A Travellerspoint blog

Luge 1 and Luge 2

The Forgotten Highway From Hell!

Sunday, May 6, 2012; 10:20 p.m.

Day 2 in Rotorua started slowly after amazing massages in the New Zealand equivalent of a Roman spa, but these mineral baths were set in warm stones overlooking a sprawling, sparkling volcanic lake. The Polynesian Spa is definitely a tourist attraction, so I'm not sure just going for the mineral baths would be enough to endure the trap. But, the massages and other therapies offered there are so unique (warm bath massages, or bubbling mud baths with the geothermal mud to name a few) make it a must do. The only albatross in the whole idyllic scene were the 300 yapping Japanese tourists also enjoying the geothermal wonders of Rotorua. And here I thought they only went to Disneyworld. :)

After navigating no wireless connectivity at the Rydges Hotel, our accomodation for the short stay, we set out in search of breakfast. The Rydges was actually very nice. It's only blemish was that it didn't offer wireless anywhere other than in the lobby, and charged .76 a minute for it. Are you kidding? You want me to pad down to the lobby at 11:00 p.m. and then pay you a fortune to do it? I don't think so. We did end up trying to use it with Margaret's laptop; she fought with it first in the name of a few emails and I fought with it thereafter in the name of a few more, but we ultimately got the $30 or more of charges removed to make up for the pain. The Rydges came through. I'd stay there again.

After a lovely breakfast of fresh fruit and Muesli, we headed off to the Skyline gondola ride and luge runs. That was such a blast. The gondola ride up the mountain was beautiful. Great pics. We took a long walk further up the mountain for a few additional photographic opportunities and then it was time to play. The blokes have this thrill ride down (pardon the pun). They've set up luges on wheels to run down three distinct tracks laid with concrete, with ski lifts to bring the riders and the luges back up the mountain after each run. Really great fun. We did the "beginner" run the first time - Margaret turned into a speed demon and easily won that battle round. Intermediate next, which was much faster and really exhilerating. Again, she is clearly the more dare-devil of the two of us and once again could have had her hair and nails done by the time I came to the end. Show off! That was enough for Rotorua, so we headed to Lake Taupo, a much larger geothermal lake about 60 km south.

More moutainous terrain to navigate and it was my first time behind the wheel. The left-sided wheel no less. I can't tell you how much fun Margaret thought it was every time I turned the windshield washers on when I went to make a turn! :) This driving on the left-hand side of the road is absolute brain science. Now try it up the side of a mountain at 100 km. Thrill ride number 2 for the day. I did manage to get us to Lake Taupo in one piece though. It is breathtaking. As you near the sparkling panaramic crater, you can see steam rising from various locations on the mountain side. Signs along the route point out the various natural springs and mineral pools. This part of the journey was well-marked and fairly easy to navigate. Lake Taupo itself is a fairly good-sized, well-laid out town with alot of charm and character. It apparently holds a big draw for backpackers and "trekkers" (kiwi for hikers), as well as skiers and cyclists. Naturalists of all shapes and sizes abound. This was a really neat place and our only regret was that we didn't have more time to explore it.

Off then to start the, what we thought was going to be, relatively short ride back to New Plymouth. This is where the real fun began. It was about 4:30 by that point and we had about a 150 km drive back to Marge's flat (note that 1 km = .621 miles). The only problem with that is there is a mountain range standing between Lake Taupo and New Plymouth. Hmmm. The map said we could take Hwy 43 from a little town about 30 km south of Lake Taupo that runs due west and is the most direct route to New Plymouth. Alrightie then - how hard could this be? We set off with visions of amazing views and a relaxing sunset drive back home. Stupid American tourists. :) The views were spectacular, so we stop several times for pics. I'm still driving at this point and relatively confident that I'm not going to kill us. That's before we go . . . Up, Up . . . Up. It's also about 5:30 in the afternoon and we're heading due west, which results in a little phenonomen called GLARE. We continue to go up . . . up . . . up and the knuckles continue to get whiter and whiter. I think I probably held my breath for about 30 minutes. Not sure how beautiful it was (Margaret said it was pretty fantastic, when she was able to peel her eyes off the sheer cliff that fell off just 6" from her side of the car). That's when the road signs just disappeared. What signs? There would be a small sign that pointed to the town we were looking for and then nothing. No highway sign, no speed limit sign, just a random street sign that pointed this way or that, but to no where in particular. No towns, only sheep and cows and moutains in-between. We continued to follow the lake, though, being that the map showed that the road winding around the giant midnight blue pool would eventually intersect with Hwy 43. Ok then. We see the sign for one of the marker towns for our destination, and even though it looks like it's going in the wrong direction, we take it. Yes, it is wrong, but the mistake lands us at the shores of Lake Taupo, with the mountains in the distance and the moon rising in place of the setting sun. It's a jaw-dropping, once-in-a-lifetime moment where two moutain peaks cradle the moon between them, rocking it gently in the darkening sky. We wondered why a half dozen kiwis were all rigging up tripods at the water's edge when we spotted them and quickly swooped down to ask for directions. I was still oblivious to it until I saw Margaret scrambling to get hers. I so hope the photos do that moment justice, but doubt they will. It was magnificent.

