Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Via lake Taupo to Hamilton

ALLIE: DAY 55: Tuesday, the 10th of April

A scenic drive through the national parks, past lake Taupo and on to Hamilton

fantastic views over the mountains by Wanganui
Downhill slope from now on! Can’t believe that time is flying like it is. Anyway I discover a bit more about nice romantic old Wanganui by running up it’s look-out tower from where I have a fantastic view over to the two volcanic mountains.

Glad I saw them now, because later on our drive they decide to hide in thick clouds. Carpe diem!

I also discover a curiosity in this town, a tunnel plus elevator up to the hills built in 1919 to facilitate the workers to go up the hills a bit easier (what a piece of modern invention for those early days!).

Golf driving range straight into the lake!
There is also an Opera House starring a brass band, the Highland pipers meeting hall, a Ladies Rest House (whatever that means!) and a dozen of war memorials.

For some reason the New Zealanders seem to be rather fanatic about honouring their war heroes. I have never in any country seen so many statues and memorials as here - maybe not even in North Korea.

On thing that is really startling are the distances. You start your journey in the morning thinking ‘oh it’s only 300 km up to Hamilton’ that will take us maybe half a day.

But then you realize that it takes all f…day! Well, we chose to drive along the scenic route which took us along the river Whanganui (curiously the river being spelt with an ‘h’, the town without) and then across lots of barren hills.

The falls of Huka
Some of the scenery reminded us of the Black Forest, then again of Namibia whilst later on towards Hamilton we felt this is Bavaria.

We didn’t see much of the two big vulcanos but I must mention their names since they are famous and holy for the native Maoris. They are called Mt. Ruapehu (2797m) and Mt. Nagaruhou (2287m). Never mind, next time. I am grateful for a stop and a cold dip into the famous Lake Taupo.

This lake spans 25miles, is absolute circular and 522ft deep, and of course also a holy place to the Maoris. Unfortunately modern tourism has rather neglected that fact and the little town Taupo is full of Mc Donalds and crappy looking apartments.

the power project
Only 130km from here to Hamilton. But again, the drive takes ages. At least two stops on the way relax this stretch a bit, one being at the Falls of Huka and the Wairakei Geothermal Power Project.

finally a beer in hand!
The Falls are quite spectacular. Actually they are not really falls but more crystal blue rapids the water masses being squeezed between narrow rocks.

The Power Project dates from 1958 and was then the only second on of its kind in the world.

Hot earthen steam (rising through pipes from as deep as 2000m!) is then funnelled through stainless steal pipes and then send to electricity stations that generate as much as 5% of all New Zealands power.

The last 15 km are again a slog but by 5.pm we finally reach the northern outskirts of Hamilton and check into our ‘Ballooning Hotel’ for the next 5 days, the Kingsgate Hotel. Briefing is at 7pm and I better get ready now and leave this computer to take a rest.

It’s fun to be surrounded be eager-to-fly-looking balloon pilots again. Briefing actually was a bit of a shambles, lots of nice jokes but no real information. So we are anticipating an interesting Fiesta!

PHIL: Day 55/10 April – halfway point in the trip!

Via New Zealand’s two major volcanoes and Lake Taupo to Hamilton where the balloon event in planned, though the weather outlook is pretty grim for the remainder of the week.

Mt Ruapehu half-seen capped with cloud whilst Taupo serves to remind me of how tacky tourist towns can be – a repeat of Queenstown, alas!

The thermal power field at Wairaki
Stops at the rushing Hutu Falls where Lake Taupo empties into the Wairarapa river and then, as if to contrast these two sources of natural energy, to the Wairaki thermal power field which has been producing 5% of NZ’s energy since the 1950s.

I visited it on a more serious basis in 1974 during my RCS study tour. We speculate as to how long one might survive in the 500m pounding millrace of the Falls and Andy tells gruesome tales of bodies dumped in the surging maelstrom.

at the end of a long day a man needs nothing else than a good bar!
Hamilton hasn’t changed much in 7 years and we check into the same ‘conference’ hotel albeit with a different name. Martin Moroney, Meet Director for this event , is an expatriate Englishman now resident in Australia

I first knew him in 1970 when he was a founder member of the London Balloon Club and I was an aspiring balloon enthusiast. He has changed little except a greying of the hair surrounding his boyish face. 

In those early days he was an eloquent salesman of medical equipment. Now he is still eloquent, with little trace of 20 years in Australia to disguise his distinctly London accent. His introductory briefing, however, is rambling and discursive with little of the crisp precision we have at, for instance, Bristol.

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