After not much sleep it was tough to stay awake as we left Wellington at 7:40am with our new driver Rick. The drive out of the city was interesting though and very pretty in the early morning light to our first stop at Flat Hills for breakfast. We then carried on heading north up onto the Desert Road section of State Highway 1. It is up on this sparse plateau that the New Zealand army does a lot of their training and where you will also find the tallest mountain on New Zealand’s North Island, Mt Ruapehu at 2797 metres.
Next we came to Lake Taupo, the largest lake (based on surface area) in New Zealand. It was created several thousand years ago by a massive volcanic eruption. On the other side of the lake we stopped in the town of Taupo for lunch and some spectacular views back across the water to the peaks of Mt Ruapehu and Mt Ngāuruhoe.
On our way out of town, just the other side of Taupo we stopped in at the Huka Falls, which isn’t the largest of waterfalls in height or size but the sheer volume of water makes for quite a spectacle as the Waikato River which drains Lake Taupo narrows from roughly 100 metres across into a narrow canyon just 15 metres across.
The road then twisted and wound its way down to Rotorua while Rick told us some interesting facts like how 70% of New Zealand’s electricity is from hydroelectric, 10% geothermal, 10% wind and the remaining 10% from coal so very clean compared to some other countries.
Rotorua is on a huge geothermal area and is famous for its natural geothermal heated spas as well as a rotten smell as a result of all the sulphur from the geothermal activity. So that evening I walked down the road from the hostel to the Polynesian Spa which is rated as one of the Top 10 Spas in the World. For NZ$21 you got access to the adult pools ranging in temperature from 39 – 42°C. The are all outdoor pools so you could just lie back and look up at the stars or across Lake Rotorua with lights reflected off the water – very relaxing. To get my moneys worth I stayed there for 2 hours soaking up the natural goodness of the mineral water while I watched the new moon sink in the night sky.