Rotorua to Tongariro

Rotorua to Tongariro

5:45 AM and I was awake. After a great night at the Mari village, I thought I would at least sleep until 7 but, nope! I needed to catch up on blogging so I typed away while Ryan made coffee and toast for breakfast. We tried to watch the sunrise over lake Taupo but it was in the wrong direction – ooops!

Before we knew it, we were packed up and ready to head to the Waimangu Volcanic Rift Valley for our volcanic activity experience! There are two other famous and big volcanic areas you can go in Rotorua, but all of the reviews I read said they were super packed and touristy. We passed both of the other places on our way to Waimangu and they looked more like amusement parks than nature reserves. We were the only car in the parking lot for our Valley walk! Waimangu is a national park with trails through the volcanic valley with no lines or tourist expectations!

We checked in, grabbed a map that outlined the various points of interest along the trail, and took off on our two-hour walk. The trail was hilly but not hard by any means, and we were full of anticipation that kept growing as we saw more and more steam coming out of the forest!

We came across the first big site within minutes. A massive lake with bubbling water and steam everywhere! Frying Pan Lake’s temperature averages 131 degrees fahrenheit! Wouldn’t want to go for a swim in there…

The sulfur smell was almost non-existent, but you could feel the heat from the steam. There was even steam coming out of small holes in the rock formations along the path.

We were totally in awe of the natural formations, spouts, and water colors from the volcanic activity and were loving every second of the unique area.

Apparently, none of this existed before 1886. That year, Mount Tarawera erupted and created huge craters in the ground that, over time, filled with water and became the volcanic lakes we see today. We ended up taking the “extended” trail that led up, up, and away to some awesome views of the lake.

We only ran into one other group the entire time we were on the trail. The secluded nature of our hike made it that much more special.

Eventually, we got to the end of the trail and had to wait 30 minutes for the shuttle to arrive. We snacked on Quest Bars and apples to refuel and watched the black swans dive to get food in the lake. They were so funny because they only dove with their heads, so their butts and legs flailed above the water while they were submerged. So funny to watch!

The bus finally came and we were back to the reception area and into the car in no time. We had about 40 minutes of driving to do before we hit our next stop, Huka Falls. After Marokopa Falls in the day prior and our experience at Krkra Falls in Croatia, we were anticipating a great sight since Huka Falls is so much more well-known. We were slightly disappointed. Huka Falls were really more like really blue rapids. The force of the rapids was pretty astonishing, but it was crowded and we like Marokopa much more.

Huka Falls, New Zealand

It took about 10 minutes to see Huka Falls, so we jumped back in the car and sought out a lake-side lunch spot on Lake Topau. We found a cute little place with a great patio and enjoyed some fish and chips and a lamb salad. Little did we know that we were actually visiting over Anzac Day so all of the patios were packed on the national holiday. Anzac day is Australia and New Zealand’s version of Veteran’s Day in the States. We saw a ton of people in their military / service uniforms.

Lunch by Lake Taupo in New Zealand

After we filled up on lunch, we had another hour and a bit drive to the Tongariro Suites @ The Rocks. The drive was beautiful and went by quickly. I even made friends with some sheep!

Sheep in New Zealand

We were in the middle of no where and almost missed the hotel since it’s street was so off the beaten path. Once we pulled up, we knew we made the right choice! The Suites used to be a cow paddock and a fantastically nice couple turned it into a luxury resort with about 5 suites. It is all solar power operated and totally luxurious down to the tiniest detail! Because the Tongaririo Alpine Crossing hike starts so early, The Suites already had the breakfast buffet set up in our room!

The beds had heating pads, the bathroom was super luxurious with heat lamps for extra warmth and the owner even made a Canadian hot tub from cedar wood for the guests to recover in. The list of amenities and thought put into this place goes on and on and we couldn’t get over our view of the moon rising over the mountain peaks….

The owner recommended a restaurant called The Cyprus Tree for a tasty dinner within a quick drive. You would think, in such a remote area, the food would be average, but you would also be thinking wrong! We split a delicious beet, balsamic, and goat cheese ball salad, lamb sliders (that were to-die for), and cranberry walnut stuffed chicken with risotto. YUM!

