THER­MAL HIGH­WAY

An un­for­get­table jour­ney through the Vol­canic Loop

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DAY 1

Time to col­lect my rental car from the help­ful and friendly team at Space­ships Rentals; I am so im­pressed with the com­pact Rocket that is not only com­fort­able and roomy but is kit­ted out with ev­ery­thing I need if I de­cide to camp on my road trip. It is time to de­part Auck­land and com­mence my jour­ney along the Ther­mal Ex­plorer High­way. The scenery of rolling green hills and pas­ture syn­ony­mous with the Hamil­ton and Waikato re­gion is pic­ture-per­fect. On ar­rival at Wait­omo Caves, I find a wide range of un­der­ground ac­tiv­i­ties to choose from. De­cid­ing to by­pass the more adrenalin-fu­elled ad­ven­tures I take the op­tion to ex­plore the tow­er­ing sta­lac­tites and sta­lag­mites and spend time gaz­ing at the fas­ci­nat­ing canopy of twin­kling glow worms. A truly mem­o­rable ex­pe­ri­ence.

Head­ing back to Hamil­ton for the night I am keen to spend some time in Hamil­ton City. Din­ner out this evening proves the cen­tral city has a vi­brant dining and bar dis­trict. A great way to wrap up the first day of my ad­ven­tures.

DAY 2

Up early to­day to visit the Hamil­ton Gar­dens (voted by the In­ter­na­tional Gar­den Tourism Net­work as In­ter­na­tional Gar­den of the Year for 2014 – a cov­eted ac­co­lade). Pass­ing through the main gates and ad­mir­ing the stunning stone cloak from ac­claimed artist Chris Booth, I sense that this place is some­thing quite spe­cial. The gar­den col­lec­tions are truly out­stand­ing, and as I pass through each gate­way a new vis­ual ex­pe­ri­ence awaits. The re­cently com­pleted Tu­dor gar­den (as part of the fan­tasy col­lec­tion) is a vis­ual and cere­bral feast of geo­met­ric pat­terns and dou­ble mean­ing sym­bol­ism. Cer­tainly the cou­ple of hours al­lo­cated was not nearly enough to truly ap­pre­ci­ate the va­ri­ety of plant­ings or vast­ness of the com­plex.

It’s time to hit the road and travel fur­ther along the Ther­mal Ex­plorer High­way to­wards Ro­torua. The prospect of vis­it­ing the Hob­biton Movie Set, where they filmed the Shire from The Lord of the Rings Tril­ogy and The Hob­bit, is ex­cit­ing. It feels like I am tak­ing a walk through Mid­dle-earth it­self with all the green­ery and gor­geous dwellings wo­ven or­gan­i­cally into the rolling land­scape. You need to al­low a cou­ple of hours to re­ally take it all in. Too soon, it’s time to head off again. I still have an­other 45 min­utes to go to reach the next des­ti­na­tion – Ro­torua – New Zealand’s long­est es­tab­lished tourism hub and home to some very im­pres­sive geo­ther­mal ac­tiv­ity. It’s a pleas­antly scenic cruise to the All Sea­sons Hol­i­day Park, where I park up the “Rocket” for the night.

“THE SCENERY OF ROLLING GREEN HILLS AND PAS­TURE SYN­ONY­MOUS WITH THE HAMIL­TON AND WAIKATO RE­GION IS PIC­TURE-PER­FECT

DAY 3

Af­ter a rest­ful sleep, I wake feel­ing ex­cited in an­tic­i­pa­tion of ex­plor­ing Ro­torua. This town has long been on the in­ter­na­tional vis­i­tor radar due to the unique geo­ther­mal ac­tiv­ity and Maori cul­tural of­fer­ings. Vis­i­tors here are truly spoilt for choice, with moun­tain bik­ing, con­tem­po­rary cul­tural ex­pe­ri­ences, adventure ac­tiv­i­ties, zi­plin­ing, cruis­ing, and fan­tas­tic walk­ing also on of­fer.

I de­cide to go zi­plin­ing, as it has been highly rec­om­mended to me, and is some­thing I have never done be­fore! The guides bring the for­est to life on a three-hour adventure in­clud­ing fly­ing foxes, walk­ing tracks and suspended bridges. It was a priv­i­lege to see some of New Zealand’s last rem­nants of un­touched na­tive for­est and hear pro­lific bird song.

