Sunday, 21 April 2013

Tongariro in the rain

We’ve had a couple of fairly wet and grey days, which we’ve no complaints about, given the summer we’ve had, but it has restricted what we can see and do.

We’d already decided the Tongariro Alpine Crossing was off, so set off to do a couple of short walks from the visitor centre at Whakapapa Village, at a height of 1200m on the mountain road to the Mount Ruapehu ski field. The weather was not really conducive to walking, or sightseeing, so we took a drive to the café at the end of the road at the start of the ski area. 
The main ski car park in the rain! I jumped out of the van, Jackie took the picture through the open window and I jumped back in again!
Jackie trying to get an animal moment
The season doesn’t start until the end of June, so there was no snow and no people, but plenty of rain! The café was open so we chatted to some of the staff who told us how ridiculously busy it is in season, where typically we could queue for 1.5hours just for a coffee! A whole mountain lift pass costs NZ$90 per day and for that there are about 8 lifts (half of them seemingly drag lifts) a dozen or so blue runs for beginners, maybe 3 red runs and a whole lot of black runs, about 6 of which are ‘extreme’, looking like they go down narrow very steep couloirs – interesting! Photos we saw showed very long queues at the lifts, so we wonder just how much skiing you could get done in a day with all those people. Think we decided we are glad we aren’t here for the ski season! The European Alps offer a much more extensive, cheaper experience where (if you choose the time) there is very little (if any) queuing.

Mount Tongariro (left) and Mount Ngauruhoe (right) in cloud
Back at the visitor centre the rain had set in, so we had no enthusiasm for any walks, so saw the two films they offer, took some half view photos of mountains and cloud and headed back to the camp for tea and cake!

Today the weather was maybe a little better, so we headed back through Taupo to look at some waterfalls, a geothermal area with hissing steam fumeroles and bubbling mud pools and then the most bizarre rapids. 
The Huka Falls

The 'Craters of the Moon' geothermal area

Aratiatia 'rapids' normally........
The Waikato River flows north out of Lake Taupo tumbling over a number of very scenic waterfalls and into a reservoir held back by the Aratiatia dam. Just after the dam are the Aratiatia Rapids, but the construction of the dam in the 1950’s reduced it to nothing more than a trickle. The rapids were going to be bypassed but public pressure forced them to change their minds and now three times a day they open the gates and allow the water to flow for thirty minutes so people can see the rapids in their full glory. 

The dam flood gates open......
The rapids in their full glory
We arrived at the dam 5 minutes before one of these times to see crowds of people on the dam and a big digital timer counting down. We joined the crowds and all the kids shouted the final 10 second countdown while all the adults stood with cameras poised. The three or four seconds of nothing after zero was reached caused some amusement, but then the gates opened and the still pool of water turned into a raging torrent and quite spectacular rapids. Quite a laugh really!

Tonight we’re back in Rotorua en route back to Tauranga, the doctors and a brief stop at Robyn and Murray’s, before heading off in the direction of Northland. The weather this evening has turned very rainy and earlier we had thunder and lightning. There have been flash floods in places and the forecast is for more of the same tomorrow, gradually improving on Wednesday, with the possibility of a bit of sun after that. The fine sunny weather is well and truly at an end!

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