We drove through undulating hills and mountains and then up into higher mountains covered with tree farms - some of which had been harvested for lumber leaving eroded and ugly moutainsides. However, new trees had been planted and the mature trees that have not yet been cut are magnificent, thick almost black green pines. This is the only "rest stop" between Napier and Taupo, about 85 miles, but has good coffee, nice people, and clean restrooms. There are lots of gorges and white water. It's a beautiful area. You can see a grove of eucalyptus at the top of the hill in this shot.
Taupo is NZ's largest lake with a shorline of 90 miles. It's the biggest fishing spot in the country. You can use a spinning rod out on the lake, but flyfishing is required in the three rivers that flow in or out. There's a prawn farm on one of the rivers. Waikato River, NZ longest river, flows NW out of the lake and drops 9 meters through a narrow canyon creating these impressive and foaming falls, Huka Falls. We walked the river trail up to see them. Supposedly, the water that flows over the falls in one minute will fill 5 olympic size swimming pools. There's a jet boat ride that takes people right up to the base of the falls. While we are going out for a Sunday brunch boat trip on the lake this morning, I think we'll skip the jet boat this time. There's also a bungy jump in town. Skip that, too, unless we just watch from the bottom.
On the trail to Huka Falls is a thermal hot stream pouring into the river. It's steaming and almost too hot to put your hand into. There were lots of people floating and relaxing in the warm water at the mouth of the stream. When we came back along there about 5:00 p.m., the beer had been passed around. Sweet.
Upstream from the falls, the river is swift but calm and a beautiful clear aqua color. Lots of willow trees and pines help shade the walk. The local community has planted a lot of native shrubs at the beginning of the path in order to re-claim the bush that was destroyed by timber harvesting. There's also a big park with play grounds and picnic areas, trails, etc., all well-maintained. Although the town is sort of resort-like there seems to be a real community interest here.
We ate at Brantry Restaurant last night. (Recommended by a doctor we met in Highlands who had done an internship here in Taupo last year.) More great food. I won't go into detail for those of you who are tired of food-writing, but we have discovered fresh squid here which is tender, salt and pepppered with a little flour and fried lightly. It doesn't resemble the calamari we get at home! We've ordered it three times in the last four days. The first restaurant served it with an Asian slaw of cabbage and a sweet sour sauce. Yum. Also, the scallops here look like real shell fish. They even have an orange segment which I've never seen before. Very sweet and tender. Great seafood. By the way, you cannot order trout in NZ from a restaurant or buy it in a store. It must all be wild-caught.
More later, if I can get back on the internet. This is a pay as you go service.