– Taupo, New Zealand to Wellington, New Zealand –

Today was much easier than yesterday. That first day after you get off of the plane is always the roughest. Mark, of course, has been here for a week, so he’s not having any trouble at all, but I’m still adjusting.

We began our morning in Taupo with a brisk run around the lake. It was cool enough this morning that we had to wear our jackets, but we were comfortable on our run. The lake there in Taupo is so large that it almost looks like you are running beside the ocean.

Something else kind of fun about the trip is the fact that Taupo is still in an area with thermal activity, so we saw steamy water running into the lake and even got to run over a bridge that crossed a hot spring. It’s funny feeling the temperature go from rather chilly to suddenly warm as you cross the spring. That feeling would only continue into our morning.

Lake Taupo in the mist, with bonus rainbow

We came back to our nice, comfortable hotel room after our run (which was right in front of our hotel) to shower and have breakfast. Last night at the grocery store, we bought yogurt, croissants, and juice for our breakfast. We also bought some chocolate peanut butter, but that was more because Mark’s work friend Lauren, who’s also here in New Zealand, recommended that particular brand, and he’s a peanut butter fiend. It was way too sticky for me, but he put it on his croissant.

One of the nice things about hotels here (and in the U.K., Australia, and England) is that they are very serious about their tea. Pretty much every hotel room has plenty of bagged tea, milk, and an electric kettle for boiling water. THey also usually include chocolate and sometimes cookies to go with your tea. It’s not nearly as nice back home, even in fancier hotels. I bet we end up drinking a lot of hot tea before this trip is over.

Stream leading to Tokaanu Thermal Pools

In any event, we made it out of our hotel around 8:30 and headed south along the giant lake to Tauranga. We stopped a couple of times for photos, as the lake is very pretty, but it was a little gloomy part of the way. It sprinkled on and off for most of the morning. We did get to enjoy a lovely rainbow over the lake, though.

In Tauranga, we turned off of highway 1 to make our way over to Tongariro National Park, but first we drove a little past our turn off to visit Tokaanu Thermal Pools. We weren’t really interested in bathing, which they do in special swimming pools, but we did take a walk around the thermal area to see the sights.

It was about a 15 minute walk, and we got to see natural thermal pools and streams and watch boiling water bubble up from deep under ground. It was definitely light jacket weather, so I especially thought it was fun to stand in the clouds of steam. The water is pretty and clear, and it seems to just randomly burst from underground where ever it chooses. Interestingly enough, it has dead trees and plants that are visible down in the pools, which have taken over the space the trees used to occupy.

Natural thermal pool with steam

Mark’s favorite part were the bubbling mud pits we saw, with one in particular being really funny and neat. It’s just a smooth-looking mud bubbling up in a little pit, but every time a bubble pops, it makes a loud flopping sound, and the mud splashes around the opening. He giggled every time a bubble popped. He even took a video, which I think he’s watched around 40 times since he took it (though it isn’t so bad, because it is only about 7 seconds long). There’s something mesmerizing about the little video.

From there, we drove back to the road that lead down to the national park we planned to visit. This area is home to several volcanoes, one of which was used in Lord of the Rings as Mount Doom. Mark tells me that every time he told someone we were visiting New Zealand, they asked if we were visiting the places they filmed in LotR. Well, we didn’t plan to visit any of them directly, but we did drive past Mount Doom, guys, so there you go.

Snowy Volcanoes in Tongariro National Park

The park, Tongariro, is the fourth oldest national park in the world after Yellowstone (US), Banff (Canada), and Royal (Australia). It’s pretty neat. It is quite cold in the area, as the mountains/volcanoes are still covered in snow about two-thirds of the way down. For the most part, the mountains were socked in, shrouded in fog and clouds, but we did get to see them a couple of times when the sun made a breif attempt at shining.

Without hiking, which we definitely weren’t prepared for, given how cold it was, there wasn’t a lot we could do in the park, but we did drive up to Whakapapa, which is a small town inside the boundaries of the park. The visitor center is there, as well as a decent-sized ski resort, which is closed as it is nearly summer here. The weather didn’t seem to know that, though, as it dipped down to just under forty degrees as we drove partway up one of the mountains to the ski resort to take some photos.