Ok, so one of them confirms our wrong choice in direction and points us back on track. He never says anything about embarking on a journey through the dark on Hwy 43. We wondered later if he was being malicious, or just didn't think that through in light of my interruption of a once-in-a-lifetime photographic moment. We'll never know. Off we go and, just as he indicated, we find our turn about 10 km up the road. The sign for Hwy 43 does reflect that it is also referred to as "The Forgotten Highway," which Margaret recognizes. She's driving again at this point, and tells me that two of her co-workers recently took the drive and commented on how it wasn't worth all the hype the tourist papers made it out to be. The sign also says that it's 153 km to whatever the town is that we were shooting for (can't remember the name now - the memory has obviously been overtaken by other events), which wasn't far from New Plymouth. Margaret hesitates for a minute and then we go for it. How bad can it be?

3 1/2 hours later we're through the worst of it, with about 1 hour still to go. Seriously. To appreciate this, you have to understand that 153 km is approx. 95 miles. The average speed limit is anywhere between 80 km to 100 km, or so the sign says (there are multiple locations where the signs indicating hairpin turns ahead give a recommended speed of 45 km). It takes us over 3 1/2 hours to get 95 miles! Over the course of that long, painful drive in pitch black moutainous terrain, we saw 4 cars (yes, only 4), 18 houses (over 3 1/2 hours folks), 11 possums, 4 hedgehogs, approx. 25 deer, 1 cow (sitting about 2" from road on the left - no shoulder), 1 sheep (sitting about 3" from the right-side of the road - no shoulder), 8 fog pockets, 2 bunny rabbits, 2 jack rabbits (we named one of them the "hauling @ss bunny" cause he raced the car and almost won!), 11 one-lane bridges, 4 railroad crossings with stop signs only, 2 railroad crossings with no signs at all, 2 mud-slides, 8 km of gravel roads (after Margaret brilliantly uttered "at least the road is not gravel"), approx. 50 colllective miles of rock slides that actually landed in the road (40 miles that didn't), 1 one-lane tunnel that had its own internal rock slides on both sides of the only lane it had), and 48 yellow signs indicating hairpin turns ahead. It gives new meaning to "up, up . . . up" and "down, down . . . down." I don't think either one of us have ever been so happy to see flat road and a convenience store sign.

Welcome to New Zealand. Pics soon.

Posted by FD Shepherd 04:44 Archived in New Zealand Tagged mountains lake highway taupo forgotten Comments (0)

Spafornication

Ode to a Frenchman

Touring today from New Plymouth to Rotorua (Ro-tour-Rue-A). Rotorua is the geothermal hot spot on the east side of the north island. The scenery this morning was amazing. Frodo would be proud! We stopped shortly after we got in the car to explore a black sand beach. That was an amazing place. The tide was out, which exposed some really stunning rock formations. Caves included.

The ride was quite the experience. I think we both had this perception that we'd enjoy a leisurely, beautiful, relaxing ride through paradise and celebrate it all with an amazing spa event in Rotorua at the end. Well the amazing spa at the end part worked out just fine. The ride . . . well, let's just say that starting the day with a sausage breakfast probably wasn't the best planning for a 4 1/2 hour ride that consisted of knuckle-white hair-pin turns and 2-lane mountain roads at 100 km. Oh my. I was green by 10:30 and we were both white by 2:00. And starving and exhausted by 3:30 when we finally pulled into Roturua! We kept saying we'll stop for lunch at the next town, but after 2 hours of no next town (4000 sheep on the side of the road does not a next town make), by the time we stopped for lunch we were both dizzy and weak.

But, alas, all was made whole with a visit to the most amazing Polynesian Spa on this side of the international date line. It's a geothermal oddity, private mineral baths overlooking a volcanic lake under a full moon was just what two tired, road-weary travelers needed. It was heaven disguised as a sugar rub under the magic hands of a Frenchman. :) Life is good tonight.

