Saturday, May 27, 2006

Touring Taupo

We slept in a little (it was nice), and had toast and muslix and apples for breakfast. There was a jar of Vegemite on the table and I was curious just what it tasted like. So I spread a little on my bread, and in one bite was able to decide that I would not be eating any more of that. It's a yeast spread that tastes just like it sounds.

Bob took us to the 'Craters of the moon' which was on the other side of town. En route, we passed 'the Taupo Floatplane,' apparently the only one in town by the singular nature of the sign text. The craters were just about what you'd expect thermally active land to look like. One big crater had a discarded subway cup and a golf ball in it...the price of free admission. It was getting near noon and a downpour started. This was heavier than any we'd been out in on this trip, so Bob's hustle to the car seemed a little frantic but understandable.

What I came to find out though, is that at noon the hydroelectric dam opens up on one of the rivers and floods over 30 feet in only a few minutes...when the gate closes it subsides again. So we were racing against the clock to get in position before the 'show' begins. We arrived just as the alarms and flashing yellow lights went off, telling everyone to get out of the way. We ran to the side of the bridge and watched the increasing flow ill the riverbed. The water kept increasing, covering the plants and trees that had managed to find a home on the frequently submerged banks. The river before us was transformed from large, dry rocks to might rapids before our eyes. We also learned that this exact location was used in the Lord of the Rings movie, when the river floods.
From the river, we drove to a binary power plant that took geothermal heat and powered a turbine system. The pipes for steam stretched across the land like shiny trees that had been cut down to clear a grassy spot in the valley. We drove around the complex and saw all manner of parallel and interwoven steam pipes. Having our fill of technology, we drove over to Huka Falls, a massive river channeled in a tight chasm. The resulting waterfall was a bright blue cascade that glowed in the sun. It would have been perfect in a bottled water commercial because it looked like you could dip your cup in the stream and parch your thirst. Which we had, since it was past lunchtime and we were a little dehydrated.

I asked if we could stop for some food, to which Bob relied "Try sucking on a rock for a little while more." A funny way to say "wait a little longer" but only later did I get that it was a two-fold joke. But before I did, I was sitting in the car as we drove along, past pasture after pasture, meadow after meadow, until we all of a sudden stopped and turned around, driving about 50 m before pulling off the road. It was at this point that both Kacey and I had the same thought: "If this were a movie, this is the part where we die." But when I opened my door, I saw small obsidian gravel underfoot. This was apparently one of the few places that a naturally occurring obsidian outcropping is visible. We climbed up on the side of the highway to have a look. Pretty spectacular, this glassy black rock surrounded by green and brown of the hill.

Then we drove on some more, but my stomach was growling so I was a bit distracted. We arrived back at the Hopkins' around 4pm, having skipped lunch entirely. We (Kacey and I) headed to town to shop and get a snack at McDonald's. We stopped into their grocery store looking for some nacho chips, but they simply didn't carry any that weren't flavored. It was our thought that we'd have nachos for the pre-game of the Super 14 rugby championship broadcast, between the Wellington Hurricanes and the Canterbury Crusaders. It's like the US Superbowl, in this case with two teams from the same state. South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand all have teams in the tournament, but the final was all-kiwi. The catch today was that the stadium was so foggy that it was impossible to see across the short side of the field. The camera in the highest part of the stadium showed solid white. The field cameras covered about halfway. It was like this for the entire 80 minutes. Oh, and more wine.

After the game, we talked about where we were from with the help of an atlas. It was about 11pm when we finally called it a night, fat & happy from a delicious corned beef and veg dinner (and more wine). We packed our stuff and made plans to be on the road at 0900 tomorrow, as it's about 5.5 hours to Wellington and our car has trouble reaching the speed limit going up hills unless we shift into third gear. We had to decide between a wine route or a shore route and figured the wineries would be closed on Sunday by the time we get there.

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