I’m so glad I bought a jacket in Rotorua, because when we walk outside, the lodge is surrounded in white fog and there’s frost on the ground. It is bitterly cold, and we’re all but running in between the kitchen and the bedrooms for food.
Since we can’t visit the children this morning, Nats has an alternative for us – going to swim in a natural hot spring. Turns out this is Kerosene Creek, which I’ve visited before, but anything that could warm me up is a blessing right now (my feet are forgetting what it is to be warm).
It’s about 50 minutes to get to the creek, and everyone gets a little lost as they don’t actually know what area is ‘the creek’ – walking along a lot further than they need to, before turning round and hitting the pool with the waterfall. I’m second one in, desperate to warm up.
Unfortunately, even the sulphur waters are affected by the weather, as the creek is nowhere near as warm as it was on my first visit. It’s more lukewarm, and a little disappointing. I made do though by finding the spots with extremely hot sand and digging in my feet, letting them finally warm up. Try to get under the waterfall as well, but misstep and fall in a little deeper than I wanted. Getting sulphur water in your nose is one of the worst things you can do, so spent a good ten minutes trying to blow it out.
When it was time to leave, we were all faced with the worst part of this trip. Getting out of the hot water and having to dry ourselves in the frosty wind and get our towels covered with dirt since our swimsuits were now filled with dirt and stones. On the plus side, don’t think any of us have gotten changed that quickly in our lives – though everyone’s dreaming of clean showers at our night stop.
Today we spend the afternoon in Taupo, where people can skydive or bungee dump – it’s the cheapest place in New Zealand to do it, but still way out of my price change, especially as Nat’s just warned us that the Tongariro crossing needs a guide in winter, and will cost us $135 (plus up to $40 for hiring gear we don’t have). I had no idea it was going to cost money, and I’m now drastically looking at my funds and trying to figure out if I can afford it. I’ll be down to noodles and bread by the time I get my next pay check, but I might just be able to do it. Wish someone had mentioned this earlier though – I would have skipped surfing and given myself that extra cash as a buffer – Stray is really bad at telling us how much extras are going to cost until it’s too late to budget.
The skydivers are picked up from the Huka Falls, the most photographed waterfall in New Zealand – and is so powerful you could fill 5 Olympic swimming pools with the water that goes over it each minute. It’s also home to some of the bluest water I’ve even seen – its spectacular as well as extremely dangerous. The strength of it is also why you never find eels in Lake Taupo, which it feeds into – it’s too powerful for them to swim up for spawning.
Taupo is situated on the lake, which is bigger than Singapore. It’s also 90% outdoor shops as far as I could tell, and those of us not jumping out of planes were given just under 2 hours to explore. Most of us were still suffering from the cold (which was worse for everyone heading South as they would be skiing), and went shopping for additional clothes. I ended up buying a pair of thermal leggings, some gloves and a scarf to tide me over, while everyone else was buying coats and extra gear.
I also split off to check out one of the most interesting McDonalds in the world – one that has an airplane attached to it –
Before wandering down to the lake. The water is unbelievably clear, and so calm it’s almost a perfect reflection. I would love to spend a few days just walking around here, but sadly don’t have the time. I at least get to see it on a beautiful day since the rain’s stopped.
Once everyone’s back at the bus, we go to pick up the skydivers, and to everyone’s delight, A&B hop off, choosing not to go to our next stop. They’ll be back for the National Park, but at least we get a short break from them. Now we have a good 2 hours of driving to reach our next destination in the National Park, which gives us some pretty spectacular views of Lake Taupo and the mountain ranges. Ironically, this is the main road from Auckland to Wellington despite its windiness. When the American military was here, they were getting bored and offered to build a motorway between the 2 cities, but the offer was refused as the government didn’t think they’d need it. It’s still considered one of the biggest construction mistakes New Zealand ever made!
The last hour of driving takes place on one of the windiest and bumpiest roads I’ve ever been on. Blue Duck Lodge is pretty much the furthest farm out in the park, with the rest of them having long since given up. It’s so remote that the Stray bus even has to pick up laundry from the nearby town as they refuse to deliver so far out. Once you manage the hour of gravel road hooked on the edge of mountains though, you come across the farm, nestled in the valley.
Although it does cater to tourists, Blue Duck Lodge is still a working farm as well as a conservationist area, so there’s a lot going on. Our bus was even delayed by a traditional New Zealand traffic jam – a herd of sheep being guided from one area to another. The main building is home to the café, where we pay for food, rooms and activities.
(This is by far the most expensive item on Stray’s list, and I had no idea until I got there. Rooms cost $30, and we stay 2 nights, dinner costs $13, dessert an additional $5, and only one activity costs less than $130 – Clay Pidgeon Shooting, which is still $40. Needless to say, there’s a lot of self-catering going on for breakfast and lunch).
We’re staying in the ‘Warriors Lodge’ building, which is close to the entrance and comes with plenty of toilets, showers, a kitchen and three bedrooms with bunk beds. I grab one of the smaller rooms and only have to share with 2 other people (since we’re a small bus, everyone gets a bottom bunk, which goes down well), and settle in before everyone heads over to the café for dinner.
As this is a conservationist area, they make a point of using whatever they can. Goat hunting is one of the activities offered by the lodge, as the goats in the mountains are a pest and cause problems for the local birds (the endangered blue duck and the kiwi). They never kill more than they can use though, and goat meat is used in most of the meals. Tonight, it was goat stew, with roast carrots, parsnips, fresh bread and rice.
I don’t normally eat goat, but this stew was fantastic! The chef was Argentinian, and he definitely knew how to cook. It was savoury and soft, with the meat falling apart in my mouth. The bread went down best though – everyone loved the taste of it, especially as it had literally just come out of the oven. It was also his birthday, so after dessert (which I elected not to buy), everyone sang happy birthday and got given a piece of his (pink!) birthday cake, handed out by his adorable 3-year-old daughter Nina (who essentially got adopted by one of the girls on the trip and would not leave her side all night).
Once we’d eaten (and enjoyed the novelty of NOT having to do our own dishes, we all headed back to our lodge and huddled around the fire. We first started playing Uno, before someone dug out the ‘Heads Up’ app on their phone. If you’ve never played, the person holding the phone picks a genre, then puts the phone to their forehead. The answer is displayed on the screen, and everyone playing has to either explain what it is or act it out or do something to describe the answer to the phone holder, without actually using the words in the title or rhyming it out. It’s a lot of fun, even with people who can’t speak English all that well – animals, landmarks and Disney were definitely the most popular, though people had a lot of fun with accents and the 90’s too.
Once the phones started running out of battery though, everyone started considering bed – which was crazy considering it was barely past 9:30, yet everyone was exhausted. Eventually, the allure of having a really, really good long lie was too much to resist, and everyone crashed for the night. I don’t have to be up until 1pm for clay shooting, so I can really enjoy the morning.