East Cape Road trip Part 9 – Final days (finally 😂)

November 2022

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❤️

East Cape Part 8 – From Coast to Lake

November 2021

My final day on the coast and finally the sunrise I had been waiting for … all those early alarms were worth it (or not 😂). It was still hazy, but the sky was generally clear and for the first time the only colour in the sky was not grey 😂❤️.  Of course, I live on the east coast at home and see some beautiful sunrises but here it is 10 minutes earlier 😂.

As always, sunsets change – bright colours first (about 40 minutes before the actual sunrise), then beautiful colour reflections in the waters of low tide.  About 10 minutes before the sunrise time, the sun started to poke up from the horizon.  It was so red when it first rose and perfectly reflected in the sea.   It was absolutely stunning.  As always with sunrises (and sunsets) I find myself with that age old dilemma, how many photos are too many 🤔(there is a right answer and it is that there are never too many 😂). 

What a perfect way to finish up my time on the east coast.

I packed up the car and headed back through Gisborne and inland.   My first stop was Rere Waterfalls, a 45 minute drive out of Gisborne.   The falls are on the Wharekopae River and although they are only 5 metres high, they are 20 metres wide and very picturesque.  There is a lovely area there to have a picnic too if you are that way inclined.

From here, I travelled out of Tairawhiti and into the Hawkes Bay region.  It was a beautiful drive through vineyards and fields of newly planted corn.  There lots of wineries in the area and it was a shame I was driving… and that it was 10am in the morning lol.

I didn’t have a long drive today, and my final destination was the Morere Hot Springs – I had seen the hot springs described as “a treat not to be missed”.  Apparently the springs produce 250,000 litres of hot sea water each day which is piped to pools set in the 364 hectares of rain forest.  There is also a lot of history here, as the hot springs were used by the local Māori for healing, long before they were discovered by Europeans in 1884. Sadly, I was not able to enjoy their healing power myself on this day.

Because of their level 2 Covid restrictions, the Nikau pools (the ones I had come for which are set in the bush) were closed unless you were in a group of 5 or more.  Because there are no cameras, they could not guarantee the required social distancing – it did not matter that I was the only person in the place, and they did not get the irony of that!   The cold pool was also closed.

Because it was still so early in the day, I decided to at least take a walk around the Nikau Forest (around a 30 minute walk) which was beautiful.  It is actually one of the last remaining tracts of coastal native forest on the East Coast.   It was a lovely walk, but I probably could have done a similar one for free (rather than the $10 paid to get in – at least they have reduced the price from $18 because only 1 of the 3 pools were actually available).   

The lovely walk took me passed the empty pools that I was not allowed to use before I left – as I did not fancy sitting in a hot pool in an enclosed building with no view – I can do that at home – it’s called a bath 😂🥴

My accommodation at the Morere Hot Springs Lodge was, not surprisingly, just across the road and now I was way too early for check in – I decided to give it a go and thankfully my cabin was ready for me.  My simple but well equipped cabin was located in peaceful farmland, and it was lovely.

There was nothing in the way of shops or cafes in Morere (well there was a café, but it was not open) so I decided to take a drive and headed to Mahia beach on Mahia Peninsula for lunch.  It was a nice little town with lots of houses that look like they are holiday/weekend homes and I can imagine it is packed in the summer.

If you are thinking the name sounds familiar, it may be because it is the home of Rocket Lab’s missile launch complex, or perhaps because it is one of the rare sports on the east coast famous for its sunsets (rare because the sunset sets in the west, but the angle and location of the peninsula enables it to get a decent sunset and sunrise).   Sadly, I don’t think I will be bothered coming back in 5 hours after my early start – and we all know sunrises are my ‘thing’ 👍🏻.

After a peaceful night in my lovely accommodation, I continued my way back inland, through small towns and passed small maraes, stopping in Wairoa for breakfast.   The main attraction of Wairoa is the Portland Island lighthouse, strategically placed by the river.  It is one of the oldest lighthouses in the country and not surprisingly, used to sit on Portland Island, just off the coast of the Mahia Peninsula.  In 1957 it was moved to Wairoa where its history has been preserved.

From here I left the Pacific Coast road, back to the Thermal Explorer highway.  I could have gone a longer way via lakes and waterfalls, but that came with lots of windy mountainous roads, and I was feeling pretty tired by this point.  I was surprised how tired I was as I have done lots of trips as busy and as long, if not longer … but then I remembered I don’t drive on many of those, so during the driving time I can be relaxing or dozing.  Not like the concentration it requires to drive on some of these roads (well all roads really) lol.

There was not a lot of stopping today.  There were not many places to stop, no shops or toilets. I also did not want to be passed by slow trucks/campers I had patiently passed and on top of that it was raining and cloudy.  I did take the risk to stop at one scenic lookout which turned out to be the pretty impressive Waipunga waterfall (- even in the rain 🥴😂).

And so, I arrived in Taupo same day covid did 🤦🏻‍♀️ so social distancing was the plan!