Written 10 AM, Oct. 27th, Whitianga
Posted same afternoon
Friday was great, starting with a gorgeous morning at our campsite on the Waikato River (with a kiwi accent, “WAI-keh-doh”). We got a list of free things to do from the I-Site (standardized information centres in all towns of size across the country) and headed out to Aratiatia Rapids, which is a rapids on the Waikato that is an empty, dry rock gorge most the day, but is filled with rushing whitewater several times a day as the Aratiatia Dam opens its floodgates. We arrived just in time to catch a glimpse of the empty gorge, before it started to fill up. Here's a photo progression of the space filling up:
Photo from downstream, looking back towards the dam.
It was really astonishing to stand on the bridge over the dam and watch the water come pouring out, and rise up to fill the whole gorge with beautiful greeny-blue rapids.
Kowhai blossoms near the rapids.
In the afternoon, with the wind on the lake still blowing like crazy, we decided to see if we could get a cruise on the Barbary, a 1926 ketch cutter sailboat once owned by Errol Flynn and captained by the extraordinary and colorful Bill Dawson. We were the only people who wanted to go out on the lake in those conditions (sunny, but incredibly windy on the water, with heavy swell), so for $75 for the two of us, we got a private cruise! The boat was great, and the skipper even greater. He has been all over the world, been to Spokane (very near my hometown), farmed in New Zealand, and run this cruise business for the previous 28 years. He is now pushing 70, and seem to have a lot of life left in him! As soon as we had motored out and decided to put up sail, he put Matt at the helm, so M sailed us most of the way out to the Maori rock carvings that were our destination. With Matt at the wheel, Bill was free to feed the pair of ducks that land on Barbary on every crossing, which are obviously his friends and don’t go away until he has given them a couple biscuits, and to make us a cup of tea :)
The scenery was great- we could see up to Mts. Tongariro, Ruapehu, and Ngaurahoe, and the rock carvings, though a giant tourist attraction, were sensational. They are not ancient as you might like to think, but were done by a Maori art student in 1979-80, who wanted to reclaim a section of developed land and give it a dose of Maori culture. The land was a piece that, during colonization, the Maori were duped out of through store debt by anglo settlers.
Post-cruise, we checked back in at the I-Site to see how conditions were looking up on the Tongariro Crossing, and we were told that the forecast was for peak conditions and all systems were go, so we purchased our bus fare, stocked up on food for the trek, and headed south around Lake Taupo to Turangi (TOO-rang-ee), where we would be picked up by the shuttle service bright and early the next morning. We found Turangi to be a sweet little town (it is supposed to be the trout fishing capital of the world, right next to the lake and flanked by the Tongariro River), and were pleased to find a great little place to freedom camp (park the van in an out-of-the-way spot and camp for free) at an anglers’ access point on the Tongariro River.
View from our camping site in Turangi