Like all great travellers, I have seen more than I remember, and remember more than I have seen.
Sunday, September 13, 2015 (continued)
We left Tongariro National Park around 12:30 PM, first stopping one last time in Turangi to fuel up on gas, and headed up to Taupō. State Highway 1 continues along the eastern edge of Lake Taupō. The great lake, which is situated close to smack-dab in the center of the North Island, lies in the ancient volcanic caldera of the Taupō Volcano. This volcano is responsible for some of the most violent eruptions in earth’s history (and may just be overdue for a big one). When turned off at a scenic lookout in the city once we arrived, and discovered that we could see all three peaks of Tongariro National Park in one panoramic view from the north side of the lake—a nice surprise! We had no idea that they would be visible from that far away, much less all three visible at the same time.
We checked into our Great Lake Holiday Park, which was on the other side of the bay (the west side of the city). Taupō seems to be a nice, clean and newish city, somewhat bigger than Wanaka. Our park host Colleen was friendly, and we found out that she was a South Africa transplant (like the Mattie we had met on Roys Peak). She told us how to get to Huka Falls and different activities in the area. She explained that most of the sights were in a Wairakei Tourist Park and warned us to watch out for pick-pockets and car thieves.
To go on a brief tangent here and to skip ahead in our story a bit, we came to learn that tourist parks like this—specific areas where tourists could be “corralled,” for lack of a better term—were kind of a theme on the North Island, especially after we visited Rotorua, too. The sights were either less natural than the South Island, or if they were natural, like the thermal springs and vents, they were much more closed-off and you had to pay to see just about everything. It’s not like our National Parks in the U.S. where you may pay to enter once, but once inside, you are free to roam anywhere. And it was probably a way to keep all the tourists to one part of the town, rather than ruining the town for the residents. Yes, there are still gift shops and souvenirs and monetization in our parks, too, but it was our one big critique of the way New Zealand, at least on the North Island, had in some way spoiled their natural wonders.
Strange happenings in Taupō
What happened next, when we left the holiday park is somewhat related to that tangent, perhaps. As we were leaving, shortly down the road, we accidentally did not give way on a rotary. A man who had essentially started going through the rotary about the same time as us, but probably that we should have yielded to, honked at us a lot. He was very angry and cut in front of us at the next intersection—mind you, a much bigger intersection on a busy road. He got out of his car; we thought he was going to cuss us out, but Philip rolled down the window and immediately said “sorry.” The man didn’t yell, but sort of stuttered out “Just be careful,” and was visibly upset. He even told the cars behind us, who were probably confused what was going on that he was going to say something to us. We think that he may not have expected Philip to apologize so quickly, or maybe saw that we were young and decided not to keep escalating it. Who knows. We knew it was our fault, but we couldn’t help but think, at least upon further reflection on the incident later, that he was maybe one of the Taupō locals who perhaps was a little fed up with all the tourists taking over his city, because even we could see that there were hoards everywhere, and we were just the lucky ones in a big obvious campervan who pissed him off one last time, and felt justified. Yeah, what we did in the rotary was a mistake, but it wasn’t as close of an accident as he made it out to be. To be honest, in the end, he probably endangered more people on the road with his jerky antics, pulling in front of us to give us a “talking,” but in the end, it was but it was OK. The whole incident just shook us up a bit, and threw us off a the rest of the day, being the first strange incident of the day in Taupō. . . .
Aratiatia Rapids and Huka Falls
With that semi-scary incident out of the way, we went on to Aratiatia Rapids and Dam as we had planned, on our search for Huka Falls. Aratiatia is where water from Lake Taupo that is dammed up is periodically released into the Waikato River relieve pressure on the dam. We had just missed the 2 PM release, but it was still neat to see where the water rushes through Lake Taupō. The hydro scheme on the Waikato River produces 15 percent of New Zealand’s energy, mostly for the Auckland area.
But the second weird incident of the day happened as we were walking back to our campervan from the dam overlook. We saw a man peeking into our campervan windows, like he was trying to see if we had anything valuable, at least in our interpretation. But we had Colleen’s warning in our head, and having already been shaken up by the road rage incident, we became even more paranoid about the Taupō area.
Huka Falls was quite the rush of water. It’s kind of a strange nearly horizontal waterfall. The rocks are so narrow here, the Waikato River shoots through at incredible force and speed, like a water pinball machine. You’d definitely not want to be caught in it! Plus, it’s an amazing blue color. We were pretty sure that some of the barrels scene in The Hobbit movie was shot here, at least the rush of the water was studied or used for the CGI simulations.
A third semi-strange incident happened here, too. Some school-age girls stopped Philip and were telling them about how the water would eventually erode the whole falls away, but they were recording him on their iPhones. We think they were trying to do some strange “sociology” experiment or daring each other to talk to strangers like they were confident in what they were saying. It was strange and silly, teens being teens, but it was just one more disconcerting thing on top of a strange afternoon.
So with three strange incidents in the bucket, we didn’t really feel like going to explore any more of Taupō, even though we could’ve gone into town or down to the lakeshore. I think we had it with that day and needed to relax and take showers. Colleen at Great Lake Holiday Park had recommended a restaurant in town called Dixie’s, but we stuck around and used the kitchen facility to make a dinner of sausage, macaroni, pasta sauce, and green beans. Colleen had also let us have free Wi-Fri to contact the parents, but it ran out quickly, so we ended up paying $3 to by another Internet voucher. Jessica washed some of our towels in the sink, and we left them outside to dry overnight (turns out that wasn’t very successful because they remained cold and damp till morning). We journaled the rest of the night and dreamed of our Hobbiton tour tomorrow, which hopefully would make up for the Taupō weirdness. (To be fair, we were sure Taupō wasn’t always like this, and it was more the people than the sights that were strange, and we probably generalizing based on the coincidences of our one-time experience, but it was definitely not our favorite place in New Zealand.)