Lake House

I have mentioned previously that we are not really ‘big city’ people. When we travel, we like to take the back roads and stay in self-contained accommodation in quiet locations. Our wishes were certainly fulfilled when we arrived at the Lake House on the shores of Lake Taupo at Motuoapa Bay.

It is actually half a house but there were no occupants in the other half for the three nights we were there. The description of ‘a beautiful lakeside retreat with a twist of retro’ is something of an understatement. Stepping inside, memories of our childhood homes came flooding back as we explored the wonders within.

The well-equipped kitchen was reminiscent of our 1970’s lives, right down to the crockery.

The theme continued down the hallway

and into the bedroom.

I don’t think I have ever seen wall art created from carpet before.

I love the idea of using a shower curtain to make bathroom curtains.

We don’t usually take time out to relax and regenerate on holiday but we were feeling the need and Sunday was the perfect opportunity. A stroll to the local café for lunch took us past some lovely homes and very well behaved children

before returning for an afternoon of reading, napping and soaking up the view.

lunch at Taupo

After our diversions to Huka Falls and Craters of the Moon, we eventually arrived at Taupo in time for lunch. The lovely town has a peaceful setting on the north-eastern shore of Lake Taupo, the largest lake by surface area in New Zealand, measuring 616 square kilometres. The lake is in the caldera of the Taupo Volcano and has a perimeter of approximately 193 kilometres and a maximum depth of 186 metres. It is enormous.

We strolled along the lakefront perusing the fare on offer at various establishments and decided to dine at Lakehouse. Coincidentally, the name of our next accommodation was The Lake House, we took that as a positive sign along with the intriguing  advertisement, presumably for a local beverage.

We claimed a seat, alfresco, to observe the activity on and over the water as well as an unusual art installation comprising a series of red bicycles parked along the esplanade.

We were enthused to discover an extensive range of local wine and craft beer to complement the stone grill meals and gourmet dishes, with food sourced from local producers.

Mata Brewery started off in 2004 with a passion for home brewing and, after positive feedback from friends, soon became a family affair. Students created the Mata brand and with the fortuitous find of second hand brewing equipment for sale, the first brewery was set up in Kawerau, Eastern Bay of Plenty. The enterprise grew over the next 12 years and in 2017, moved to Whakatane where new creations and seasonal releases augment the original beer styles.

The Epic Brewing Company from Auckland and Te Aro, a small batch brewery in Wellington offer more choices on tap.

The eye-catchingly named Rocky Knob presumably refers to Mount Maunganui where craft brewers, Bron and Stu Marshall, started their business as a hobby.

Set amongst vineyards in the Marlborough region, multi-award winning Moa Brewing Company is one of the pioneers of craft beer in New Zealand.

I couldn’t resist a glass of the rhubarb cider (or two) to enjoy with the delicious bacon wrapped chicken breast with asparagus.

Unfortunately, Lakehouse closed their doors in April 2021. With the lease up for renewal, the sudden passing of a family member and the effects of a certain virus on tourism, the decision was made to cease trading.

Craters of the Moon

Leaving Huka Falls, we were intrigued by signage to ‘Craters of the Moon’ and thought it warranted a closer look. This fascinating steamfield is part of the Wairakei geothermal field, the largest in New Zealand.

When the geothermal Wairakei Power Station was built in the 1950s, underground water levels were lowered and the hot water from deep within the field rose to the surface, emitting steam through any vent it could find.

Wooden boardwalks have been constructed along the 2.4km walking trail to protect human feet from the heat of the soil and they are regularly moved as new vents emerge. Gravel tracks lead to viewing platforms for a closer look at the bubbling cauldrons.

As I soon found out, it is important to be aware of the wind direction when taking photographs. Being enveloped in a cloud of sulphurous steam is neither good for camera nor operator. There is a wide variety of thermal features but three main ones. Fumaroles are openings through which steam and volcanic gases escape and can vary in size and intensity.

The pressurized steam makes whistling, hissing or roaring sounds depending on the size of the vent.

The craters are most impressive. They are formed when the pressure beneath the surface increases due to a blockage of a steam vent. The resulting eruption of hot water, steam, mud and pumice causes the surrounding soil to collapse, leaving a deep hole or crater.

The condensed steam and acidic gas chemically alter the pumice soil giving it the stunning orange and red colours.

It seems that mudpools are not technically pools of mud. The steam, containing hydrogen sulphide and carbon dioxide, reacts with the surface water to form sulphuric acid. This eats away at the surrounding rock and turns it into a soft clay that bubbles and belches as more steam and gas tries to escape.

