Leaving Rotorua and the pungent air behind, our next port of call was Taupo. Enroute we stopped off at Huka Falls on the Waikato River where the water was so clear and ice blue it almost didn’t look real. As the water came crashing down the falls there was even a jet boat driving tourists as close to the falls as possible which reminded me of being at the Iguazu Falls and doing a similar thing there. Lake Taupo is the largest lake in Australasia and is so big that you could fit Singapore in it! Stopping at the top of Taupo to take in the views we waved off a few of our group who were just about to go and throw themselves out of a plane. I am looking forward to doing a skydive later on in the trip, but decided to wait until I get to Wanaka or Queenstown as the views there are meant to be much nicer than Taupo as the towns are surrounded by snow capped mountains and lakes. The skydivers returned from their trip looking a lot less nervous than when they left us and hearing their stories of how great it was makes me excited to do mine now.
A 5am start the next day saw Beth and I taking on the Tongariro Alpine crossing with a few others from our group. This is an 8 hour trek covering varied terrain and has been rated as the best one-day walk in New Zealand. Stepping off the coach into the freezing cold early morning weather we began the first part of the walk which was classed as an easy ascent. We started off walking along boardwalks and climbing up a few rocks under the gaze of Mount Ngauruhoe (Mount Doom in Lord of the Rings) until we reached Mangatepopo Hut where we were to take on the difficult ascent up the Devil’s Staircase towards the summit. Clambering up steeper rocks and over boulders we slowly made our way up the mountain’s side. Going at what seemed like snail’s pace we quickly climbed in altitude as we hauled ourselves up steps and steep inclines. The climb to the top was exhausting. The terrain and weather changed without warning. One minute we were stripping off as we climbed the steep steps and then as we turned a corner and got higher up the mountain we found ourselves putting all our layers back on, and more, as we got caught in a snow blizzard huddling behind rocks to keep out of the icy wind. 18km later and having slipped and slided our way back down the mountain via an active crater, steaming vents and what was meant to be stunning emerald lakes but all we could see was a frozen over lake, we came out into the alpine terrain above Taupo. By this time the clouds had lifted and we had amazing views over the lake and town. The trek was extremely hard work but totally worth it, although not something I will be keen to repeat straight away! Having said that, as we left Taupo the next day our driver took us all to Tongariro National Park where we then had to walk a 2 hour loop to Taranaki Falls.
Weaving around the country roads and through the hilly terrain enroute to our next destination, River Valley, it was clear to see why New Zealand had been chosen as the backdrop to Lord of the Rings. It’s unique and varied lush vegetation just seemed to go on for miles and the colours were so vivid it almost looked like it could have been created on a movie set. Arriving at River Valley Lodge we were treated to a roast dinner before playing card games into the evening. Surrounded by cliffs, gorges and bush-clad hills it was the perfect setting for our next day’s activity, white water rafting on the Rangitikei River. Donning our thermals and wetsuits we knew we would be in for some freezing cold water and a great way to start the day and blow away the cobwebs. On our 3 hour trip along the river back towards the lodge we rode rapids ranging from grade 3-5. Not as big as the rapids I had experienced in Rotorua, but an altogether different experience as we meandered through the gorges and valleys in and out of the raft. At one point our guide instructed us to all get on the right side of the raft and as the ones on the left flung themselves across just like we had been practising on dry land, our raft flipped over and we all came tumbling out into the ice cold river. I am not sure if our guide knew that this would happen and did it as a joke or not, but it was quite funny as we all fell, arms and legs everywhere!