On the way out of Rotorua we headed to the Waimangu Volcanic Valley, a hydrothermal system created by the eruption of the nearby Mount Tarawera in 1886. The system includes Frying pan lake, the world’s largest hot spring, and Inferno Crater Lake, the largest geyser like feature in the world. We did the self guided hike from the top of the valley down, stopping often to admire the unique textures created by the hydrothermal system. We jumped in the car and started on our way to Napier when the unexpected struck… We had a GPS and tour guide system which told us about the features and history of each area as we drove through. So when we started on our way to Napier we were a little perplexed when it was trying to take us through private land. Neither of us had any reception and we figured it would just take us another route once we kept going. It sure did. The road became quieter, and eventually it just became a gravel road winding down around the side of a mountain. There were numerous tree and rock falls which partially covered the road and were difficult to navigate in our little hatchback. The sun had started to set, the fog had set in and it had begun to rain. We figured that soon it must pop out onto another highway and we would be back on the way. But it didn’t. By waiting so long we had now reached the point of no turning back.
The GPS had rerouted us through Te Urewera National Park, a 4 hour detour through the wildest and least populated parts of New Zealand.We became increasingly sure a tree or rock fall would have fully blocked the road and we would be stuck there. With night falling, no food, no water, no reception, no one knowing we were there, the gas tank running low, it is probably the most scared I have been in my life. We just kept driving and hoping that at some point the GPS would put us back on an actual road.
And eventually it did. We got into Napier at 10 pm and I have never been so happy to reach civilization again. That detour definitely covered all the adventure I wanted from our trip.
Napier – and the Hawke’s Bay area – are known for being a premier wine producers and we wanted to sample some of the local produce. So we headed to New Zealand’s oldest winery, Mission Estate, established by French missionaries in 1851. The estate is beautiful, an old white manor with a large outdoor dining space and a view out over the vineyards. We went to the cellar door to sample all the wines, picked up a few bottles for family and friends and stayed for lunch.
After relaxing and getting our breath back after our little adventure in the national park, it was time to head onwards to Wellington and get the ferry to the south island.
Next Stop: Wellington, the ferry, Christchurch and Franz Josef