The morning riding to Rotorua Eal had an empty stomach, I was trucking on P+J sarnies again but still welcomed the unexpected cafe along the narrow highway which we were riding along with some morning traffic. I managed to briefly speak to my dad over a bad line to wish him happy birthday, 10am New Zealand time is 10pm back home so I caught him just before bed.
We hit some back roads for the second half of the ride through blueberry wine country, which I passed up trying. A great downhill through dense forest brought us out on the edge of Lake Rotorua, nice and flat to the town centre where we located the backpackers in town we had reserved. The town is situated on a thermal hotbed, strong sulphur smells waft through the air which takes some adjustment.
We spent an extra day in Rotorua to take in some of the local walking trails the town had to offer around the lake and local thermal activity. We also visited a Maori village, unfortunately we missed one of the daily shows, however walking round the village was still interesting enough. Away from the town centre Rotorua is transformed into a colourful blooming wonderland, a really beautiful place. At the backpackers in town we had been cooking big meals in the large kitchen area and had a great talk with a Scottish dentist currently travelling who had lots of tips for the south island.
The lodge handed out a coupon for each guest to get a $1 wine at a local bar. Me an Eal visited later that evening, it was a great place with live band on. We asked for the house red BEFORE brandishing our coupons, I doubt we would have received such a generous glass full otherwise. Rotorua was a good choice, pronounced Ro-taw-ua, unlike elsewhere in the country for some reason they roll the second ‘r’. Additionally I learned that in New Zealand ‘wh’ is spoken as an ‘f’, for example Whangarei is pronounced Fangarei, odd.
Leaving town we were unexpectedly treated to a bike path which would keep us off the main highway for around 10 miles. The scenery was so spectacular I was having a hard time getting any miles done stopping every quarter mile to marvel and take pictures of the hills and fields surrounding me. Bang on route was the ‘Thermal Wonderland’ Wai O Tapu. A leaflet I picked up in Rotorua depicted yellowstone-esque pools that seemed to good to miss. They charge $30 at the entrance . It seemed very excessive, natural wonders should be free, or at least a very small fee to support maintenance if it will enhance the experience. It was a decent 3km walking loop, comparing it to Yellowstone is probably the difference between Flamingo Land and Disney land though.
Afterward we rode on to Reporoa where I scored a dairy fix with some great ice cream, so good I immediately returned to the store for seconds, the lady gave me extra big scoops to satisfy me. We finished the ride in Taupo, the town by Lake Taupo, camping at a holiday park. A sunny Friday evening it filled up quickly with families and many BBQ’s going strong. I felt like a grandad getting in my tent at 9pm as kids were still running riot full of beans. Sleepyhead.
Waking to rain pattering on my tent I wasn’t sure I was ready to get up. We have hardly had a morning since May we have had to wake and pack in rain. It didn’t stop and was only getting heavier. After loading up quickly we hit town for breakfast and managed to put off hitting the road as long as possible. Soaked within seconds of riding I could feel the squelch in my shoes everytime I pushed down on.
To paint a mental imagine of us riding on highway 1, if you have ever seen a huge lorry plough through a puddle creating a wave of water that drenches a pedestrian, we were that pedestrian been sprayed over and over again. At a cafe about 30 miles in I was already thinking Turangi, just halfway through our intended mileage, would be a good option for the day. Eal obliged and we pulled into the town 13 km later to find the information centre which pointed us in the direction of the A Plus Samurai lodge backpackers.
What an awesome little place it was! Tucked away in the back streets of the small town, the complex was comprised of several small buildings each of which had unique and quirky artwork on the inside and the outside. It was a family owned place and Ian the owner was very funny. I spent that night in the lounge area by the fire with all the other guests, super warm and comfortable in a big old armchair.
The following morning the forecast looked grim again, ‘The Big Wet’ as New Zealand news is reporting it with more gale force winds coming. I had asked Ian the previous night if people had trouble leaving the place and now I was. I quickly decided to stay another day and Eal was keen on the idea of cooking up a Sunday dinner. The lodge makes for great people watching, the current crop consisted of Germans, Slovenians, Israelis and Indians.
On the evening I found myself flanked by Ian’s 2 kids Jackson and Sarah. We laughed and joked around all night. I looked around the rest of the filled room and wondered why they had picked me out for fun. I had a happy realisation that all the years growing up with younger brothers, they were similar age to Will, had given me a special ability to connect and entertain with them effortlessly which they were extremely receptive to. I was happy to make them laugh given it was a Sunday which marked the end of the long NZ school holidays, first day back for them tomorrow!