The next day it was hard to pack up and leave our room and the wonderful town of Napier behind, but we had to go home! Earlier we’d entertained the idea of spending the night in Gisbourne, another east coast city, and driving home on Monday; however, we found out that the road out, through a national park, was 100 kilometers of narrow gravel road. After the weekend in Napier we were too relaxed to want to endure several hours of white-knuckle driving, so we decided to beat the traffic, head back to Auckland early, and spend the Monday continuing to take it easy.
We headed out the way we came in, past the Waipunga Falls again, but then detoured to head around the south of Lake Taupo. This lake is by far the largest in New Zealand (I read somewhere that it’s the same size as Singapore) and was quite impressive as we watched it pass outside the window. Many people were enjoying the holiday on the lake: boating and fishing seemed to be popular.
Our main motivation for choosing this route surprisingly wasn’t looking at Lake Taupo, it was to stop at Lake Rotopounamu. This is a small mountain lake with a walking track around it and a few nice, sandy beaches. A short hike with a good spot for lunch sounded ideal. To get there, we climbed into the mountains south of Lake Taupo, granting us even better views of the vast lake:
For those who know their NZ geography, you will have recognized that we were very close to Tongariro National Park. In fact, we could nearly see the path that we’d walked down only a few weeks before!
Our destination was much less desolate than the crossing, and much less arduous. The 20-minute uphill track to the lake was well-forested, and we saw many other people, mostly families, hiking up to do the easy 90-minute loop of the lake. We were feeling a bit lazy and were also under a bit of time pressure, so we stopped at the first beach (sensibly called Five Minute Beach, as it was that far along the loop trail).
Sadly, although the guidebook and the signs along the trail promised many forest birds lived here we didn’t see much even though we lingered on the shore until the sun finally hid permanently behind cloud and the hills. We did hear the odd call though, so perhaps we were just there during their siesta.
The trip was not bird-free however, as some inquisitive ducks wandered over. I was excited to see they were native grey ducks– it was easy to tell as they came right up to us, although they lost interest in us fast once they realized shoes are inedible!
We were also entertained by a cormorant circling around and diving, and several scaups and dabchicks slowly paddling around the middle of the lake. Nothing came too close, though, as our beach kept being taken over by groups of excited children and their parents. I imagine it’s a perfect Easter hike with the family!
We didn’t linger too long at the lake, as we still had a long way to go to get back to Auckland. We weren’t quite done with the water features during the trip, though, as not long after leaving Lake Rotopounamu we drove over a large dam:
This isn’t too unusual an occurrence for the area; the whole Tongariro/Lake Taupo region is riddled with hydroelectric stations, although a lot of them are hidden in tunnels. New Zealand is big on renewable energy and very against nuclear power, which makes a lot of sense for such a geologically active country.
After the dam, it was a long drive home. There was one more photo op, though: it rained just before the sun fully set, and as rain and sun often mix in NZ, we were treated to a lovely Easter rainbow, just like last year:
We got home after dark, tired but very happy after a wonderful weekend out, and we even had one more day off after all that. It was the best vacation we’d had in quite a while!