Despite the poor weather forecast I had one thing planned for my time in Taupo – a trip to see the Ngatoroirangi Rock Carvings. You can only see the carvings from the water and I had booked to go on one of the two boat tours that take you the short distance out to see them. Unfortunately, at 9pm the night before the trip, I received a text to say it was cancelled due to boat problems – but they could give me a refund or put me on another boat doing the same trip. As I only had one day I opted to take the other boat.
So instead of going on a big modern catamaran (with lots of space – great for social distancing) I was now going on a small replica steamboat – the Ernst Kemp (built in 1980 to look like a 1920s steamboat) less than half the size- and now of course with more people which was not ideal!
A had time to kill before my boat trip to have a quick walk around town. Lake Taupo was formed 27,000 years ago as a result of a huge volcanic eruption and it has erupted 29 times since then, most recently 1,800 years ago. Many years later (around 800-900 years ago) Nagtoroirangi and his people settled around the lake but struggled due to the unfertile soil and harsh winters. In 1869, the European Armed Constabulary settled in the area, creating the Tapuaeharuru redoubt (apparently a redoubt is an earthwork fort). There is not much left to see of the original settlements by either the Maori or Europeans beyond a few trenches in the ground.
It wasn’t until the 1950s when the town started to flourish, once the crap soil had been cleared. This made way for successful farming and forestry business, as well as geothermal and hydro electric power schemes. Today it is a hugely successful tourist hub too.
The town has some great street art, and pretty rubbish bins and drain covers!! I love these little details. One of my favourite pieces was a decorated handrail with the following text … “Seek the treasure you value most dearly: if you bow your head, let it be to a lofty mountain”. This beautiful verse was in Maori, English and braille.
One of Taupo’s claims to fame is that it has the world’s coolest McDonalds – well that is what they say anyway, having been chosen from over 34,000 restaurants worldwide. What is so cool about it you ask?? Well, half of it is in an airplane! As if I needed an excuse to go 🤦🏻♀️
The skies had cleared a little by the time I was to board my boat trip, and thankfully the small boat was not full – only 15 people and perspex screens between seats. I was starting to question if there really was a problem with the other boat, or if they just decided it was not worth running it with a handful of people 🤔. How cynical am I 😂
The marina is sits at the start of the mighty Waikato river, the longest river in New Zealand and apparently the only New Zealand river that flows north. As we headed out to the lake it was a little choppy and the clearer weather did not last long. The wind, intermittent rain and choppy water surface made taking photos fun lol.
The Ngatoroirangi Maori Rock Carvings were carved by local artist Matahi Whakataka-Brightwell and a team of artists over four years in the 1970s. The main carving depicts Ngatoroirangi, the earliest settler of the region, and surrounding his image are many smaller carvings depicting guardians or ancestors of the local tribe. Some of the smaller carvings take some time to spot in the rocks but are worth it when you do.
I overheard the captain and assistant talking about how bad they expected the 2pm sailing to be if/when the wind picks up so I was glad I had done the trip when I did.
I didn’t trust the weather for my next outing so instead of waking I drove to Huka Falls, the other ‘must do’ activity when in Taupo and it is apparently one of New Zealand’s most visited natural attractions.
You can hear the falls long before you see them – as the narrowing of the Waikato River (from 100m wide to 15m wide) causes a quarter of a million litres of water per second to flow (with great force) through the gorge and down the 11m drop. It really is quite an incredible sight.
I took a small walk from the view point and along one of the tracks along the river bank – 1 minute sun, next minute rain 🥴. I do love the smell of bush after rain. It is clearly not a pest free area as a large rat ran across the track in front of me interrupting my relaxing, though slightly damp stroll.
Finally, at the end of the day, the sun came out properly. Just in time for sunset – not just on the day but in my road trip. I am so happy I got to take the trip. Most things went to plan, somethings didn’t, but it all worked out in the end – almost 900km driven, taking in the full length of State Highway 35, the Thermal Explorer Highway and part of the Pacific Coast Highway. What a beautiful country I am lucky enough to call home❤️