropical shirt over it. Left the tropical shirt off at Hell’s Gate, and found out that evening that I had got a sunburn from that, except around the tattoos where I had used a sunscreen.
At the end of Hell’s Gate, there was a little Māori carving demo, where we got to carve along a pattern on a block of wood, to keep for ourselves. I can’t say I did a great job on my kiwi pattern, but it was a cool (free) giveaway.
The gift shop at Hell’s Gate was one of my big purchase sites, with a t-shirt and a patu (Māori war club) with cool carvings and a convex side for my boyfriend and a paua shell necklace and cheap ring for myself.
They told us going in to be careful around the pools with silver jewelry, because the minerals would tarnish rings and such. They really meant it, because the silver necklace I was wearing came out coppery and even black in places just from walking through the steam. (Speaking of the steam, I wonder if it was good or bad for my asthma. I didn’t notice any particular difference.)
After Hell’s Gate, we headed south to Lake Taupo, the larger crater lake an hour from Rotorua. It has been created by some 26 eruptions over the course of 26,000 years, with the last one in about 181 AD (so it’s overdue!). Along the way, we stopped at Huka Falls, about 5 km north of Taupo (toh-poh). This is a narrow gorge only about 1000 feet long, which forces the river draining from Lake Taupo to churn and move very fast, resulting in a low falls (maybe 20 feet high) that are quite spectacular due to the turbulent water.
We picked up some postcards at the Huka Falls gift shop, including one of the Māori rock carvings on Lake Taupo. I also found a brochure for kayaking to the carvings. At dinner (Finn MacCuhal’s Irish Pub in Taupo), when I could get a free short-term WiFi connection, I found that this 4-5 hour trip (3 hours on the water) was only $108 (lower insurance costs, and lower cost of materials, I’m sure), so I booked it over the phone for the next day.
At the New Zealand Corner gift shop, I got myself a black t-shirt with a somewhat severe looking Kiwi on it, and a brown and turquoise baseball cap which should actually fit me fairly well (most baseball caps do not fit well ; they just sit on top of my head and don’t feel like they are on at all.) I also picked up a glass art plate for Ruby, who is tending my cats.
We had driven down to Taupo on Highway 5, so we took the alternate route pack, via Highways 1 and 30, and then around the other side of Lake Rotorua.
Updated on March 16, 2010
Added travel map.