Taupo to Tauranga (Bay of Plenty, New Zealand)

After a late night completing the puzzle we are both slow to get going in the morning. Besides, the bach is so peaceful. We drive into Taupo to use some wifi and confirm the address of our Couch Surfing host tonight. Later we will discover I wrote the address down incorrectly but, for now, we feel secure in knowing where we will sleep tonight and set off north out of Taupo.

Not far out of town we pick up a British man who is hitch hiking his way to the Bay of Plenty. We offer to take him as far as the coast and then he will need to find another lift for the final short drive south to the town he is headed to. He accepts and our drive becomes quite a social affair. I never used to pick up hitch hikers because, in Australia, we are taught hitch hikers are dangerous and likely to murder or rob you. In fact, in any states, hitch hiking may even be illegal. But I changed my mind in Hungary some years ago when I met a man who had hitch hiked the world and told me of how fun it was. Since then I have met other lovely hitch hikers and now have no qualms if the person looks okay. It helps out the hitch hiker and it creates new human contacts for us in a disconnected world.

Rotorua comes and goes. We had thought about stopping but it looks like the sort of town that has worked out how to take our money quite quickly for relatively little reward. That’s the thing about New Zealand, it’s an expensive country to travel. Food is expensive; even vegetables are more expensive than in over priced Australia. Accommodation is not too bad if you stick with Air BnB, which is a thriving industry here. But everything that can be seen and done is captured by tourism operators and, because people pay, the cost of paying is quite high. That said, if you stay away from the Rotoruas of New Zealand you can still enjoy a good budget holiday like we are.

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We see a sign to Okere Falls. With all the rain we’ve experienced that sounds like a promising prospect.  And it is. The walk to the falls is relatively short. This used to be a place Europeans came to in the early days of tourism. And we still come. It is possible to book a rafting trip here or to watch the rafts descend the falls. But none appears to be departing for our viewing pleasure today. Possibly due to the high water levels after Cyclones Debbie and Cook. We explore the paths and walk down to a cave right near the base of one of the falls. Maori people used to hide in this cave to escape battles, particularly women, children and elderly who were not fighting. It’s loud in the cave as water rushes under the rock. Further down the path we come to a pool where water is churning a rope swing hangs from a tree. I wonder whether this is for rescue purposes or whether locals swim here. Surely the former I still more likely.

We drop our Englishman at the motorway and turn north while he travels south.
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Before long we are in Tauranga parking near a beach on a beautiful sunny day. It’s only about 21’C (70F) but feels like summer. It’s amazing how quickly the body adjusts to new surrounds. While we don’t swim we do take a short walk along a rocky outcrop to take in the views and watch the surfers riding waves. It feels good to be at a white sand beach again after the black sand ones we’ve been to. Somehow it feels more “normal” and safe. That’s silly because volcanic sand itself doesn’t make a beach more or less dangerous than any other. But still, black sand beaches feel somehow more dangerous. Probably due to the colour of the water and a perception of what could be lurking below the surface.
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We eventually find our Couch Surfing hosts’ house after writing down to the incorrect address. Rachel is an awesome host. We spend the night sharing stories and eating food. Paul and I commandeer the kitchen, for which we are grateful because we have lots of left over groceries we won’t be able to use for the next two days and it feels good to share with our hosts who are so generous to let us stay in their homes and share their lives for a night or two. And, in this case, to share the most amazing ocean views.

While we didn’t do much sightseeing today, we did share the day with two awesome new people and that makes it a pretty special and awesome day.