Soaking up the scenery in Te Urewera and Christmas in Taupo

After leaving Rotorua we had our first, and to this day, only, bad experience whilst camping. We had pitched up at a free campsite at Lake Aniwhenua and, as it was December 23rd, the site was extremely popular with Christmas campers. The spot was beautiful and we had enjoyed a stroll along the lake, and dinner before getting a reasonably early night in anticipation of a busy day the next day. All great so far. IMG_9033Some new ‘”campers” arrived and parked almost immediately behind us with their music blaring at top volume. This is not an exaggeration, the ground was shaking beneath the tent because the bass was cranked up so far. We thought that they would turn it off once they were parked up but 20 minutes later it was still going with no end in sight. Now, we figured that if you are the type of people who will pull in to a fully occupied campsite at half past 9 at night and proceed to blare music, you are unlikely to be the type of people who give a damn what impact you are having on the people around you. However, we couldn’t know for sure if we didn’t ask and Caro eventually worked herself up to getting up and asking them to turn the music down.

Caro: I emerged from the tent to find pretty much exactly what we had expected; the car was parked a short way behind us with headlights on, all doors open and music blaring. There was a girl sitting in the front and a huge man sitting in the back seat. Our new neighbours had also lit an illegal fire about 3 metres from our car… joy. I persevered nevertheless and bent down to talk to the girl in the front seat, it took a while to get her attention because (a.) the music was really really loud and (b.) she was completely absorbed with cutting up her weed. I eventually managed to communicate what I wanted with characteristic British non-confrontationalism: “I’m terribly sorry but could you please, if it’s not too much trouble, turn the music down just a tiny little bit so that our eardrums stop bleeding?” Front Seat looked at me as though I had just asked to borrow one of her kidneys and said nothing. Time for arsehole number two to pipe up from the backseat, demanding of Front Seat what it was that I wanted. She demonstrated that she did in fact have the power of speech by summarising my request for him. Back Seat was not impressed and, I repeat, he was a really big dude. His pithy retort to my request was: “F*** off b**** we’re partying here” and then to Front Seat “turn it up”. Feeling that this had been a splendidly successful undertaking I retreated to the tent and spent the next half hour wondering if they would take revenge by peeing on the tent. Fortunately, they later decided to enjoy their joints by the fire and turned their music off. Even more fortunately, it started to throw it down with rain shortly after and they swiftly packed up and left. Karma.

As we packed up the following morning a large campervan pulled up and an older Kiwi couple emerged and settled themselves on camp chairs to enjoy the view of the lake. We got to chatting with them and they proved to be much more rewarding neighbours. The woman in particular struck us as a formidable old bird and we found ourselves wishing that they had been there to take care of our friends from the previous evening for us.

If we haven’t mentioned it before, New Zealand is almost unreasonably beautiful. Any drive can be extended by several hours just to give you time to slow down and take advantage of the incredible views. In New Zealand you share the driving, not to avoid tiredness, but to allow everyone a fair opportunity to just gaze out of the window for a couple of hours. One of the absolute best drives that we have done so far was southwards through the top of Te Urewera National Park to Lake Waikaremoana in the middle.IMG_3906The drive takes you along a largely unsealed gravel track that winds down through the mountains and along the river. We both love this kind of driving so it was an equally rewarding drive for both driver and passenger. We are both susceptible to car sickness but felt none of it on this journey, perhaps we were too absorbed.IMG_3905Lake Waikaremoana is the starting point of one of New Zealand’s Great Walks and you have to book months in advance for a slot to tackle the full length during the summer months, which we had not done. The Lake Waikaremoana track is a 4 day walk and we decided instead to just do the first 90 minutes of the first day and 90 minutes back to the car park. It turns out that this is the most challenging climb of the whole walk but as we weren’t carrying 4 days worth of food we couldn’t really complain. It certainly was a tough climb and we passed many trampers laden down with packs for the full walk who looked like they weren’t having a great deal of fun. Ultimately though, we were the jealous ones, because we would have loved to do the full walk. It was absolutely achingly gorgeous.DSC_0042IMG_9045A particular treat was Panekiri Bluff where James got nervous about Caro falling off the edge and we sat and had lunch with a pretty good view.IMG_9046IMG_0026If you are unable to secure huts on the Great Walks, or the thought of a multi-day hike doesn’t appeal to you, it is still definitely worth doing a section of them as a day walk. We have done two so far and both have been exceptional.

We had decided, pretty much at random, to spend Christmas in Taupo, and we set up camp on Christmas Eve just outside of town at Wairakei Thermal Valley Campsite. The spot was excellent because it came with a menagerie of animals including hundreds of chickens, ducks, 10 rabbits, 3 peacocks, 3 llamas, some sheep, 2 goats and a dog called China. Caro was in absolute heaven. James also got the treat of passing a large Geothermal plant on the way in to the site.IMG_9053IMG_3917It is an Aldridge family Christmas tradition to read “The Night Before Christmas” on Christmas Eve. For the past three years we have been spread all over the globe so the reading has taken place over conference call. This year was no exception and we dialled in from New Zealand, Sri Lanka and Liverpool for the occasion. Due to the drastic time zone differences we were dialling in at 6:30am on Christmas morning and the 4 alarms that we had set to make sure that we didn’t miss it duly woke us up at 6:15. Reading complete, we had a long day ahead of us and nothing much planned. This was just as well as everything in Taupo was shut.  We thought we would get a bit of a leg stretch and headed to the Waikato River to do the walk to the thermal pools and Huka Falls.DSC_0071The river looks like it has been dyed it is so blue and the walk itself was pleasant but extremely popular. There is also a car park at the Falls so there were even more people, so the Falls are very pretty just don’t expect to have them to yourself.IMG_3925It had been a bit of a drizzly morning but cleared in the afternoon and we returned to camp to read in the sun for a bit. The llamas weren’t keen on letting us get back to our campsite.IMG_0043

Once we had managed to get around one lot of livestock and installed ourselves, Caro gained the unwanted attention from the goats.

IMG_9062This was in fact one of the first days when we have just sat around and one of the very few times that we have camped at the same place for two nights running. We took the opportunity of the extra time to play some cards in the sun before cooking up steaks for Christmas dinner.IMG_9081IMG_9079We enjoyed this with a bottle of New Zealand fizz followed by a cheese board and James capped off his Christmas Day with a spectacular win at canasta. We spoke with the Stones and the Kemps who were just waking up on Christmas morning and then tucked ourselves up in the tent for an early night.

The following morning brought grim weather again and we cancelled our plans to Kayak and decided instead to wander around Taupo itself. Street art has been one of our newly-discovered pleasures on this trip and Taupo has some of the most beautiful that we have seen, hidden in a car park with the bins.IMG_3933IMG_3932Kiwis love their pies and we thought we may as well indulge our Christmas stomachs just a little bit more with pies for lunch. If you happen to be in Taupo, go to the Fast and Fresh Bakery Café, they serve some truly top drawer pies.IMG_3937We stocked up with some gloves and hats ready for some high altitude walking and set off towards Turangi to tackle the 20km Tongariro Crossing the following day.

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