Volcanoes!

1 March 2020

Monday 24 February 20 – Whanganui to Pipiriki – 75km

Woke to a cool, but clear day which made a nice change as it has been a bit grey and damp recently. We had an enormous cooked breakfast, compliments of George, and then had to tear ourselves away from the fantastic hospitality we have experienced in Whanganui…definitely top notch!

The route out of town was very pleasant and entailed crossing the Whanganui River and then onto a State Highway with hardly any traffic on it. The ride then took us along a road, which basically followed the eastern bank of the river. First up though was a climb up what it known as ‘Gentle Annie’, which turned out to be not as bad as feared. We were followed by a dog for much of the way but once we got to the top thankfully it bounced away back down the hill.

The view from the top was really special and looked right along the river valley in the direction we were going and because the air was very clear it made it all the more spectacular…

The rest of the day was spent on mainly undulating roads that hugged the side of the valley and looked down on the river…

The sides of the valley are made of very crumbly rocks and sand, a lot of which were scattered across the road as they had fallen from the nearby hills. This crumbly rock and sand is an indication that this area was once at the bottom of the ocean – and apparently there are still a lot of fossils around. 

Our journey then took us through settlements called Athens, London and Jerusalem to get to our end destination Pipiriki!  Over the day we met about 25 cyclists travelling in the opposite direction.  They appeared to have light loads on their bikes and we think they are on the Tour Aotearoa (Tour of New Zealand), which goes from Cape Reinga in the north to Bluff in the south. The tour covers 3,000km over 30 days and is mainly on trails, so its pretty tough undertaking. To stagger the crowd of 1,200 participants, different cyclists have different start dates so we saw two different groups – one group in transit and then about half a dozen more in our campsite in Pipiriki who were obviously a day behind.  Our Aussie friend Adrian, will be starting his tour on 3 March, so we are hoping we might get to see him again!

Tuesday 25 February 20 – Pipiriki to National Park (the village) – 63km

We said that we saw some spectacular stars the other night, however that was nothing in comparison to last night! We both had to go to the loo in the middle of the night, but neither of us minded crawling out of the tent into a chilly night as the sky was just amazing to look at – especially as there was no moon and very little light pollution. But a starry night mean to it was pretty cold so it was really dewy in the morning and the whole place was shrouded in mist – a gloomy start. Straight away we were into a whopper of a hill which went on for the best part of 18km – but we felt okay and our legs were good, so we must be fairly hill fit at the moment. On our way up, the mist cleared and we started to see the steep-sided river valley to our left. Once at the top we had more fantastic views, which included Mount Ruapehu in the distance…

Whilst we were taking it all in, a couple of young male American cyclists came over for a chat and when we mentioned how long we’d been on the road one of them responded ‘dang’! I never knew that people actually said ‘dang’ and just to prove that they do, he said it a few times more!

We continued on to Raetihi where we stopped for a coffee and then got onto State Highway 4 which was a bit busier, but nothing to worry about. All the while we got some more stunning views of Mount Ruapehu as it got closer through the trees…

A bit further in the distance we could also see Mount Ngauruhoe (aka Mount Doom in the Lord of the Rings)…

Our destination for the day was National Park, which is the actual name of a village, not just any old national park! The weather was really warm by this point so we had no problem drying our wet tent and we just chilled out for the rest of the afternoon and evening.

Wednesday 26 February 20 – National Park to Tokaanu – 57km

Since leaving Whanganui we have steadily been climbing from the coastal plain up on to a volcanic plateau. Although the plateau is at 800m, because of all the ups and downs on the terrain we have actually climbed much higher so even though we’re both feeling pretty fit it’s been quite tough cycling.

National Park is rather like a very small Alpine ski village which caters for skiers during the winter and walkers during the summer. There’s loads of places to stay and most of the people at our campsite were there to hike across nearby Mount Ruapehu. The photos of the hike look stunning and, should we come back, is something we’d potentially like to do.

For the first couple of hours out of National Park we had spectacular views of Mount Ruapehu and Mount Ngauruhoe. All told it was a fantastic morning’s cycling and we found a great place for a snack…

And these spectacular mountains have a story….According to Maori legend there were originally five mountains on the volcanic plateau; four males Ruapehu, Ngauruhoe, Taranaki and Tongariro, and one woman Pihanga. Of the men Mount Tongariro was the biggest and strongest and he was Phianga’s partner. However, Mount Taranaki coveted Mount Pihanga and took her for his own. Mount Tongariro was justifiably annoyed and a fight broke out between him and Mount Taranaki, which he won. Defeated and sad, Mount Taranaki ripped himself out of the ground and stomped off towards the West Coast, gouging out what is now the Whanganui River valley. He then headed North a short distance and slumped down near New Plymouth to lick his wounds and he remains there today.

