Day 12: Rotorua - Huka Falls - Napier
7 January 2010
1480km - map

We started the day with a walk round Rotorua but only for as long as we could stand the smell! Being a geothermally active area the smell of hydrogen sulphide (rotten eggs!) can be overpowering at times but we soldiered on, walking around part of the lake and peering into craters in the ground where steam bubbled through hot mud. Soon it was time to leave and after gathering some more supplies we continued south.

We stopped at in Wairakei where the geothermal heat is tapped by a power station which pumps its cooling water into a man-made geyser where it forms limestone terraces which you can paddle in and is said to have lots of healing and health giving properties - like a nice radox bath.

On the same Wairakei river is the Huka Falls - a very impressive, if not very tall, waterfall where 160 cubic meters of water flow across every second. A number of dams on this river produce 15% of all of New Zealand's electricity. Further downstream we paid for a trip on the Huka Falls jet boat, a 30 minute ride on a turbine powered boat taking us up and down the river at 50mph inches from the banks with the occasional 360° spin thrown in for good measure. What a ride!

Afterwards there was just time to get to a particular vantage point further downstream to see the four times daily opening of the dam's sleuce gates. Since the dam was built it stopped the river rapids and so part of the plan for the dam involved allowing enough water through the sleuce gates to recreate the rapids four times a day. Within just a couple of minutes the water in the canyon had risen by about 5 meters and the violent rapids were reborn. You wouldn't have wanted to have been paddling in the seemingly calm waters when that lot came your way!

It was time to hit the road again, heading through Topau past the largest lake in New Zealand where no shortage of golfers were trying to sink a ball on a floating barge for a prize. We had to make sure we filled up with fuel here as the next stretch of road had no petrol stations for 140km. The long straight roads turned into mountainous passes and then back to straight again as we approached the east coast and Napier. Absolutely stunning scenery all the way and hardly another vehicle in sight.

We arrived in Napier with its art-deco architecture and found a public car park to camp in for the night on the sea front. A few other campervans were parked with us and we got speaking to an english couple who were travelling around the country like ourselves, but were heading to the south island for vinyard work in the coming months to finance their trip. We barbequed some burgers on the beachfront and watched the sky turn an incredible orange colour as the sun set.

Bubbling mud in Rotorua
Limestone terraces and geyser at Wairakei
Huka Falls Jet Boat
Waterfalls at a rest area on the SH5
Sunset over Napier