On a high af­ter my zi­pline adventure, I take time to re­lax and re­live the mo­ment over a long lunch. It is late af­ter­noon by the time I make my way to my next des­ti­na­tion along the Ther­mal High­way; the Lake­side town of Taupo. Lake Taupo is New Zealand’s largest lake and dom­i­nates the views from this pic­turesque re­gion. Sim­ply stunning!

DAY 4

The next morn­ing a long list of ideas swirls in my head. I strike out for the fa­mous Huka Falls, a place I have of­ten heard of but never seen. The beauty of the wa­ter, as it cas­cades over the fa­mous falls in a thun­dery wet ca­coph­ony of al­most fright­en­ing pro­por­tions, is mes­mer­iz­ing. The power comes from the Waikato River (nor­mally 100m wide) be­ing squeezed through a 20-me­tre wide gorge and over a 20-me­tre drop.

Next on my agenda is a chance to get up close and per­sonal with the falls in a Huka Jet­boat. The ride is in­cred­i­ble, and the ex­cite­ment filled half-hour flies by. The back­drop to the to the trip is beau­ti­ful na­tive for­est, cliff faces and nat­u­ral hot springs and thanks to the tiered seats ev­ery­one has a great view. Our ex­pert driver skims past the cliffs and plays in the tail of the pow­er­ful falls fin­ish­ing up with an ex­hil­a­rat­ing 360-de­gree spin that has me grin­ning for the rest of the day!

DAY 5

Up early to­day to make my way to the Ruapehu Re­gion via the Vol­canic Loop High­way - an ab­so­lute haven for hik­ing, bik­ing and snow sports! It’s home to the Ton­gariro Na­tional Park, a dual World Her­itage Park and home to the won­der­ful Turoa and Whaka­papa ski-fields in the win­ter months.

I am not plan­ning to moun­tain bike or ski or have my­self sorted to tackle the out­stand­ing Ton­gariro Alpine Cross­ing (a 19km full day walk); I do how­ever find my­self drawn to the Na­tional Army Mu­seum. 2015 is the 100-year com­mem­ora-

tion of World War I, and I feel like it is time for a change of pace. The per­ma­nent ex­hibits and cur­rent ex­hi­bi­tions are com­pletely en­thralling. Cer­tainly a very mem­o­rable and en­gag­ing ex­pe­ri­ence and an op­por­tu­nity for some quiet con­tem­pla­tion. Af­ter an hour and a half at the Mu­seum, it’s time to con­tinue on my jour­ney. I en­counter the charm­ing town of Ohakune which is a mecca for skiers over win­ter, and af­ter a spec­tac­u­lar alpine walk in the af­ter­noon shadow of Mt Ruapehu, I set­tle in for a very pleas­ant evening in the Na­tional Park Vil­lage.

DAY 6

To com­plete the Ther­mal Ex­plorer High­way to­day, I am trav­el­ling to Hawke’s Bay. The route turns out to be a pic­turesque and pleas­ant drive with its chang­ing vis­tas of moun­tains, lakes, farms and for­est. I head to­wards the coast and Napier, the stunning Art Deco cap­i­tal of New Zealand. Napier was re­built fol­low­ing the dev­as­tat­ing earth­quakes of 1931, and con­se­quently hosts a stunning ar­ray of Art Deco ar­chi­tec­ture. Tak­ing in the ar­chi­tec­tural high­lights of this town on foot is a fas­ci­nat­ing in­sight into the Art Deco era. The high­light is the fab­u­lous Mu­nic­i­pal Theatre with its lush in­te­rior.

It is time for lunch, and I join a win­ery tour with Grape Es­cape to par­take in some of the fresh food and wine that this re­gion is so well known for. What a fab­u­lous way to spend the af­ter­noon with like-minded peo­ple en­joy­ing good com­pany and the very best food and wine. The drive through the stunning scenery is re­lax­ing as we are in­tro­duced to four winer­ies. Life can’t get any bet­ter than en­joy­ing a cheese plat­ter be­side the lily pond at the beau­ti­ful Ngatarawa Vine­yard. It is with a warm heart that I re­lax and con­tem­plate all I have seen and done as I trav­elled the Ther­mal Ex­plorer High­way, and my only re­gret is that I did not have more time!

The Tu­dor Gar­den, at Hamil­ton Gar­dens

Huka Falls, Lake Taupo

Napier ar­chi­tec­ture

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