February 3: Napier to Rotorua (via Taupo)
Thermal Explorer Highway honours it’s pompous name. As you approach Rotorua, you start seeing fumes and vapour randomly rising from the forest, and you start smelling it, too. There are plenty of things you can see around Rotorua, but the best of it is definitely a walk around Wai-O-Tapu, which is a crater of a volcano full of sulphurous springs, hot creeks, mud pools, geysers, various lakes and pools of water of suspiciously bright colour (the carcasses of dead birds floating on the surface are a bit of a giveaway): the devils playground. It’s awesome, unreal, absolutely magical. And the stench is everywhere, of course.
Hot springs are to be found everywhere in the woods between Taupo and Rotorua. I have been to the parts of the world where hot shower is something only tourists expect (and can afford), so hot water occurring naturally must have seemed a blessing to the first settlers of the island. The two most popular spots close to the road are Kerosene Creek and Hot & Cold (where as the name suggests two streams of different temperatures meet). They are natural, free, stinky and not very clean, but I think it’s great to relax in a pool of hot water under the open sky, especially if it’s cold outside. If you are fussy and expect things like lockers, showers and clean towels, there are many fancy spa establishments in Rotorua, like the Polynesian Spa (however the smell is quite the same).
Rotorua is also the first place that does not give us the impression that there is something out there lurking in the shadows, waiting to assault people who venture out after sunset. Maybe the stinking lake scares it off. Restaurant that’s not to be missed: Atticus Finch. Great wine list, outstanding food, and there are still people around at 11 pm. A miracle.
February 4 – 6 Rotorua to Coromandel Peninsula (Via Tauranga)
We drive to the seaside village of Whiritoa, where there is absolutely nothing except for a little dairy open only in the morning, not even a chip shop (although the dairy probably does fish and chips when it’s open, it smells of fried fat). We are forced to drive to the next town to buy food (and wine) and to cook some healthy food, which is a welcome change after all the fried stuff we have eaten in the past few days. On the positive side, we have managed to book the coolest holiday hut (bach, read as “batch” in local slang): it looks like a giant wine barrel, which is, well, appropriate, I guess.
Day 2: trip to see the most beautiful part of the coast. We leave the car in Hahei Beach and walk about 4 km on a coastal path to Cathedral Cove and back. If you have better organizational skills than us and prepare things aforehand, you can walk one way and arrange for a boat to pick you up or you can kayak there. The hike itself is wonderful, reasonably easy, and the only thing I can compare the views to is the Path of the Gods south of Naples. About 10 km away is another famous feature of Coromandel, the Hot Water Beach. There is a spot with a hot spring hidden underneath, you can dig a hole in the sand and let it fill with hot water, which will cool down every time a wave comes. Pretty cool, or that’s what I heard, because we did not find the spot.
Day 3: best weather so far and relatively calm sea makes it easy to decide the day’s plan: beach and swimming in the waves. Legend has it that the Canadians are the most polite nation under the sun, but I think their position may be soon disputed by New Zealanders. On Whiritoa beach the swim guard comes to personally thank each swimmer at the end of the day for having chosen to swim between the flags (thus making the guard’s life much easier).
February 7: Whiritoa to Auckland
Drive back to Auckland with a short stop in the town of Paeroa, famous (fortunately only in NZ) for vein-clogging (like, instantly) soft drink L&P (lemon & Paeroa), which every Kiwi seems to be really proud of, and I find this fact utterly puzzling, to put it mildly. Imagine dissolving as much sugar in a glass of Sprite as you manage before the concentration reaches the critical saturation point. There you go. Feel free to try the stuff, but have a jab of insulin at hand, just in case. I’ve never thought there could be something as disgusting as IrnBru, but I think I may have found it in New Zealand. The town’s main attraction is a tacky giant plastic statue of L&P, where everyone (us included) takes photos. Let’s just say, some cities have (for example) Leaning Towers, and some don’t.
Last night in Auckland: we meet with Jan and Ben and go out for dinner. Eva is leaving on the next day, unfortunately. But a big thank you for coming all the way to New Zealand to visit and helping me out with all the bubbles .
Bonus: sunrise in Whiritoa: