After spending a lot of time on the road and venturing to a new city each day, I decided to slow down a tad and spend two nights in the Lake Taupo area. Taupo is a small and scenic resort town with a great mix of natural attractions, outdoor activities and town centre happenings.
I drove an hour from Rotorua to Taupo and checked into my hotel in the afternoon. I was pleased to learn that the hotel had a complimentary bike and was situated right along the Great Lake Walkway, so I took a ride around.
The Reef Resort Motel219 Lake Terrace, Waipahihi, Taupo
They only had one unit left and it was their luxury 3 bedroom apartment. It was the best lodging I had the whole trip, by far. Private garage, laundry, full kitchen, friendly staff, great view and it came with a bike.
After a long day of activities and some time in the hot tub I researched local restaurants within walking distance and found The Brantry. They seemed packed given this was still summer high season in a resort town but were able to accomodate me.
I enjoyed a nice sunset walk to the restaurant where I was eager to start the meal with a refreshing sparkling Chardonnay Pinot Noir.
After a fantastic meal I began the ~35 minute walk back to my lodging, but not before stopping by the waterfront for a bit to try to capture some nightscape shots. I didn't expect much with these shots as I was right in the town so there was still a lot of light pollution.
When I got back to the apartment I made sure to take advantage of the in-unit laundry that evening after having previously washed my clothes in hotel sinks the last few days.
When I woke up I did a bit of googling and found a nearby cafe called Storehouse. I drove there to grab a bite and fuel up — it had been quite a while since my last good coffee.
Yes, I like to caffeinate. I started with a cappuccino then opted to try one of their single origin drip coffees. Then I devoured the best breakfast burrito (scrambled eggs, bacon, guacamole, chipotle, sour cream and spicy mexican beans in a spinach wrap) I have ever come across in my life. I liked it so much I came back the next day to get it.
Then I began the 93km drive to Tongariro National Park. It took just shy of an hour and a half to get there, especially with the last leg of the drive being on a gravel road, but there was a nice scenic stop on the way.
Tongariro National Park
Okay, I'll admit it. I did not plan this hike well.
I had heard about and wanted to hike the outstandingly scenic 19.4km Tongariro Alpine Crossing inside the Tongariro National Park (a UNESCO World Heritage Site). However, I didn't organize a way to get back to my car if I was to complete the entire 8 hour trek. It also turned out that the drive to the park from Taupo was further than I had originally thought and I got a late start on the day... so yeah, I was not going to be hiking in the dark and left without a way to get a long ride back to my car.
Lesson learned: when traveling by the seat of your pants there are still a few things you should probably plan a bit more carefully. It reminds me of a saying I've heard around other travelers: "solo traveling is just endless problem solving."
That being said I did have all the required gear for a safe hike by myself — snacks, water, sunscreen, hiking boots with thick socks, sunglasses and a two-way satellite location beacon and messenger for emergencies.
Needless to say, I decided to only complete a shorter 2.5-3 hour roundtrip hike from Mangatepopo Valley to Soda Springs.
Despite not making it to the Blue Lake and Emerald Lakes inside Mount Tongariro's central crater, I thoroughly enjoyed the beauty of this trail. It was the first real hike I had done so far in my New Zealand trip.
In the morning I started the day with a river cruise at nearby Huka Falls before starting the long drive to my next destination, Wellington. Huka Falls is said to be New Zealand's most visited natural attraction.