March 10. Odo reading 49263
Well, that was interesting. Today we splintered into three groups - Christian, Alfred and Ulrich went via 90 km dirt road (for experienced off-road riders only!) through Urewera National Park (Rt 38 for those following along at home) for a days estimate of 342 km; Silke, Renee, Jurgen, Holger and John went to a bird sanctuary south of Napier, and then to Rotorua following the route taken by Jim, Chris and myself.
We set out about 9:30. The downtown looks like a set for a 30's movie. After some confusion on my part of the route, we go north on Rt 5 for Taupo. The road was smooth, with good straights and smooth sweeping turns. It was easy to maintain a speed of about 120 km - the fastest we've sustained for a week or so. Easy, except when we came up behind trucks moving downhill in low gear - and we had to maneuver the bikes in first or second - not easy on an 1100cc bike. But it's a nice ride. The land here all seems to be in use - logging or being re-planted with trees, under cultivation or covered with sheep. There are almost no Scenic Reserves, as we saw over and over on the South Island.
We pull into Taupo, and stop by the lake (Lake Taupo - the Kiwis don't go in for a lot of foolishness nonsense in naming things). It's a large volcanic crater, filled with water. The surrounding mountains fade into the distance. The lake itself is blue, and slightly wind-ruffled. There are only one or two boats out there, but many baskers on the surrounding shore. One clever guy has brought along a puppy, and therefore is the focus of attention of the high-school girls volleyball team.
We head north again, and I'm in the lead. Stopping for gas, we see huge pipes and clouds of steam. It's the geothermal power station. Those clever Kiwis are using the natural steam to produce electricity. After 50 k or so, we stop at Wai-o-tapu, the sacred thermal springs. It is an astonishing, otherworldly place, and would look just at home is some sci-fi movie. There are yellow (sulphur), white (silica), red-brown (iron), purple (manganese), green (arsenic) and black (carbon) rocks, crystals, and layers in the surroundings. The water steams, mud boils, and the vegetation is stunted and twisted. The chemicals underfoot are flammable - the Department Of Conservation has demanded "No Smoking" - and over it all is the nose-closing, throat-closing, eye-watering, stomach-churning stench of sulphur.
It was quite hot, from the sun and the steam. I decide to change out of my bike pants and boots and into shorts and sneakers. Luckily, no tour buses come by to witness my undies. Word of advice - if you are trying to get your Gore-Tex pants and boots off, in a hurry, in the sun, and you slip, don't grab for the motorcycle. You'll probably get the hot engine head on a BMW. Like you didn't have enough problems already.
We tramp about the place. The boiling mud pools remind me of the "Bog Of Eternal Stench" from Labyrinth. Once again, the Kiwi's have allowed tourists to come within inches of destruction, depending on their good sense to keep them from falling into boiling pools of arsenic-laced water. That's cool!
As we are leaving, the bird sanctuary crew arrives. They are somewhat disappointed, as the sanctuary turns out to have been a two-hour walk from the end of the road, or, as a local tells them, "a three-hour tractor ride". We leave them entering Wai-o-tapu. I lead us into Rotarua proper, and we stop for pizza and film. We then go to the Maori Arts Center, where the Austrian Peg-Scraping Twins are waiting for their flight to White Island. We go on a tour, seeing a school teaching Maori carving and building techniques, and then we go on a tram ride to some lovely geysers.
At the hotel - a shower! The hotel overlooks Princes' Arch. I write this page until another delightful supper - with no pumpkin soup this time. We retire individually - everyone is pretty tired by now.
Christian tells me he has told the Edelweiss head office about the page, and they are quite excited, and have passed the address on to their travel agents. Wow, fame! Over 500 hits, now. I'll have to fix this page up.
Only one more driving day. All of us are suffering from a surfeit of beauty. Every day has been good, every road exceptional, and every meal a beautifully presented banquet. We are now at a point, like a child with too many presents, that we can't appreciate more.
But I'd be willing to try.