I awoke in Taupo the following morning, very jetlagged.  I eventually made my way down to breakfast, which was in the restaurant attached to the hotel (which, in an effort to serve you better, I faithfully forgot to take pictures of) and…went back to bed for a nap.  My nap came to a peaceful end around 11am, at which point I decided my vacation would be better spent doing things than sleeping, so I got dressed and tried to figure out what to do.

New Zealand is very volcanic, as the islands are quite new geologically (geologists universally agree that New Zealand was formed at least 40 years ago).  The Taupo area is particularly volcanic, with geothermal vents/pools all over the place (there’s one literally next door to the Hilton Near Lake Taupo).  One of the highly-rated ones from TripAdvisor is Orakei Korako, so I made my way back to the epic and legendary Nissan Tiida and made my way in the right laneNO OK IN THE LEFT LANE to the highway.

After a short drive, I made a right turn and followed the signs.  New Zealand handles tourism very well, as the roads have great signage pointing you to all manner of attractions, so I was able to get there pretty quickly (it’s about 30 minutes from the hotel).

a road with grass and trees in the background

The road to Orakei Korako

So, a short aside (I know, I don’t really do short asides, but bear with me).  I talk often about how much I love driving in foreign lands.  I love the scenery and getting to stop whenever I want to take pictures and/or cause traffic jams.  I also enjoy music and pairing music with the emotion I feel from the scenery I see.  Before the trip, I was listening to the Lord of the Rings soundtrack pretty much nonstop, because that’s what I imagined New Zealand feeling like, if you will.  Songs like this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LLkPrHOdMwk

Gorgeous, right?  Gives you images of greenery, home, and little hobbits being chased by evil demons.  Now, on the flight over, Air New Zealand had a random assortment of movies, and one of them was one of my favorites, Monty Python and the Holy Grail.  And it ruined me.  For some reason, I forgot all the peaceful and wonderful music and the only thing I could hear as I was driving past all of this beautiful scenery was:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oKp9fdi7ubU&feature=player_detailpage#t=85 combined with the sound of coconut halves being hit together.

Orakei Korako
Orakei Korako is a geothermal formation that sits alongside the Waikoto River.  It was formed in AD 131 when…and that’s all I read of the tour pamphlet.

Those of you who read my Hong Kong post earlier this year know I like HDR photography, even though I tend to process my pictures a little too much.  Anyway, here’s one I got on the shores of the river near the entrance to the visitor’s center.

a lake with trees and clouds

On the banks of the Waikoto River

To get over to Orakei Korako, you take a ferry from the visitor’s center (which is included in the $35 NZD entry fee) across the river.  From there they have a general path for people to walk around with little offshoots to other areas.  It’s about a 1-2 hour walk and is very attainable for people of all shapes and sizes (although there is no wheelchair access).

I’m not going to narrate a ton here, aside from the picture captions.

a body of water with steam coming out of it

Looking at Orakei Korako from the visitor center

a rocky cliff with trees and bushes

The sulfur reacts with the moss and lichen to make some unique colors

A quick aside, if you’ll let me.  I’ve had the blessing of getting to travel to some of the most beautiful places in the world, for which I’m incredibly thankful.  I was really curious how New Zealand would compare.  The easiest way of putting it is it was as good as the best of any other place I’ve been.  The mountainous areas were as pretty as central Norway, the fields and rolling hills as pretty as Scotland, and some of the forested parts as pretty as Costa Rica (example below).

a path in a forest

Reminds me of Costa Rica

So I haven’t really spoken too much about Lord of the Rings, especially for a trip report entitled To Middle Earth, but I did manage to find the spider web from the Terrifying Spider Scene in the third movie.  I hate spiders with the fiery passion of 10,000 burning suns, so I didn’t stick around to see if the spider was equally large.

a spider web in the woods


a hot spring with a waterfall and trees

This was near the section called Map of Africa. For obvious reasons.

a rocky cliff with water flowing down

Geothermal shelf (no idea if that’s the actual term, but it sounded better than Big Gray Part)

a large rock with plants growing on it

They call this Elephant Rock. It’s an elephant that looks exactly like a rock.

a hot spring with steam coming out of it

Geothermal pools. Swimming not recommended.

a landscape with a body of water and trees

Pool area

a mountain with steam coming out of it

Sulfur leaking over the years created this. Either that or the cliffs had allergies and ran out of tissues.

a river flowing through a forest

From atop a hill, overlooking Orakei Korako

In one of the forested parts of the site, I caught these really cool and dense trees.  They were so dense that they almost made the area look like a black and white photo.

a group of trees with white bark

Cool trees. The plant name is Treeus Blackandwhiteicus

And this fern, from beneath, made me think of a peacock, so I digitally enhanced the colors a bit.

a tree with a trunk and branches


a body of water with trees and mountains in the background

Looking back across the river towards the Visitor’s Center

I bid a sweet farewell to Orakei Korako, which is worth the money and deserved the complimentary reviews it received.  Seeing it on a sunnier day would’ve been nice, but the clouds and brief rains made it seem more melancholy, which was unique and unexpected.

