7-9/1/16. The “obvious” route to Rotorua was along SH5 but Christine spotted an alternative which involved only a couple of km before turning onto a minor road. When we got to the turning we were a little concerned to see ”No Exit” so Stephen knocked on the door of a nearby house and was told that it turned into a bush road so we wouldn’t get through. Hearing thus we figured that it would probably be passable as we have fairly robust bikes and tyres – not mountain bikes but not skinny, lightweight racing bikes either. About 5 km further on, and after some climbing, a bloke riding a tractor said there was a locked gate ahead because the Dept of Forestry are concerned about fire risk but he said that a few years ago police directed traffic along the road when there was an accident on the highway. So we figured we would get through.
We soon came to the gate and managed to get round it easily. The surface quickly deteriorated though into a loose gravel with large stones. This made Christine somewhat nervous given her experience on a slightly dodgy surface and with the track continuing to climb steeply at times she did a lot of walking. In fact she walked the best part of 14km!! Obviously this made for slow going – but Stephen wasn’t going much faster as he was finding it tough going too. Eventually we made it to a surface that, although not made up, was more stable and we could make better time. Then, thank goodness, we reached tarmac! And after a level stretch the long downhill started! Bliss!!
Lake Rotorua hove into view and we were soon at our destination for the night, Ngongotaha, just north of the city of Rotorua. The campsite was a very reasonable $17 per night each (including Wifi) and, although the actual pitch we were allocated was a little ropy, the showers were warm and the usual pasta and tomato sauce was very welcome (once we had battled our way past half a dozen young French lads recharging a multitude of electronic gizmos!).
We had been warned that the weather was going to take a turn for the worse overnight and so it proved. There were a few light showers in the night and when we woke in the morning the clouds looked pretty threatening. We caught the bus into Rotorua to do some shopping for essentials – tent pegs, bags for the sheet sleeping bags and spare sandals for Christine. We bought a pair of Keen sandals before we left the UK last April having read several excellent reports of them from world travellers (not all of them cyclists) and we have been really impressed with them. We have both worn them most days ever since, apart from when the weather got colder in the last few weeks we were in the UK, and the only drawback is the strange tan lines you get on your feet!
(Apologies if you were eating when you saw that! Stephen’s feet are not things of beauty at the best of times!)
After all this wear some straps on Christine’s are starting to fray and so we bought her another pair to go in the panniers for when they give up the ghost.
We also went into the tourist information office where an extremely helpful lady gave us some maps and talked through the route to Taupo. Afterwards we went into a travel agent to talk about changing our flights out of NZ. Even though there was no business in the conversation for her the lady couldn’t have been more helpful. Exemplary customer service from both. Thanks.
While we were walking around the shops the showers had continued off and on but when we sat down in a cafe the heavens opened. We were very grateful that we were under cover and just prayed that our little tent was OK back at the campsite. The really heavy stuff didn’t last too long but the showers continued well into the evening and by the time we got back to the campsite the ground was getting quite squelchy.
Saturday has become “pill day” for Christine and so we took advantage of her need to remain stationary to do some necessary washing. The showers had moved away overnight and the strong breeze avoided the need to use the tumble drier.
By the time we were ready to go back to town the sun was shining strongly. Rotorua is famous for the geothermal activity in the area – Lake Rotorua is actually the crater of a large extinct volcano – and every so often when walking around there is a strong whiff of rotten eggs. There are a couple of hot pools (one gets up to 212°F apparently) in the beautifully maintained Government Gardens on the lakefront as well as some smart bowling greens, croquet lawns and even a rose garden. We also held our noses while wandering around more steaming mud pools in another park.
The lake shore was a popular spot with a paddle steamer and two float planes offering rides as well as a stadium being prepared for a UB40 (“Red, red wine”, “I am the one in ten”, etc) concert in the afternoon.