I hadn’t expected so much vegetation on a lunar landscape, few species can survive the steamy ground. There is a plant endemic to New Zealand, prostrate kānuka, that only grows in geothermal areas and the hotter the ground temperature, the more prostrate the plant. Numerous ferns, mosses and lichens that would normally only grow in the tropics thrive in these conditions, adding colour to an otherwise barren place.

Toward the end of the walk, there is a fabulous view of Mount Tauhara, a dormant volcano overlooking Lake Taupo less than twenty kilometres away.

Soon after, a steep track to a lookout rewards with an impressive vista of the geothermal field.

Being so close to a restless earth was somewhat disconcerting, especially with the White Island disaster, only three months before, still fresh in our minds. Visitors are reassured that the thermal activity is monitored regularly by scientists from the Institute of Geological and Nuclear Science.

Huka Falls

Our wonderful four days at Buckland B&B had come to an end and it was time to move on to new adventures. We had booked a house on Lake Taupo for the next three nights but there were amazing things to see on the way. Huka Falls may not be the highest we have seen but they are certainly spectacular.

The largest falls on the Waikato River, the name Huka is the Māori word for ‘foam’ of which there is much generated by the falling water.

From the lower lookout, the power of the falls soon dissipates while the river continues its journey to the Tasman Sea.

We wandered upstream to a footbridge crossing to the other side. New Zealand’s longest river at 425 kilometres, the Waikato is normally up to 100 metres wide. It narrows abruptly to just 15 metres as it crosses a hard volcanic ledge, a huge volume of water collides before rushing over the cliff face and under the bridge we were standing on.

At this point, the water is flowing around 220,000 litres per second, enough to fill an Olympic swimming pool in 11 seconds.

We followed the footpath to the top of the falls where the water bursts out of its rapids and over the 11 metre drop

back into the Waikato River.

Hamilton Gardens – Productive

The third collection to explore at Hamilton Gardens was the Productive Gardens, representing different aspects of the relationship between people and plants. The area that is now the centre of Hamilton Gardens was once a Māori settlement known as Te Parapara. The garden of the same name was once home to Haanui, a famous Ngati Wairere chief, and the site was particularly renowned for sacred rituals associated with the harvesting of food crops. Te Parapara Garden is divided into two sections. The first surrounds the path from the main piazza  and comprises wild food plants from the forest and grassland. This is separated from the cultivated garden by an intricately carved waharoa or gateway. The designs are based on ancient carvings from a house called Te Urutomokia, built for Potatau Te Wherowhero who became the first Māori King in 1858.

Beyond the gateway is an area for cultivated food plants, surrounded by a palisade fence with forty carved posts.

Six varieties of Kumara are grown in the garden and produce from the annual harvest is distributed to charities.

The path surrounding the fenced garden is edged with more food plants as well as beautifully adorned traditional Māori storehouses.

With the goal of producing enough to feed a family of four, the Sustainable Backyard Garden shows some of the ways in which the typical suburban backyard can be transformed into a productive and edible landscape.

There are some quirky sculptures to be found; a stone bench with some unusual inlays, a wild wiry scarecrow and a delightfully decorative adobe pizza oven.

Complete with hens, bees and a worm farm, the garden is managed and maintained by volunteers from the Hamilton Permaculture Trust.

The concept of herb gardens is a fairly recent one. In medieval times, all plants were believed to have medicinal value and all were referred to as a ‘herb’. It wasn’t until the 18th century that the word ‘vegetables’ was used to describe food plants and ‘herb’ was the name for practical plants. The Herb Garden at Hamilton follows the formula of early 20th century horticulturalist and garden designer, Gertrude Jekyll, with a framework of paving and four rectangular plots containing herbs defined by purpose – culinary, medicinal, cosmetic and perfume.

Like the herb garden, the adjacent Kitchen Garden is divided into four raised beds, though on a much larger scale.

The features are of a classic 18th/19th century garden used to supply the households of large European estates, with rows of crops mixed with displays of colourful flowers.

The walls of the garden not only create an atmosphere of mystery and security, they also hold the daytime heat. Research has shown that the amount of heat reflected close to a sunny brick wall can equal seven degrees latitude. As in northern Europe, the fruit trees are trained and espaliered against the wall, the result being that these fruits often ripen before others in the region.

There aren’t many gardens with a lovely bronze scarecrow. The Strawman was created by English sculptor, Lloyd le Blanc, and was installed in 2016.

All surplus produce from the Kitchen Garden is donated to Kaivolution, a local food rescue project that aims to stop edible food being thrown away. This is food, good enough to eat but not good enough to sell or is excess to producer requirements, that is diverted to those in need.