Napier, New Zealand
Another 250km further south by the end of today and the weather is slowly getting noticeably cooler, especially at night. Wellington is still 300km down the road and I daren’t think how far Christchurch is. Weirdly the weather forecast tonight shows Christchurch having a much warmer day than Auckland, which is way, way north. I take comfort from the fact!
We woke up to a sunny day in Rotorua so after brekky we set out to drive around and see what the town was about. We had a look at some of the hot springs in the town and the formal Government Gardens, but then Wendy, whilst reading the brochure for Wai-O-Tapu thermal park, saw that the Lady Knox geyser was due to erupt at 10.15am. Quick fill with petrol and then a mad dash in the car 20 mins down Hwy. 5 to the park. Made it with 5 mins to spare, at which point the incredible timekeeping of the geyser was revealed to be helped along by a ranger chucking some soap powder down the fumarole! ROTFL. Anyway, Lady Knox erupted on schedule and we all photographed her to death.
From there we went down into the park itself. You have probably seen it on the telly; Billy Connolly has been there cracking rude jokes for one. It consists of various circular walks past assorted boiling mud pools, steaming craters and bubbly lakes, all showing signs of thermal activity and all very smelly with sulphurous fumes. We went round about a mile-long walk and it was pretty damn amazing really – lots of pics taken as you can see. It’s hard to describe, since it looks like nothing else on earth. Well worth a couple of hours wandering round IMHO.
Coffee dispatched it was back on to Hwy. 5, 3/4 hour down the road to Taupo. Now this is a nice town right on the edge of Lake Taupo, and is something of a resort town for New Zealanders. We had some lunch here overlooking the lake and although it was beautifully sunny, there were huge rainclouds stacked up over the Ahimanawa Range – guess which way we were heading? Before braving the mountain passes we took a walk round some of the town. It has a real resort feel and I was particularly taken by a McDonnell(*) parked in McDonald’s. I could easily spend more time here – it must be great in the summer when it’s hot. As it is, even in early spring it’s nice.
(*) OK, OK, technically it’s a Douglas DC3, but Douglas did later amalgamate with McDonnell, so let me have my pun, eh?
But now we’re back to following Hwy. 5 all the way to Napier. At first the road climbs through man made pine forests and is straight for long stretches. We blast along at the speed limit even though the weather gradually gets wetter and wetter as we climb. After about 30 mins we start climbing seriously through native forests – and the road twists and turns and climbs and drops – it’s like ten ‘Cat & Fiddles’ one after the other. Even so, the native Kiwis are reluctant to back off the gas and a number of them pass me at wide sections. This switchback ride, which must be brilliant in the sunshine with the right vehicle, goes on for ages before we finally drop down into Hawkes Bay, where the rain fades away and the forest gives way to vineyards.
After a short drive we reach Napier – famous for being a city that was destroyed in an earthquake early in the 20th Century and then rebuilt in a largely Art Deco style. We head for Marine Parade which overlooks the Pacific Ocean. Eventually I spot what I am looking for – The Shoreline Motel – picked pretty much at random from the motel book. It has the biggest room yet – in fact it’s nearly a suite with separate bedrooms, a kitchenette and a lounge. It also faces directly on to the seafront and has free wireless internet – result.
After settling in we go for a walk down Marine Drive. Of course it’s now post 5pm so everything except restaurants are closed. Sigh, some things never change in NZ. Tomorrow we’ll have a decent look round before making tracks to the capital.