In my pre-trip planning, I’d had the idea to drive straight from Taupo to Rotorua, about 80 km and an hour’s drive north. Staying at the YHA Taupo the previous evening, I’d picked up some tourist brochures in the office that captured my interest.
I was beginning to become accostomed to waking up to weather completely different than I had seen the previous evening, and this day was no exception. The sun had set the previous day under brilliant, clear skies, but it was cloudy and overcast when I woke up. I headed north out of town toward Huka Falls, my first intended stop of the day.
Getting another early start, my campervan was the only one in the parking lot when I arrived. I walked the short path out toward the fall, crossing the bridge over the roaring rapids of the Waikato River. Although I hadn’t seen the falls yet, I was soaked by the spray as soon as I stepped on the the east bank of the river.
Huka Falls is not impressive because of it’s drop, which is only 7 meters, instead it is impressive because of the volume and fury of the falls. Standing next to it, as I was on this ledge, the roaring of the falls was almost deafening.
As impressive as the falls itself was the Waikato River as it raced through the canyon toward the falls. I learned, through helpful signposts, that the flow of water is regulated by Mighty River Power, as part of their local hydroelectric power plan.
I’d hoped to get one of the early scenic cruises to the base of the falls, but when I showed up at the landing, I was disappointed to find that, due to a small turnout, only an afternoon cruise was going to be available that day. The incredibly friendly young man who captained the boat encouraged me to stay, explaining that the trip was really worth it. He & I sat and talked about New Zealand politics (something I knew very little about, but had been intrigued by) and his trips to America for over hour. He suggested a few places to visit close by that would be both interesting and would kill the time before the cruise would depart.
The first of these places was the Wairakei Terraces and Thermal Health Spa. Since the day was cool, and my time was fairly limited, I decided to forgo a swim in the health space, but I did pay the admission fee to look around at the terraces themselves.
The Wairakei Terraces were impressive enough, but I was underwhelmed with the geothermal features of the area, as I had expected to be, since I have visited Yellowstone National Park a few times. I did wish I’d had more time to soak in the heated pools, as they seem especially welcoming on such a cool day.
I was glad I hadn’t waited to see the traditional Maori Haka show at this location, as the theatre and replica village were closed while undergoing repairs. I had heard that this was one of the most well-respected of the many shows offered around the country.
My second stop, just down the road from the Wairakei Terraces was The Honey Hive, a store specializing in not only honey, but the many products that can be made from honey. The facility also had many displays on how honey was made and it’s many uses. Although not a huge fan of honey, I really enjoyed The Honey Hive, and will feature the many pictures I took there in an upcoming photo essay.
I returned to the dock and boarded the Huka Falls River Cruise, the excursion that had kept me in the area much longer than I had expected.
As I waited, I was able to watch some of my favorite New Zealand birds in action, especially the cute little fan-tails, who swooped and flittered along the surface of he river.
We started slowly down the Waikato heading toward the falls. We passed the power plant that harnesses the water and provides power for much of the Central North Island.
In the end, I was so glad I’d waited around for the cruise. The weather, which had started cold & grey, morphed into sunny & pleasant just as we neared the falls. I’ll also feature a photo essay on the cruise as a whole later this week.
After the cruise, I stayed around to long enough to watch the Aratiatia Dam open it’s gates. The dam’s flowing water was used in one of the pivotal scenes in The Lord of the Rings movies.
After that, it was time to head north, to Rotorua, and a whole other adventure…