Friday, February 24, 2006 - Taupo to Wellington, Including Orakei Korako

6:00 a.m. The garbage collectors managed to dump rubbish and recycling into their trucks in the alley just below our window for over an hour this morning. It's as if they were doing it on purpose. This room had the most worn-out mattress ever. The coils were poking us all night. I'm glad we rented that bedding, though, because the night was cold. By 7:00 a.m. the sun was blazing through the window, and though exhausted, we soon gave up on sleep.

By 9:30 a.m. we'd braced ourselves with coffee and arrived at Orakei Korako Cave and Thermal Park. After paying the admission fee (NZ$23), you're ferried across Lake Ohakuri to the park and are free to wander the paths and boardwalks as long as you like. When you're ready to leave, just press a button at the dock and the boat will come and collect you.

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Emerald Terrace, Orakei Korako

Orakei Korako is best known for its silica terraces. Emerald Terrace is the largest of its kind in New Zealand and continues another 35 meters under Lake Ohakuri. Up to 20 million liters of silica-enriched water per day flow over the terrace and into the lake, continually adding to the formation.

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Rainbow Terrace

The highlight of Orakei Korako is Ruatapu Cave, one of only two geothermally situated caves in the world. At the bottom of the cave is a hot-spring pool called Waiwhakaata (pool of mirrors), uncommonly clear and beautiful. Ruatapu Cave is a calm, almost mystical place.

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Ruatapu Cave

Orakei Korako is also known as "The Hidden Valley" due to its isolated location. For the first half of our visit we thought we were the only ones there, until we briefly crossed paths with another couple. We didn't see anyone else until people started arriving as we left. By the timing, I'd say the arriving people had been at Wai-O-Tapo several kilometers away at 10:15 for the Lady Knox Geyser eruption and then drove over. Our timing was better!

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Cascade Terrace Lookout

Leaving The Hidden Valley, Tom took the wheel to try his hand at left-side driving. He had the same windshield-wiper problem I was just getting over. Good, I'm glad it wasn't just me. Almost immediately he had to stop the car for a flock of sheep being herded down the road. How New Zealand is that?

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New Zealand traffic jam

We got gas back in Taupo for NZ$1.47 per liter. If my math is correct, that's about US$3.42 per gallon. I think gas was about $2.20 per gallon in Knoxville when we left. Maybe we should quit our bitching.

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Lake Taupo

South of Lake Taupo, Highway 1 is called Desert Road. This is due to the high volcanic peaks of Tongariro National Park disturbing the weather pattern and causing an unusually low amount of rainfall. The landscape looks a lot like the American Southwest. New Zealand's army does training exercises here.

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Mt. Ngauruhoe

We pulled off at both Ohotu and Utiku looking for a restroom, but found instead a fine gorge with the Hautapu River running through it. There was no peeing there, but we found a suitable area overlooking a nice valley a little further on.

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Hautapu River Gorge

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View from the loo

In Palmerstown North we learned that Woodsy, the give-a-hoot-don't-pollute owl, is alive and well and living in New Zealand. No wonder I haven't seen him since I was a kid. He's doing a great job; this is a sparkling clean country. His picture was posted on the side of a handy Kiwiloo. "It's a flusher."

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Woodsy!

Nearing Wellington, New Zealand's capital, we took a side trip, trying to avoid arriving in the third largest city in the country (population 205,000) at rush hour. Te Horo Beach is a rocky beach with lots of shells and tons of driftwood. Kapiti Island can be seen just across Rautorangi Channel.

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Kapiti Island from Te Horo Beach

6:00 p.m. Rowena's Backpacker Lodge in Wellington is a cesspit. Seriously. The quality of our lodging had gone down every day since arriving in New Zealand, a trend we hoped would not continue. I just can't say enough bad things about Rowena's. It has inadequate parking, filthy community toilets and showers, and people camping in the parking lot.

Nobody smiles here, not even the hippies. I can't blame them. We certainly weren't smiling either. It goes almost without saying that there were no towels and no soap. Bedding, however, was included, though of questionable cleanliness. I slept fully clothed to avoid touching anything. The shared bathrooms were coed, and I found it a little disconcerting to exit the toilet and find a man standing there shaving. Maybe it's just me.

The only reason we'd booked at this disaster of a place was the off-street parking, which turned out to be totally inadequate. There was no open space when we arrived, so I ended up parking about three blocks away on the street while Tom checked in. I hoofed it over to the hostel and told him where he could find the car. He didn't like the parking spot, so he drove back over to Rowena's and blocked the one-lane alley leading to the parking lot while he brought in his luggage. We came back out to move the car, and someone was trying to leave, so we had to back out of the narrow alley down the steep hill. Since the other car was leaving, we drove back up to claim the spot. As it turns out, they hadn't vacated an actual parking place, but we squeezed our car in anyway. I figured we were more likely to get hit in the lot than on the street, but we were over it and left the car there regardless.

We walked down the steep hill into town to find some food and ended up at Cinta Malaysian Kitchen. We both had black pepper beef and Tui beer. It was very good, but we liked our bolder choices at last night's Thai place better. I'd selected a less spicy meal than I normally would since we were going on a ferry tomorrow morning. Dramamine can only do so much.

After dinner we went to the waterfront to see the sailboats and came across an outdoor art exhibit, "Earth From Above," a display of aerial photographs taken of places around the world by Yann Arthus-Bertrand. That's our kind of art.

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Wellington Harbour

Across from the photography exhibit was a skateboard park, where future Tony Hawkses were practicing their tricks and taking full advantage of the fact that New Zealand has free accidental injury health coverage. We were having a good time, but it was getting dark and cold, so we had to return to Rowena's, where we locked ourselves in our room and tried to find the situation humorous.

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Enjoying Rowena's

The only good part of this hellhole is the view, though from a dangerous-looking "balcony" where we found a used -- you won't believe it -- catheter bag. Dear Lord. We planned to get up as early as possible in the morning and get the hell out of here.

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The veranda

Wellington is know as "The Windy City," and the wind howled all night long. It really is a pretty city. We noticed driving in that Wellington is quite clean. I suppose any litter immediately blows away!

 

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