Sunset over Lake TaupoWe said our goodbyes to Steph and Duncan in Wellington and drove north to explore a couple of the top tourist destinations of the North Island: Lake Taupo and Rotorua.

As well as being NZ's largest lake, Lake Taupo is proclaimed as the world's trout fishing capital....although this was not to be added to our list of "extreme" activities for the trip.  We were staying at a place right beside the lake and Sarah took this sunset snap (right) while Ian took to some of the ducks hanging out on the shore.  

The following morning we went along to see the Huka Falls (below), w
hich was an incredible sight of vast No swimming at the Huka Fallsvolumes of water forcing its way through the narrow canyon.  The photo probably doesn't show this particularly well (not helped by the heavy rain) but the water was a bright turquoise colour.

The next stop was "Sulphur City" - Rotorua, which is by far the most tourist-orientated place we have been in NZ so far.   If your vision of New Zealand is bubbling mud, you are thinking of Rotorua.  In fact, Rotorua has been a top tourist destination for well over a hundred years when people came to the town to take the waters for their various ailments.   NZ's answer to Bath but with more spectacular scenery and no Roman remnants....although ever so slightly more smelly (the thermal springs leave an air of rotten eggs in the atmosphere).  With Ian complaining about a sore back, it seemed like we had come to the right place!
Saving Kiwis in Rotorua
Before throwing ourselves into the whole thermal experience of Rotorua, we spent an afternoon at a Kiwi bird reserve.   Sadly, no snaps of fluffy Kiwis for our blog as they are in fact nocturnal.   However, the place we visited runs a hatchery for Kiwis chicks and we were privileged to see a two hour old Kiwi chick, which was very cute.  Eventually the chicks are released back into the wild.   

We were quite surprised to learn that the bird that has given its name to all things New Zealand is in severe danger of becoming extinct as a result of introduced predators. (For chicks born in the wild, only 5% make it through their first six months alive.)  Arch-enemy number one is the Possum: protected animal in Australia, "noxious predator" (government wording) in New Zealand.  In fact, most of the tourist shops here sell various Possum "products" - from jumpers containing Possum fur to a whole Possum skin complete with some bad taste tyre marks on the back (it's common roadkill here).  They usually come with a label containing wording along the lines of "In purchasing this product you are helping in the cause to eradicate this destructive
Champagne Lake predator"....could you imagine something like that appearing in UK shops?? The animal rights people would have brick through the window! Still, the inventive uses they have found for Possum fur has been most amusing...say no more!

The big highlight of Rotorua for us was definitely visiting a couple of the thermal areas.  The Wai-O-Tapu site was particularly impressive - the range of colours and rock formations was unlike anything either of us have seen before.  Some areas looked like the moon with little puffs of steam emanating from holes in the rocks. Other areas were more definite poolOn the edge of Champagne Lakes of steaming water or mud.  The photo on the left is one of the more famous thermal pools called "Champagne Lake". The range of colours within this one pool alone was incredible.  Here (right) is a close up at the edge of the lake, when the steam momentarily subsided.

One of the other thermal areas up the road is called "Hell's Gate" and we could see why when we went along to visit - deep, dark pools of smoking mud.  It wasn't all hell at this
At Hell's Gateplace as they have an attaching spa, where we decided to indulge in a couple of treatments.  One them, obviously, being a mud bath using the mud from the thermal areas.  It was incredibly relaxing and no after-effects from the mud so far...although we were wondering how many people had been using the same mud before us.  Apologies if the photo on the left puts you off your lunch.Maori statue in Rotorua

As well as the thermal areas, Rotorua is also a large centre for
traditional Maori activities with various symbols dotted around the town (right).

Next stop: the Bay of Islands right up in the northern tip of the North Island.

Lake Taupo and "taking the waters" at  Rotorua

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