I had heard lots of things about the town of Rotorua (including “it smells like eggs”, which is accurate), so I went there for lunch.  It seemed like a nice enough town, but I made it there about 2pm and there were few, if any, places that were open for lunch anymore, most re-opened about 5pm.  I found an Irish pub and threw back a Kilkenny, my favorite beer in the world, and started to head back to Taupo.  Rotorua is legendary for the Polynesian Spa and Thermal Pools, but I decided not to visit the spa this time, I’ll save it for my return with a wife.

On my way back, I made a quick stop at Huka Falls, which is the most voluminous waterfall in New Zealand.  The volume of the river sometimes approaches 220,000 litres/second.  To give you an idea of how much water that is, you could take like an instant shower with that.

a river running through a forest with Huka Falls in the background

The Waikoto River approaching the falls

Huka Falls with rocks and trees

Huka Falls (motto: “Look at all them litres”)

a river with trees around it

Looking further downriver after the falls

To Wellington
I left Taupo the following morning after a hearty breakfast.  I made one last pitstop to grab a picture of the lake and met the cutest black goose ever.  [editor’s note: by “cutest” he meant “murderously ornery with no doubt a taste for human flesh and motivated by the sound of screaming and smell of fear”]

a stone path next to a body of water

Serene lake view (you’ll notice the black goose in the water near the shore on the right)

a black swan on a rocky beach

Moments before he charged me. In keeping with the unintentional Monty Python theme, I may or may not have bravely run away while screaming RUN AWAY

The drive from Taupo to Wellington goes through about 3 different phases: Rolling Hills, Absolutely Nothing, and then Coastally Downhill.  The scenery was great, I swear if you just stick your camera out the window and take a picture, it’ll probably turn out all blurry.  But if you stop and take the picture then, it’ll be fantastic.

a green landscape with trees and buildings

From a random roadside stop

a river running through a valley

I literally turned to the left about 90 degrees from the above and there was this

The Absolutely Nothing part of the trip is on the Desert Road, which was very rocky.  New Zealand’s military uses this part of the North Island as a testing and training ground, so there’s not much development, although there was a really nice military museum along the road.

As I made my way into Wellington, I got very lost when trying to find Ace Rental Cars office.  It took me about an hour and half to find them, but I did end up with a really nice tour of downtown Wellington.  I wish I would’ve had more time here, because I feel like I missed out on a lot.  And you’ll feel like you missed out too, because I didn’t get to take any pictures.

I stayed at a hostel, which was nice, but really loud.  I was in a room directly above the hostel’s bar, and the music didn’t stop thumping until about 1:00am.

To Queenstown
I purchased a ticket from Wellington to Queenstown for way too much money (since Queenstown’s high season is the winter because of all the ski fields and stuff to jump off of nearby).  It included a brief stop at Christchurch’s airport and left really early, so I left the hostel and made it to the airport via taxi at about 6:30am.  When I went to the Air New Zealand kiosk, the computer indicated I could change to the direct flight to Queenstown at no charge, so I did, which gave me a 6-hour pre-layover at Wellington’s airport.  I could’ve gone back into the city, but had already paid a bit too much to get here (the taxi driver was from Syria and had a really sad story, so I tipped him pretty well and prayed with him for his family who is still there), so I decided to just hang out at the airport.

New Zealand was very stingy with wifi, but Wellington’s airport had free wifi that was very fast, so my wait at the airport wasn’t too bad.  I perused the shops, took a quick nap, had a breakfast pie, and caught up on everything back home.

Also, the Middle Earth part of the post, a MASSIVE installation at the airport.

a large statue of a creature from the ceiling


Boarding was eventually called, and we made our way to our diagonally tilted Air New Zealand plane for our short, bumpy, and very windy flight to Queenstown.

a large airplane on the tarmac

It was more level in real life

a window with a view of the sky

Our first view of the South Island

We landed smoothly, and, after a short taxi, I stepped off the plane and into the most beautiful place in the world.

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