Day 12: Napier to Taupo

Day 12

Distance Traveled: 173 km (Trip Total: 3078 km)

Day 12 Route

Howdy y’all.

Today has been quite the fun day with many many pictures taken. Thankfully, the internet here on the North Island is pretty awesome, so I’ll upload a good chunk for everyone to enjoy.

Today started off kind of gray, much to my disappointment. The city isn’t looking super scenic at the moment.

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I miss you Hastings!

Rather than cruise around taking gray-ish shots of art-deco architecture, I buy a ticket for the National Aquarium which just so happens to be in Napier! Now, compared to some aquariums I’ve been to, this one isn’t huge, but I still enjoy strolling around and getting a bunch of pictures, most of which come out horribly.

A hand-operated diver's air compressor
A hand-operated diver’s air compressor
Whatchu' lookin' at, white boy?
Whatchu’ lookin’ at, white boy?

I come across a tank filled with many different varieties of goldfish.

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One fascinating thing about goldfish is the breadth of genetic diversity they enjoy. Like dogs, every goldfish is the same exact species and can interbreed with any other goldfish, but the resulting animals can be quite various. The big Koi fish for Koi ponds are in fact, Goldfish. Introduced to Japan in the 1500’s, they have since been selectively bred for size and color, leading to the fish we have today.

The next room has a tank full of Piranhas, whose scattered coppery scales glimmer under the artificial light.

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Here we have the majestic angelfi- Hey! This isn't a fish at all! Whaddaya trying to pull?
Here we have the majestic angelfi- Hey! This isn’t a fish at all! Whaddaya trying to pull?

The aquarium tour ends with a lot of not very good photos that I haven’t bothered to upload, but it was still fun. As I emerge into the late morning I find that it’s not cloudy anymore. It’s a Day 12 miracle!

I cruise around the town for a while, soaking in the old architecture and admiring the views. I find a memorial to one Thomas Gilray, O.B.E.

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To me, Art-deco styling calls forth the grand, epic glory of human achievement. We can accomplish so much, create so much, learn so much, even if we are given but a short time to do so here in this world. I find it inspiring.

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History lesson about Napier: A massive earthquake leveled the town in 1931, and the citizens had a choice between rebuilding, or letting the town disappear. They elected to rebuild, and within two years, Napier was rebuilt and up in running. Most of the buildings constructed were constructed in the art-deco style, and they have since been preserved, leading to the Napier that I enjoy today in the year 2015.

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I come across the local theatre, and am struck by the quote inscribed on the side of the sand colored walls.

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This line, from Le Miserables, seems particularly true. We do not get to chose how we enter this world, or the circumstances that fate may deem to apply to us. I myself have been truly blessed, more than fortunate, to have had the opportunities that have come my way so far. I want for little. It could be said that I want for nothing at all. And that is a blessing.

Soon enough, the time comes to give Olga a fresh tank of petrol and then leave Napier behind. I’ve enjoyed my brief stay here, but I have to move on. Highway 5 just outside of Napier stretches northwest towards Taupo, not very far  away. The landscape very quickly becomes very Lord-of-the-rings-y.
IMG_0885-resizeI try to spot some Hobbits running about, but all I find are sheep and cows. The road isn’t very windy, but there is a great deal of up and down as I ride through very rolling hills. At one overlook I’m treated to a beautiful waterfall that was not visible from the road itself. It is quiet out here, and for the most part the only sounds are chirping birds and rushing water.

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Not long after I arrive, others show up, including a van transporting a couple of orange-robed Buddhist monks and an older couple, likely on holiday. The younger of the monks has a white iphone and takes many pictures of the waterfall. Their driver lines them up and snaps a few shots of everyone in front of the beautiful scenery. Apparently the quest for enlightenment does not preclude the advantages of modern technology. The other couple merely hugs each other and savors the view.

I share my waterfall with the holy and the faithful
I share my waterfall with the holy and the faithful

It’s not too long of a ride on after that before I reach Lake Taupo and the touristy town of the same name. It’s around 2 in the afternoon at this point so I stop by the a for some lunch. This one is called the “Lone Star” a down home, red white and blue, american classic run entirely by Kiwis.

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'Murica! Hey! That ain't a 'merican flag!
‘Murica! Hey! That ain’t a ‘merican flag!

