New Zealand's North Island: Exploring the Back Roads; Auckland to Lake Taupo Then West Via Logging Route
The Logging Route
So Much to See & Do
New Zealand’s North Island offers you a wide spectrum of places to visit and things to do. There are the beaten tracks and then there are the more remote areas where one can explore. This journey is going to take you south from Auckland to Lake Taupo, then over the logging route of the western mountains. Arriving at the west coast, we'll go south to New Plymouth, then to Okato, a small town dominated by Mount Egmont.
Travel south from Auckland; en route you might like to visit the mountain range of the Coromandel peninsula to the East, soft green and misty in the distance. I’m still waiting to go there as we didn’t have time. It looks mysterious and mystical. You can continue south to the Kaimai Range, down to the thermal springs of Rotorua. These are a popular stop on the tourist route, though it’s said not as spectacular as they used to be, due to locals having tapped into the springs to heat their houses, something which is now banned.
Views to the East
Power Station & Orakei Orako
On southwards to Wairakei and its geothermal power station which feeds on the underground forces of nature, emerging in an intricate pattern of fat pipes on the surface. This route also passes by the entrance to the hidden geothermal valley of Orakei Korako, in my opinion the best site on the planet! You want geysers, bubbling mud, caves, sulphur and silica? You can find out about it in another hub of this series.
Wairakei & Orakei Korako
Taupo & its Lake
Venture further south to Taupo before circling the massive Lake Taupo, created two thousand years ago by a huge volcanic eruption. The lake, about the size of Singapore, offers boat cruises and trout fishing and has geothermal water currents. Take the main road on the eastern side of the lake, to Turangi. If you have a car and want an adventure, now turn north-west until you reach Kuratau. Here, you leave the lake and enter the rain-forested hills in the west, following the route via Moerangi and Manunui, to Taumarunui. You are aiming for the logging route over the western mountains. You are definitely off the tourist track.
The road starts to wind through lush foliage, steaming with thermal puffs of white sent heaven-ward by the earth’s engine. The surface is still tarmac for a while but be aware that this will soon change.
From Lake Taupo to the Rain Forest
The Logging Route: Let the Fun Begin!
From Taumarunui, turn south and then west, via Te Whakarae and Tokirima, before taking a right turn just north of Tatu, signposted for Ohura (wasn’t she in Star Trek?!). This is where the beauty continues but the fun begins!
The logging route, as its name suggests, is frequented by large lorries carrying timber (as in long tree trunks) from where it's been felled to where it’ll be piled high ready for use. As you start this route an encouraging sign informs you, ‘‘Beware of lorries approaching in the middle of the road’. There are frequent bends, it’s a metal road (no tarmac) and logging lorries can loom large round any corner.
You slide in the ruts, in places the gravel has been displaced so your teeth think they’re riding over corrugated roofing. It’s the best rally track I’ve ever driven on! We negotiated this during the few days’ holiday over new year so we didn’t see any lorries, though we were wary of being eaten by an errant ‘moonlighting’ vehicle!
You are passing through tropical rainforest, the huge silver and green ferns which are the other emblem of New Zealand above and below you, thermal steam rising from the foliage on surrounding hillsides, overhanging rock walls threatening to fall and sweep you down into the gaping forest below. Indeed, there are warning signs and frequent evidence of rockfall.
Gravel Roads & Thermals in the FoliageClick thumbnail to view full-size
Slightly short of half way is the settlement of Waitaanga where you are allowed a brief respite by way of the occasional straight stretch of tarmac, then off you go again a-slipping and a-sliding on the gravel. Our hire car wasn’t supposed to go on such surfaces but, frankly, we didn’t care. I was in my element and nothing was going to stop me now! I expected a marshall with a stop-watch to flag me in at the finish line.
To the End of the RoadClick thumbnail to view full-size
On the Tourist Track once more
Finally the route joins the west coast main road at Ahititi. Turn south towards New Plymouth. The fun has ended but the beauty hasn’t. To the east of the coast road there are hummocks of grass-covered boulders which look as though they’ve tumbled down from the mountains; a green-mogul slalom track.
We were heading for Okato, on the coastal edge of Egmont National Park, established in 1900. If you’re lucky, you can see Mount Egmont or, in Maori, Mount Taranaki. The Maori word ‘tara’ referring to the peak and ‘naki’ from a word meaning shining, together they refer to the snow-covered peak in winter.
‘Egmont’ was the name chosen by Captain Cook, after the then 2nd Earl of Egmont, a one-time First Lord of the Admiralty who supported Cook's quest.
Mount Taranaki is often shrouded in cloud but on a clear sunny day its dark sides and snow-covered summit mirror the typical child’s drawing of a conical volcano, its peak rising to 2518m. It is active. Its last major eruption was around 1655.
Some scientists have warned that a significant eruption is overdue. There is a bulge to one side which could burst at any time (not necessarily due to an eruption) and release quantities of unstable layers over surrounding farmland.
Where shall we go Next?
From here, follow the coast road south to Wellington where you can fly away to wherever you choose. Alternatively, catch the ferry to the south island where yet more delights await you.
Exploring off the Beaten Track
Do you avoid the tourist route because..
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© 2013 Ann Carr