Volcanoes, Lakes & Geothermal Action!

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With a few days spare running up to the Christmas break, we road tripped down to Rotorua and Taupo to spend time with friends.

The journey through the interior of the North Island was an easy-going run, and felt like very familiar territory.  Arriving in Rotorua we started to scope out a place to stay for the night.  We had built up our confidence in freedom camping now and wanted to enjoy a really authentic stay.  

We found an incredible site, right by the shore of Lake Rotorua, in a quiet little parking alcove, effectively with our own private beach! It was a really peachy spot with stunning lakeside views. 

Incredibly, our friends stumbled across us as they were walking along the banks of the lake, and we enjoyed watching all the kids splashing around and causing mayhem as we enjoyed conversations over a bottle of red.  We had a good laugh and the kids were well and truly wrote off from all the splashing and beach fun!  So the gang headed off to their hotel for the night and we set up our spot for supper.

Waking up in the morning, the colours of the lake were beautiful. Fin jumped up and was running back on the little stretch of sand within minutes, croissant in hand!  We then went and explored the banks a little, checking out the wildlife including unusual birds and black swans.  After a coffee, we were on our way to meet friends and explore Rotorua some more.

Rotorua is famous for it’s geothermal activity.  Everywhere you look, you can see spouts of steam rising from the ground, as you drive into the main town.  It’s really quite extraordinary and Fin was excited to get closer to the action.

We headed straight for Kairau Park, in the centre of the village as it looked like it had some interesting geothermal pools we could explore.

Bubbling pools of steaming mud were dotted here and there and we ran around checking out each area.  As we continued our walk, the thermal activity increased and the pools were getting bigger, hotter and more steamy!

Arriving at the largest pool, it was so surreal. Fin was running around, literally within the steam!  None of us could really believe our eyes!  We stopped at each of the lookouts and stared out at the bubbling pools. Fin had a million questions about the earth and volcanoes and how could steam be spouting out of the ground like this! To coin his phrase “that doesn’t sense right?!” was his was of saying, that doesn’t make sense!  To be honest with him, we were struggling to process it as well. Some forces of nature are just awesome, simple as that!

There were some famous geysers in town and one in particular known as the ‘Big Splash’, which caught our attention.  We wanting to avoid the general tourist circus (along with the hefty touristic price tag!), so we discovered a Redwood forest walk that promised to give us a lookout over the famous geothermal park.  

The walk itself was beautiful, with absolutely colossal redwood trees and native bush land lining the track. This felt like our kind of adventure.  After about 40 minutes we reached a lookout point and we sat down with our picnic to enjoy the panoramic views.  It definitely didn’t disappoint.  We could see right over the town and to the lake and mountains beyond, and most importantly, we were perched just above the Pohutu Geyser (Big Splash) so we could perhaps watch it blow it’s top!

After a little while, the geyser put on its show.  It started spewing steam high into the sky.  Apparently reaching 30 odd metres, it was pretty spectacular!  We had a ringside seat and the best views.  Happy days!

Next up, we checked into our little campsite, which had small thermal pools for us to soak in. We were getting the full Rotorua experience! Later that afternoon, we met up at our friend’s place and tucked into a delicious BBQ as the kids ran around the park.

Ridiculously, we had an incident where we (I) locked the keys in the van, so the evening took a bizarre turn as we attempted to break into our campervan ha ha!  We always seem to somehow get ourselves into a random situation that we have to work our way out of.  Think it’s to keep us on our toes!  A couple of tense hours later and we had broken back into the van with the good old-fashioned coat hanger trick! 

Lake Taupo was the next destination on the horizon.  An easy drive from Rotorua, we headed off fairly early, as the weather had turned grey and wet.  We were keen to find a rainy day activity, so we headed straight for the DeBrett Spa and Hot Springs Resort.  This place was absolute bliss. Three huge hot pools waterfalls and Jacuzzi’s, with a cool splash zone for the kids too. We literally spent hours there, relaxing, floating and practising swimming.

Ironically, just as we were leaving, the heavens absolutely opened, but we didn’t mind as we’d had a lovely afternoon, and the rain didn’t stick around for long before it was cracking the flags again.

That night we stayed at a freedom camping spot right on the lakeside. We met up with our friends again for a lovely catch up and then it was off for an early night as all the kids (and grown ups) were completely shattered!

It was time for one of our favourite places from our previous trip here, Huka Falls.  We timed it perfectly as it was a sunny morning with perfect blue skies.  We met up with our friends and made the short walk to all the scenic lookouts along the way.  This waterfall is spectacular.  The strength and the force of the water is insane.  The colours makes it extra special, a bright aquamarine colour that bursts into white foam as it cascades over the edge.  Nature at it’s finest!  We explored along the trails and watched it in action, taking a million photos along the way.

The weather was turning grey again, which was perfect, as our next stop was ‘Craters of the Moon’, which was a boardwalk trail around the steaming craters of a geothermal landscape.  The kids loved it and we had a good giggle on the way around!

For our lunch spot, we headed over to Taupo Bungy.  Nope, no way were we going to have a go!  But it was a great lunch spot, with stunning views over the river gorge and lots of action as people braved the famous bungy jump! Fin watched each one jump off and just gasped.  He didn’t seem too keen on trying it when he gets older, and we don’t blame him there!

Our place for the night was a familiar spot and one we have very fond memories of – Reid’s Farm.  We parked up right next to the river and fished with some local Maori kids back in 2009. So we took Fin back there to show him this beauty spot.  We brushed our teeth in the river that morning and enjoyed our croissants and coffee surrounded by nature.

Keen to get back to the coast, we took a bit of a detour during the drive back to Auckland, over to Mt. Maunganui.  The town was heaving and everyone was getting festive now.  We stayed in the campsite right in the heart of the town, at the base of the dormant volcano that towers over the town.

The beach here is beautiful, with rolling waves crashing to shore.  We had a brilliant treasure hunt; collecting loads of cool seashells then walked around the busy town and explored the adventure playground.  Our pre-Christmas road trip had come to an end so the next day we drove back over to Auckland for the start of the festivities.