The final week on the road with Mighway began with Upi and I en route to Rotorua, windscreen wipers furiously wiping away the never-ending rain – sunny days seemed like a distant memory. Nevertheless, the drive along Desert Road to the geothermal town was equally spectacular on the way back to Rotorua as it was on the way to Wellington. The hope of exploring Rotorua more than the brief visit in the previous week was pushed further from reach with the poor weather conditions we were faced with yet again. Slightly disheartened, we pulled up late night into a freedom camping site in town and were slowly put to sleep by the sound of the downpour of rain against the campervan.
The morning came and the rain intensified. The weather definitely wasn’t in the mood to cooperate and we weren’t in the mood to let it win. So, we made the decision to make our way to Wai-o-tapu thermal wonderland hoping that the half an hour drive would ride out the storm. I guess it was our lucky day, because Wai-o-tapu looked as if it had never seen rain. Bring out ya camera equipment! The area is said to be thousands of years in the making, sculpted out of volcanic activity. The entire area felt like a highly saturated photoshopped image full of vivid colours that seemed almost impossible to be captured with the naked eye. I personally had never experienced anything like this before. Walking amongst these pools alive with geothermal activity was definitely an unexpected, surreal experience. Just be warned, the pungent smell of Sulphur (which takes the form of rotten eggs to put it mildly) as you enter the area is not for the faint-hearted.
Inspired and tempted by the boiling geothermal mud pools, we headed to Hell’s Gate for a sunset geothermal mud bath. We never thought that the day would come where we paid to go splatter mud all over ourselves like wild pigs. But this wasn’t just any mud – it was mineral-infused geothermal mud full of minerals like silica, magnesium, calcium, titanium, iron, sulphur, phosphorus and all that good stuff. Rotorua is famous for its mud – you can even buy bottled mud to take home with you – what a concept! Its main purpose is for regenerative skin care and a bunch of other health benefits that we didn’t quite pay attention to, however, we did have a blast playing around in it!
The next day we checked out of Rotorua – but not before trying out Zorbing thanks to a well-timed Christmas gift – and set sail to Auckland, as Upi was flying out to Australia for a surprise birthday visit. In the meantime – our good friend Dave came to NZ from across the ditch for a couple of days. It was an international wife swap. I said goodbye to Upi at 4am and by 5am I was greeting Dave. With the plan to explore more of the North Island, we decided to tackle Mount Taranaki. It only made sense to us given its prominent height, spectacular views and challenging terrain. Having completed some of the toughest hikes in Australia with Dave, we were determined to conquer something tougher and higher and we were definitely in the right place as NZ had no shortage of big mountains!
Our favourite way to climb any mountain is to reach the peak by sunrise. There are so many benefits attached to this approach as we A) get to see the sunrise (duuh), B) avoid the hottest part of the day and C) avoid all the crowds. The only downside to this was waking up at 1am after going to sleep at 12:30am. After somewhat of a battle with the snooze button, we made it to the Egmont National Park Visitor Centre (978m) at 2am and began the hike. Equipped with Petzl Nao 700 lumen head torches (honestly, the power is overkill but we’re gadget nerds), a few snacks, water, drone and camera equipment we embarked on a mission to the summit before sunrise – which meant completing a 5-6 hour ascent in 4 hours. Battling gale force winds in the dark up the exposed scoria zig-zag track then scrambling up the rock lava flow known as the Lizard seemed to have been worth the struggle to see the incredible sunrise up high at 2517m! We made it to the summit by 6am which Dave did not hesitate to mention to every dumbfounded climber we met on our way back down.
The next day for us was spent recovering from the gruelling hike until it was time to pick up Upi from the airport. On the way to the airport, New Plymouth, Paritutu rock (yes for another hike), Three Sisters and Elephant Rock received a couple of visitors with sore muscles.
After picking up Upi just in time for a midnight feast at Spicy House, we were well-fed and rested to hit our last destination early next morning. We had heard great things about Cathedral Cove from our very own local tour guide (aka Upi’s sister from another mister, Erangi) but little did we know that we’d be seeing one of the most beautiful beaches in NZ. Even the hundreds of tourists flocked to the beach for the long weekend didn’t take away from that. Combine this with the non-stop waves to body surf over, and we had ourselves the most epic finale to an unforgettable road trip.
3 weeks, 2 people, 1 campervan and a whole lot of memories later, we bid Mighway farewell. Navigating the beast on the road and letting the journey unfold over the past 3 weeks has been an incredible experience that we will forever cherish, and with that we say our goodbyes. Till we meet again, New Zealand!