Bad wordplay in the title! Liz and I did go to a lot of tourist spots in Taupo, and they’re hot because like Rotorua, Taupo sits on a lot of thermal activity and it’s even near some volcanoes. In fact, we had to get up early the morning we were leaving town, because the woman we stayed with had to catch a flight up to the nearby volcano to study its latest rumblings.
The main tourist places in Taupo are all clustered along the same road, so Liz and I just worked our way down the road until it was time for dinner. First, we stopped by Huka Falls, which is one of the most visited places in New Zealand; its incredibly easy access probably has something to do with that–cross the parking lot and walk 20 feet to the bridge that spans the narrow chute of water rushing through and turning the most wonderful shade of blue. Apparently the air bubbles caused by the rapidly moving water (the river narrows from 100 meters to 15 meters across for this little bit, and then empties into almost 100 meters again) intensify the effect of the clear water reflecting blue light, and voila, a waterfall the color of a swimming pool. It was gorgeous to look at.
We drove for five minutes and stopped in at Craters of the Moon. There are indeed several craters here, but many hardy plants cover the land between the craters, so it’s much greener than I understand the moon to be. It was still a little otherworldly to stroll along the boardwalk around the park, though. Steam rose from the ground in a steady stream from various vents, and yellow signs warned us that steam burns, which was awfully thoughtful. The earth in the craters was gray and cracked, mud that had dried in the extreme heat. One of the craters had a little bit of mud bubbling at one end of it, and I kept waiting for an ancient lizard to crawl out of the ooze. Maybe that’s what the park was like, actually–prehistoric.
We decided to extend the walk a little bit and hike up the small hill at one end to get a view of the whole park, and as we started out I saw Liz check her watch, which I’d noticed she’d been doing throughout the walk. Turns out that her wilderness adventuring instincts are strong, and she always times how long it takes to do any kind of walk, a precaution necessary when hiking up mountains so you can estimate how long it will take you to go back down again. And here I’d been dawdling along the boardwalk at my usual slow pace! She laughed and said it didn’t actually matter how long it took, and we continued on our way, each a little more knowledgeable of the other, the way you get when you travel with someone.
Our last stop of the day before finding our host’s home was at the most blatant cash grab of our trip so far. We went to the Honey Hive, which is a large showroom of honey products of all kinds–soaps, lotions, liqueurs, ice creams, chocolates, etc. Manuka honey, made from the manuka tree’s beautiful flower, is a big deal in New Zealand, and I bought some small gifts for my hosts further on down the line. We sampled the liqueurs, had an ice cream, and squeezed ourselves into a spot made for 8-year-olds for a silly photo.
The next morning, our host told us about a free hot springs nearby, and after our success with the free spot in Rotorua, we were eager to try this one out. Spa Park is a big park with different sections. One area had a playground, and evidently some kind of event was taking place, because it was crawling with more kids and parents than usual. A short walk down a hill takes you to the banks of the Waikato River. If you cross the little wooden bridge there and keep walking for an hour or so, you come to Huka Falls. We stopped at the wooden bridge and ducked under it to sit in the tiny little pools created by tiny little waterfalls there. It was super hot and we had to move between the little pools and the main river to regulate our body temperature. We’d passed a few people on their way out on our way in, but when we got there at around 9 in the morning it was just us, the clear blue sky, and the free spa of the hot springs.
We did get out eventually, and by the looks of our lobster-red legs, not a moment too soon! We drove out of town to a sky dive place, where I sat in the shade and watched Liz leap from a plane at 15,000 feet and float back down to the earth. We didn’t know, it but it was the last good weather we’d have for several days; our final impression of the area was a calm blue lake reflecting a clear blue sky caught in our rearview mirror.