Quick sidenote, though, regarding blogging, emails and all things Internet. These charming 50's looking towns in the middle of the South Pacific look like throw-backs from another era cause they are! WiFi is not wide-spread here getting email out includes freezing one's fanny at a McDonald's at the wee hours of the morning! This is SO not the modern world. If communication is less than FAST, you know why. Soon.

Posted by FD Shepherd 02:07 Archived in New Zealand Comments (1)

Fly the Friendly Skies

26 hours

Well, that was just so much fun. While the whole thing was relatively painless, it was absolutely exhausting. They say that growing old isn't for sissys. I think that applies to flying 8600 miles in coach! I don't think I've ever felt as old as I did 12,000 feet above the Pacific ocean when I had to make a potty stop and I'm in the window seat. Climbing over 2 sleep-deprived women with 52-year-old stiff knees is rather awkward on a good day, much less in turbulence. Not a fun experience.

But, my ego has been renewed, after a night out with Margaret in New Plymouth, NZ. We went out to a fabulous dinner and then to a local bar to meet some of her co-workers. I felt like Michael J. Fox was going to land at any minute in that car machine of his! It's like doing the 70's again, but this time without the mushrooms. :) [Sorry, Jayme - the 70's was a really great time for us old people]. New Plymouth is a throwback to the 50's, or perhaps the 60's. Maybe the 70's too. The scant number of New Zealand women would agree, apparently, because they are all still wearing what I did 32 years ago. Oh my. :)

But, the ego boost comes in when Margaret and I were walking back to her tiny, but adorable little "flat" after a few glasses of vino, New Zealand style. Everyone walks here, including the 20-something drunks en masse, one of which referred to us as . . . [drumroll please] . . . Cou-GA! Hee hee. I feel so much better about myself right now.

More tomorrow, when more sleep has been obtained. Miss you all.

Posted by FD Shepherd 05:11 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

The Before

Ready, set . . .

Ok, so it's the final stages of the "before" stuff. I think I've crossed all of the "t's" and dotted all of the "i's," but the real test will come when I'm 8000 miles to the left. Backtracking at that point would be just a bit more than awkward. But now that life (all life, not just mine) is governed by technology and I can practically wash the cat with an electronic device, I'm sure Carmellota and I can figure out whatever surfaces halfway across the Pacific. By the way, Carmellota is the newest member of the iFamily. She's quite the fashion statement wrapped in a pretty little red leather coat, sitting atop her new sassy bluetooth keyboard. Thanks John - we both love her wrap! She'll be on the road (but probably not on the water) with me during the trip, so you'll be hearing alot from her over the course of the next couple of weeks. Tap, tap . . . tap.

My family is worried about me traveling alone, so it's been suggested that I bring a Taser with me. Yes, really. Somehow, I think the only thing I'd make is the news if I tried to slip a Taser into my carry-on bag. Even IF I managed to get it on the plane, yes there is always checked luggage, I'm fairly certain that the New Zealand customs officers would simply turn me around and send me back home. So my personal Taser, along with the mace, hunting knife and .38 will stay behind and have a party with the larger than 2oz liquids while I'm away. Family: I promise to be a savvy American traveler who will make smart decisions and good choices (but I get a waiver for having to drive on the other side of the car and road!).

Jaeden's take on it all is that "21 days is a whole monf, Nona," with a schrunched-up little boy face that clearly shows his extreme dissatisifaction at my extended time away from him and Lego playtime. I don't think he's so much a fan of my travel schedule. We're going to mark the days I'm away on the calendar with angry faces in bright red marker so that we all know how he feels about it, and celebrate with presents when I get back. Yes, I bribed him - I'm a grandmother, it's my job. And, just for the record, 21 days does NOT make a whole "monf" on anyone's calendar, leap year aside. But we'll keep that a secret for now - his little annoyed face is really adorable!

Soon, very soon, I'll be in the air, wishing for land and a hot shower. My trip LEFT will take a total of 26 hours before I hit the tarmac in New Plymouth, New Zealand, the starting gate on the Road to Meet a Kiwi. Then, it's off Zorbing, kayaking Able Tasman National Park, navigating the Bay of Islands on horseback and enjoying a bubbling mud bath in a geothermal spa in Taranaki Province. You'll get pics of everything but the mud bath.

Soon. Francie

Posted by FD Shepherd 18:16 Comments (2)

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