Fog-shrouded road up the volcano

The area beneath the volcanoes is covered with volcanic rock that’s clearly been blown down from past eruptions. The landscape is sort of barren, only covered in these large chunks of volcanic rock and a greenish-yellow moss. Despite that, it has a strange sort of beauty, and the foggy shroud only added to it. Mark braved the cold for a lot of pictures, while I only managed to stay outside the vehicle for a few. He’s a lot tougher than me.

Despite how pretty it was, I was glad to start the drive away from the mountains where the temperature was warmer. We stopped for lunch in the town of National Park (which I guess is aptly named). The town is small, so we didn’t have many options. We ended up with way too expensive falafel wraps, which tasted overpoweringly of onion and took them 30 minutes to make, since the power went out in half of their restaurant mid sandwich-prep. I was not impressed with the service or the food, but I was starving, so it didn’t actually matter. Luckily we also bought some pringles to go with our wraps, which tasted much like they usually do and helped wash away the terrible onion taste.

Barren (and cold) volcanic landscape

From the park, we continued down the highway to Makatote Viaduct, which is basically a large train bridge over a gorge. It’s painted red, and with the pretty yellow spring flowers in front, it was a lovely sight. The pictures on the internet are nothing like the view was today. It was a nice stop, despite the light rain picking up again.

In Tohunga Junction, we turned east and drove south of the mountains to Waiouru, which is a military training area. Part of Tongariro National Park is as well. I can only assume they practice mountaineering and other cold-weather endeavors there, given the location.

At that point, we were on highway 1 again and basically just getting down to Wellington, as we had seen our major sights for today. We did stop a few times along the way at gas stations and the like. Like Australia, New Zealand has a number of ginger beer brands that we never see at home, and they are much more popular here than they are at home, though that’s been changing recently with rising popularity of the Moscow Mule (just a ginger beer cocktail, if you haven’t heard of it before).

Home of the too-expensive falafel wrap

I mention it because Mark and I are appreciators of a fine ginger beer, and like to sample all of the new ones we come across. We picked up two we’d never had before from the gas station, but both were a bit bland and were missing the sharp gingery bite of better brands. Bundaberg is still king in my book. I actually don’t know what I would do if I found one here I liked more, since I doubt very seriously I’d be able to find them back home. That would be a tragedy.

We made it to Wellington just after 5, and traffic was getting heavier around then, as you might expect. We ducked briefly into a mall that we happened across to look around, and we visited my favorite store down here: Cotton On. I have the cutest dress we bought from one of those in Melboure in 2014, but they didn’t have anything particularly interesting this time. It felt more like a Forever 21 than it did the last time we were here. There are a few of them in the States, but they aren’t really very similar, despite being the same brand. Ah, well.

Makatote Viaduct

With some travel difficulty, given the narrowness of the streets in the area, we finally made it to our hotel around 6pm. It was only adequate, with shabby beds and very little parking, but we made do. I don’t tend to like older hotels, especially in cities.

Since it was hard to move the car, we walked a short distance over to a nearby Indian restaurant for dinner. It was fine, and the channa masala was delicious, but our other dish was mediocre, and the food was a little more expensive when I like, which is pretty common for this trip. It wasn’t as expensive as the silly falafel wraps though, which ought to tell you something about that place’s prices and reasonableness.

Delicious channa masala

Originally we had intended to walk over to the grocery store after, but it was getting too cold to bother with. We will just have our last croissants tomorrow morning before we leave the hotel, then stop for something else after.

Tomorrow is our ferry to the South Island, so we need to have the rental car dropped off and be all checked in by 8:15, which means we don’t really have time to run. Given the rain, it probably wouldn’t have been possible anyway. The ferry takes off at 9 and should be getting to the other island a little after noon, then we have a nice drive for the rest of our day. It should be fun.

 – Trip Total : 10,506 miles

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