Once back on N Island we were billeted again by the Havelock North families. This time our day with their school group was more informal as they were in their Easter break. We started with a trip to the local chocolate factory (a certainty to go down well). Time was then spent in Napier, known for its Art Deco architecture after the re-building in the 1920’s following a massive earthquake. We then went indoor rock climbing followed by orienteering in a maize maze.
Saying farewell to the families we set off the next day to Taupo, whose lake is the remains of an old volcano. The lake is 25 x 17 miles in size – it must have been a huge explosion 1800 years ago! At Taupo we went on a riverjet which took us to the spectacular thermal area of Orakei Korako. This was our first chance to see any thermal areas as our trip to Rotorua had been cancelled due to our delayed arrival. We were able to walk around bubbling mudpools and belching fumaroles. The journey back on the riverjet took half the time and involved many 360 degree Hamilton spins. Everyone got suitably wet!
All this excitement brought us to one of the anticipated highlights of the tour – the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. This 11 mile, 8 hour walk is considered to be the best day walk in NZ. With 2500 feet of ascent we climbed over lava fields, crossed a crater floor, skirted active geothermal areas, passed beautiful and serene emerald and blue lakes and had the opportunity to ascend the cinder cone of Mount Ngauruhoe. Or rather that is how the guide book described it.
Experiencing our only bad weather day in 3 weeks we might as well have been walking in the Lake District. With low cloud, rain and strong winds we saw very little, but it was atmospheric!! Our 2 NZ guides did try to tell us what we were passing and we were aware that we were traversing a mountain massif, but apart from the lava and cinder under our feet and the crater edges we were only really able to notice the scrub and tussocks as we descended back into virgin bush. To rub salt into the wound the next day again saw clear blue skies as we travelled past the massif towards Wellington. Even from the road it looked impressive and it only means that we will have to come back to do it again.
We now headed to the final part of the tour – NZ North Island Schools Champs.