Here is Queen Victoria in Wellington, who presides over the street in front of my hotel. I was asked if I would recommend this hotel. The answer is no, but it wasn't so bad that I needed to find alternate accommodation. That would be too much trouble. So Monday night I met my travel companions: Grant (Kiwi) and two Canucks (Ted and Graham) who were driving to Taupo, as well as Ted's wife. We had dinner and went to see a New Zealand film called Boy. It's set in 1984, and a young, small town Maori boy with a feckless absentee father, lives with his grandmother, sibblings and cousins and idolizes Michael Jackson. Grandmother goes to Wellington, leaving 10-year-old 'Boy' in charge and then Dad and his 'gang' show up. It's quite good, though sad for a comedy.
In the morning Grant drove me to the institute in Lower Hutt, where our journey began a little less than auspiciously. The car we had been assigned was flooded, so Ted volunteered his far nicer car. These are some photos I shot along the way. It was roughly a six hour drive. We stopped in a small town called Bulls (complete with cow murals) for lunch.
Eventually we made it to Tongariro National Park, home to three volcanoes, including, wait for it LOTR fans, Mt Doom.
The weather cleared up when we reached Lake Taupo. We passed several parachuters. New Zealand is all about the action sports and aventure tourism.
The sunset from the institute in Wairakei.
They drove me by the Huka Falls, but the park was closed for the night, so I didn't get any closer. The guide books say they are the most spectacular in the country. (I don't know, maybe I've been to Niagara Falls, or even the very high cascading falls in Sooke too many times, but I was a touch underwhelmed).
We checked into the motel. Had dinner. It's a small town. In the morning we went for breakfast, and the man behind the counter knew how they liked their coffee, from their previous visits to Taupo. They all went to their meeting, and I wandered down to the Lake after getting a list of car rental places from the tourist bureau (i-Site).
See the volcanoes in the distance!
The Lake is dangerous to headless stickmen. Headless stickmen are always falling off cliffs because they can't see, lacking eyes, or think, lacking heads.
Then I walked up to the car rental places, only to discover that all the flights to Auckland had been cancelled that morning, so the cars were rented by desperate travellers. I managed to get a car at the third place I tried. The funny thing was when he got my license, he said, "Oh, this is strange, there's no Ontario." He explained that the company had recently added provinces to their listings for Canada. I told him Ontario was the largest and most populous province, larger than New Zealand. He asked what was the nearest province. I said, "Um, Québec?" and he said, "No, how about the Northwest Territories?" I told him he couldn't be further from my home, so I asked my options: NWT, Nunavut (seriously? how many tourists do they get from Nunavut?), BC, Alberta, NB, and NS. So, I chose BC, because I used to live there. My compatriots were very amused at dinner.
Though nervous driving on the left, I drove north to Wai-o-tapu to see the hydrothermal systems. Driving was okay, but I had to think carefully about turning. I kept thinking dogs in the passenger seat were driving other cars. The amazing things was the country side could be a hillier version of Southern Ontario: rolling hills, Victorian farm houses... and then the ground opens up and steam comes out. It's stunning.