As we continued our journey we saw our first volcanic activity in the form of steam from the side of one of the mountains, which was pretty cool.  Coming into Turangi there was a steep hill, but at the top we got our first views of Lake Taupo…

Lake Taupo is in fact a volcanic crater – apparently the largest in the world.  It is enormous and I certainly wouldn’t like to be around when it goes off next! It’s also the largest freshwater lake in New Zealand.

We did a quick stop in Turangi for supplies and then onto Tokaanu about 6km down the road where we had booked into a campsite that had its own thermal mineral pools.. When we got there however, it was about 26 degrees outside and the thought of getting into a pool that was 40-42 degrees didn’t sound like much fun …so we commandeered a couple of sun loungers and stayed in the shade for a few hours before heading for a walk just down the road where there was a thermal pool walk…

Through the bush we could see some very strange coloured hot pools…

…and hot liquid mud being forced up through holes in the ground making some great noises! This area might not be as famous as the ones around Rotorua, but as we were the only people around we could get a good look.

Thursday 27 February 20 – Tokaanu to Tihoi – 57km

We decided to start today with a dip in the hot minerally thermal spa. In a Goldilocks kind of way the first pool was too cool, the second pool was so hot it was nearly impossible to get in, so we decided on the middle pool which was already occupied by an old naked Swiss bloke! We had hoped for a quiet, calm soak in the pools, but he was having none of it and wanted a conversation.  That aside it was a great way to start our day.

We then had breakfast, packed and got on the road. Turns out that this part of New Zealand is quite hilly….well actually nearly all of New Zealand is hilly! There were more weird coloured pools and steam literally leaking out of the ground at the side of the road as we left the village. A few kilometres later we came to the Hipaua Steaming Cliffs – chimneys of steam up in the forest to our left and we could see the steam rising through the trees as we rode by.

The rest of our hilly ride was uneventful and we made it to Tihoi – our unintended destination. We’d planned to go to a DoC campsite, but decided to make use of a freedom campsite next to an pub on the road that we were on. The payment (sort of) for staying at the site is to have a meal or a drink there. So, after we’d had a quick snooze, I had a couple of beers at the bar and we chatted to the (rather bogan!) landlord, his wife, daughter and some locals before retiring for dinner and bed. 

Over the past couple of nights we’ve camped in what we thought would have been rural, quiet, campsites. However, the roads around have been surprisingly busy, even late into the night and the early hours with trucks passing throughout the night. I wouldn’t say that they have kept us awake, but they have definitely woken us up.

Friday 28 February 20 – Tihoi to Taupo – 47km

To prove my last point, lasts night’s sleep was particularly bad with noise from trucks passing our campsite. The main north-south Highway, which passes the eastern side of Lake Taupo, is closed for roadworks every night at the moment and so all the heavy traffic was on the road next to our campsite. Bad timing on our part as this road would usually be much quieter. To add to this, the area is volcanic so much of the underlying rock is made of pumice, which apparently transmits external noise and vibration rather well…which would explain why every time a truck passed it felt and sounded like it was coming through our tent!

Because of all the heavy traffic we weren’t really looking forward to getting on the road, but last night the landlord had mentioned  a minor road just a few kilometres away, so we decided to try that. Turned out to be a great piece of advice as it was really nice quiet road, which we took us all the way to Kinloch. We got there really early so took advantage of the lovely weather to spread our wet, dewy tent out, have a coffee and sit back and take in the great view of Lake Taupo. I then decided to take a dip in the lake and found it was chilly but invigorating.  I even coaxed Martina in too…

It was absolutely fantastic and we were so glad that we made the effort to get in. We then rode the last hop into Taupo and found our way to Irene’s house – a WarmShowers host for the next two nights. We had a lovely afternoon getting to know her, during which we went for our second open water swim of the day! We then had a super evening chatting over some fantastic home-cooked food…

Saturday 29 February 20 – Taupo – 0km

After breakfast we set off with Irene for a personal tour of the Waikato River valley. First up was the local market where we stocked up for the evening  meal. We then went to the Aratiatia rapid, which when we got there was just a bunch of boulders at the bottom of an almost empty river beside a dam.  When the dam was originally built, the local Maori iwi (tribe) weren’t happy as they feared the river would die because all the water was now directed down a pipe into a hydroelectric plant along the side.  So, to keep the “old part” of the river alive it was agreed to release water into it three times a day.  That’s when this empty river…

…quickly becomes a torrent…

 

It’s also where a scene from the Hobbit was filmed in which the dwarves escaped from the captivity of the elves by hiding in barrels which were thrown downstream.

We then went to a viewing area to see one of the many geothermal electric plants around this thermal hotspot area.   Super-heated steam is pumped up from 2000 feet below the surface to plants like this to power turbines to make electricity…

We then visited the impressive Huka Falls, which where a but further down the Waikato River …..

To give an idea of  much force there was, we could feel the earth rumbling beneath our feet – and apparently there enough water going over the fall every minute to fill an Olympic swimming pool five times!

We were pretty knackered by the time we got home after 3pm so we chilled out and had another lovely dinner – cooked by Martina for a change.  Yet another fantastic day on North Island!

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