After we got over our shock at how good the food was and scarfed it all down, we walked across the road to get a bottle of wine and extra water for our hike the next day. We went back to the hotel, grabbed the warm, fuzzy blankets provided in our room, poured two glasses of wine, turned all of the lights out, and sat on our patio to watch shooting stars and look at the amazing array of constellations visible. It was incredible.

Continue on this adventure…

 

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Waitomo

Waitomo

With all of the jet lag and poor plane sleep, we slept for 12.5 hours straight in our little New Zealand bungalow! Since it was 70 degrees out the day before, we left one of the windows open while we slept. Little did we know that, at 7 AM, it going to be 30 degrees and, thus, so was our bungalow! I did not want to get out of bed!

After checking out of the Top Ten Hotel Hot Water Beach, we drove over to Hahei to park for our Cathedral Cove walk. The hike from the parking lot to Cathedral Cove was about an hour and we were ready to go in our hiking boots! While the hike itself had a peculiar start walking through a massive field in between houses and then continuing on a neighborhood side street, the morning view once the trail opened up to the beach was perfect.

We continued on the trail and went up, and up, and up a seaside cliff. Since it was so cold when we woke up, I wore a sweater and got pretty hot. Thankfully, my sweater had an open back for extra air conditioning! We walked up and down a total of three giant mountains to get to the Cove. It was a great workout! We even ran into our pool-friends from Hot Water Beach in the day prior!

The views along the hike were insane…

The cove itself was so pristine and empty – going to tourist attractions early really is the best way to beat the crowds and have a truly intimate experience.

The Cathedral entrance was huge and it was so cool to walk through. Definitely worth the hike and the hike back.

We worked up a big appetite on the hike and went into Hahei town for some lunch. We stopped at a Café and I had a delicious muesli, berry compote, and yogurt dish and Ryan had an excellent bacon and egg bagel.

After lunch, we stopped off at the market to get groceries for breakfast / lunches over the next few days and some wine for night caps. All of our hotels had kitchen areas which made meal prepping easy and what a better excuse to eat PB&J’s every day than a road trip?

We walked back to the car and were off on our 2.5 hour drive to Waitomo. The drive was so twisty and turny but I couldn’t believe the landscape. I am officially in love with New Zealand!

Waitomo is located in the upper-mid-west of New Zealand and is known for its glow-worm caves and we were staying the night for our “Black Labyrinth” cave spelunking tour in the morning. In my research for hotels, I stumbled across the Woodlyn Park motel which had a bunch of really cool sleeping experiences in hobbit houses, planes, trains, and ships! After seeing those accommodation options, we decided an average hotel wasn’t going to cut it and opted to stay in an old war plane instead. Our room just happened to be in the cockpit of the airplane too! Something totally different and cool. Go big or go home right?

Upon check-in, the receptionist suggested we check out Marokopa Falls and Mangapohue Natural Bridge if we didn’t have evening plans. It was still light out so we figured it was “adventure time!” and so we hopped back in the car for the 30 minute drive and ten minute jungle walk to Marokopa Falls. I was not expecting much but OH MY GOD. It was like something out of Jurassic Park. I literally was trying not to tear up at how amazing it was and how overwhelmed I felt about this trip so far.

Marokopa Falls in New Zealand

We hung out at the falls for about 15 minutes to take it all in. There was only one other couple that came and went too so it was basically private which was nice for reflection.

After the falls, we drive back to Mangapohue – and under ground cavern where 90% of the roof collapsed. It was massive and the “bridge” that was left was amazing to see. From the top connecting points, you would have no idea there was a cavern underneath.

We took a little walk after the cavern to see some oyster fossils and then jumped back in the car to head to dinner. Based on the awesome suggestion record of our Woodlyn Park check-in lady, we decided to go to Huhu Cafe for dinner. It was empty at 5:30 when we arrived, but was full within the next 15! We got a table and opted to share a few things – the bread, pear salad, and crispy pork. Oh my, was it good!

We devoured the deliciousness that would have cost us double in the US, and were in awe of how good it was in such a rural location. We tried to get dessert but the service took fooorever so we opted to head back to our plane instead and prep for our big, cavernous day tomorrow.

Continue this adventure to the Waitomo Caves and Rotarua…