Missing Volcanoes and a Journey South…

After the excitement and wonder of Rotorua’s feisty thermal landscape, we were hungry for some more volcanic action! We left our camp in Taupo’s Reid Farm and headed towards Lake Taupo – a huge crater lake the size of Singapore, created by a massive underground eruption thousands of years ago.

Unfortunately, the weather had deteriorated overnight and most of the skies were covered in thick grey clouds. This spoilt our view somewhat but we decided to continue with the day’s plans anyway and hope that the sun would soon rear its head. We were on our way to the Tongariro National Park – just under 50km from Taupo and home to three of New Zealand’s highest volcanoes. How much we could see of these volcanoes was of course very dependent on the weather, as their sheer size meant that we would only be able to witness them in their full glory if the skies were clear.

We stopped in the town of Taurangi and paid a visit to the “i-site” to get some more information on the forecast for the National Park. It wasn’t good news. The skies were not due to clear for at least two days and all trans-alpine walks had been cancelled until then. The lady behind the counter showed us the view from the webcam pointing at Mount Tongaririo (Mount ‘Doom’ for any Lord of the Rings fans out there’) and the screen was pure white with big drops of water on it.

It looked like any walks or lookout points were off the table but we were told to visit the Nation Park Visitor Centre in Wakapapa Village at the foothills of Mount Ruapehu (NZ’s largest volcano) instead. Feeling slightly dejected we continued our drive towards the Park, peering out of the windows just in case we could spot a volcano amongst the mist!

To be fair, although we really wanted to see the volcanoes themselves, the Wakapapa Visitor Centre almost made up for us missing out. It was fantastic and contained huge displays and photographs of all three of the biggest volcanoes – Tongariro, Ngauruhoe and Ruapehu. We treated ourselves to one of the $3 audio-video presentations that are on show at the centre and spent the best part of three hours looking around!

Whilst we were leaving, there was a slight break in the clouds and we managed to catch a glimpse of what we think was Mount Ruapehu – hurrah!

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Our original plan was to do a few short hikes around Mount Ruapehu before camping near the Park for the night, but since this wasn’t possible we decided instead to drive as far as we could towards Wellington, in preparation for our 1pm ferry to the South Island the next day.

As we got closer and closer to Wellington we thought that we may as well just keep on going until we arrived there. It was pitch black by the time we drove into the city centre and we found ourselves at the Bluebridge Ferry Terminal. Richard went in to ask somebody on reception if they knew where we could park up our campervan for the night and to our surprise, he was told that we could just park in the car park until our ferry departed! Fantastic, a free pitch for the night!

The next morning we had a shower at the backpacker hostel across the road ($3 each), before waiting to board the ferry at 12pm. The crossing itself was beautiful and we were glad to be sailing away from the dark rain clouds that hung over the North Island. We passed through Marlborough Sounds and its main strait, Queen Charlotte Sound, which was absolutely gorgeous.

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No sign of the bottle nose dolphins as we entered the harbour however, but fingers crossed that they’ll be out to play by the time we return to the North Island in a couple of weeks!

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