We awake to rain. It had to happen sooner or later. The weather for our first week was outstanding. The good news is that the rain seems to have freshened the air and I don’t smell the sulfur as much as we load the car to start our day’s adventure. Today we will drive to Napier but along the way we have some interesting stops planned starting with a stop in the area where some of the filming for the Hobbit was done.
It is only 9:15 when we arrive at the Aratiatia Dam on the Waikato River. It sits above the Aratiatia Rapids which are pretty dry at the moment. Three or four times a day, the spillways of the dam are opened and the water cascades down 28 meters in a one kilometer area. Since we have some time before the scheduled 10 a.m. release, we walk over the bridge that is situated right in front of the spillways to get a feel for the area. Then we see the signs for two different viewing areas—a high point and a mid-point. We decide we have time to check them both our and find the one we like.After hiking all the way up and getting a great panoramic view of the rapids, we decide we like the mid-point better. It’s a little closer to the action. Bob takes the lower part of the viewing area and I stand on the upper part. He’s taking video and is excited for it to begin. At 8 minutes before the hour, a siren sounds warning. Three more sirens at 2 minute intervals and suddenly we see the spillways begin to open.
It takes a little while for the water to pool near the spillways but soon we see it cascading over the rocks headed for us. We are well above the wet zone. You can see the level the water reaches by looking at where the moss has washed away. Everything in this area is mossy. Is it any wonder the film makers chose it?The Hobbit film crew dropped around 25 barrels down the rapids from the dam’s spill gate each time there was a dam release. You can see it in the scene where Bilbo Baggins rescues the dwarfs from elves by hiding them in barrels that float downstream. No actors or stunt crew were actually in the barrels. Guess I have to see the movie now.
From the dam, it is just a short drive to our next stop, Huka Falls. Did I mention it was a rainy morning? Thankfully we get a bit of a reprieve while at the dam but the drizzle is a little heavier as we get out of the car to see the falls. I toss on my all-weather coat with a hood and hope it will keep me dry enough.
We cross over a bridge above the falls and it looks like a raging river. The Waikato River is one of the most voluminous and funnels into a narrow channel here before plunging over a 20 foot shelf. I haven’t seen water move this fast or powerfully since standing next to Niagara Falls. Looking at the actual falls on the other side makes me question just where all that water could go. Is it any wonder that the dam down river needs to be opened several times a day? Needless to say, there is a lot of hydroelectric power generated by this river. As a matter of fact, one of the signs we read says that it generates 15% of all power in New Zealand. Wow.Leaving the falls area, the rain comes down a little harder. We find our way to another nearby attraction, the Craters of the Moon. It is a thermal area that was activated in the 1950s when the geothermal power station in Wairakei was constructed. Somehow it changed the underground structure and this area became active. While it steams and there are some pots of bubbling mud, it isn’t as fascinating as the thermal area at Wai-O-Tapu was and once the rain starts in earnest, the 45 minute walk isn’t quite as much fun. My all weather coat is drenched by the time we get to the car and both of us have wet jeans from the knees down.
Not finding a stop for lunch, we break out a bag of potato chips and a Coke I have in the insulated bag. By the time we are through the bag of chips, we see a sign for a small café. What catches our eye is “Cream Tea.” But when we pull in and go inside, the homemade tomato soup sounds like a better choice. It turns out to be great tomato soup. Definitely not Campbell’s. While we finish our soup, the sun pokes out for a few minutes and we hope for a better afternoon drive.Alas we arrive in Napier in the rain and slosh about a bit at first but eventually, the sun does come out and the rain dwindles. We find a café and enjoy some coffee and free internet! One of the maps we’ve picked up from the information center shows an overlook a short drive up a hill at one end of town. We still need to kill some time before we check in to our B and B.
The view from the lookout is spectacular with the sun shining and warming us. We look down on the port area of Napier and discover the place where all the logging trucks have been going. The docks are full of pine logs and as we watch, one truck pulls up to a huge picker that takes his load and puts it on a pile of logs.
We had no idea that New Zealand exported so much wood. Their forested areas are harvested and then replanted and during the week we have been driving part of the North Island, we have seen mature forests, harvested forests, and newly planted forests. And lots and lots of logging trucks around every twist and turn in the road. Quite a challenge to a driver used to driving on the right instead of the left.After checking into the Mon Logis B and B, we set out to find the Turkish restaurant that our host has recommended. We find it and order two different lamb dishes. Both are served over rice but one is spicy. Both have thin sliced lamb like what you would find in gyros. Not what we expected but it is good.
The town of Napier is pretty quiet as we walk back to our B and B. We’ve found that most of the towns so far have closed up by five or six in the afternoon. Several food stores, the larger ones, stay open a while longer and some of the restaurants but they close on odd days of the week sometimes. Our feet drag a bit as we near the Mon Logis. I’m hoping to have enough energy left to make it up the narrow stairs to our room.