I watch the blue lake not far in the distance and the people going to and fro. Assorted American country-ish music plays on the speakers here, and I find that it makes me more than happy. With my food and my beer and my music, I experience such a pure sense of joy. Like the John Fogerty song playing over the speakers: Sometimes I think life is just a rodeo / The trick is to ride and make it to the bell / But there is a place, sweet as you will ever know / In music and love and things you never tell

Music is such a simple thing that we enjoy on a daily basis. But here, in this one moment, it makes everything perfect. To quote on of my favorite Vocaloid songs:  Ai to music sore dake de iin da (Love and music, that is enough)

An older Scot couple are getting ready to leave as I receive my food, and we talk briefly. They arrived in the country the same day I did, only they flew from Scotland, which is a hell of a lot further. A good 24 hours of traveling, Edinburgh to London to Hong Kong to Auckland.

I have to say, of all the English dialects and accents, Scottish is the hardest to hear and understand. I’m proud of my Scottish heritage, but I’ll be damned if deciphering what this man said to me wasn’t a task that took all of my concentration and will.

Soon enough, they shake my hand and leave. After my meal I check into my hotel and wash off the sweat. It’s not super hot out, but it is sunny and it is humid, and under the riding gear, that adds up. I have to decide what to do with my afternoon.

I think about doing some sort of lake-y thing, but I’ve already done kayaking, I’ve already done parasailing. It’s too late to sign up for a tour of the Maori rocks or to go fishing for trout.

What about something volcano-y? According to the bartender at Lone Star, Taupo sits atop the world’s largest active volcano. Are you shitting me? “No” says the bartender with a smile, “I shit you not.”

Well then. Let’s do it. I do a little research and find an awesome place 30 minutes down the road. But they close at 4:00. Shit. There’s a place closer by that doesn’t close till 6 called the Craters of the Moon . Let’s do that!

I get back on the bike and cruise maybe just 6 or 7 klicks out of town before I hit the Craters of the Moon. There’s a 1 hour hiking loop that takes be down into a steamy sulfurous cauldron, and it only costs $8. Let’s do it!

The valley of steam
The valley of steam

The old man in the entrance/gift shop area reminds me 3 or 4 times not to wander off the path. Ok. I got it. As I hike down into the active area the air grows a little warmer. The air takes on a tinge of sulfur. Not overpowering, but certainly distinct.  I’m struck not only by the active steam vents that litter this area, but the ultra-hardy vegetation that calls it home.  Bright, short little shrubs that claim 90% of the area, and a waxy unique looking plant called Coral Moss.

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There are only a few people out here with me. I pass a French family that is moving slower and happily greet them with “Bonjour!” and they reply in turn. This constitutes most of my French vocabulary.

Once I get some distance between me and the others the air becomes very very quiet. I feel like I can hear the faintest delicate sounds. The steam vents make soft but unique hissing sound as hot vapor emerges from imperceptible crevices in the earth.

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The walkway I travel on is a path made of wooden planks. Under my boots they clank and creak like any other wooden dock or pier I have walked across in my life. That specific sound, so familiar to me, reminds me of the ocean. But here, I find myself traversing a scorched and acidic landscape with no water in sight.

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I come across one of the largest of the craters, where a couple trees sit happily at the bottom of an otherwise hot and alien landscape.

IMG_0929-resizeI take some pictures of the scenery, and then pause. I hear a sound I’ve never heard before in real life. A deep, bubbly, boiling sound, slow but distinct. If you think of your stereotypical movie sound effect for lava, that was this sound. It sounded exactly like lava sounds in the game Minecraft. Seriously. It was remarkable.

You can see why this place has it’s name in the pockmarked crags of the crater.

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I walk along for a good long while and take a ton of pictures. At this point, you must be thinking “But Geo, aren’t you wearing and carrying all of your motorcycle gear? Why are you not regaling us with descriptions of your sweaty hot self?

Because I left my gear with the 80 year old man in the gift shop!
Because I left my gear with the 80 year old man in the gift shop!

Bam. Man adapts to his environment. Deal with it.

I’m fascinated by the variations in color the harsh volcanic environment bleeds into the rock.

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Soon, what sounds like a classic WW2 air raid siren cries out into the air: my 30 minute warning before they close the road that I took to get up here. I head back, retrieve my gear, and head back towards town.

On my way back, I take a couple shot of the lake from an overlook, now that the day is growing a bit older.

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Once I’m in town, I spot a colorful collection of sailboats racing about amongst each other.

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Today, I am happy. A happiness that stuck with me from the beginning and only grew stronger as the day went on. It’s rare that I have such lucky days. I try to cherish it.

Tomorrow I’m destined for Rotorua, which is barely more than an hour north of here. I should have plenty of time for more sightseeing, and perhaps a few side-tracked adventures as well. Until next time, cheers everyone.

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