Where I’ve Been: Waitomo, Taupo, River Valley – New Zealand
Where I’ve Stayed: Kiwi Paka in Waitomo, BASE and Blackcurrant Backpackers in Taupo and River Valley Lodge in River Valley.
Something I hadn’t bargained on seeing whilst I was backpacking was rabbit shearing, but I now have! We had a night in Waitomo (in which I was fortunate enough to get my own room) and then as we left we visited ‘The Shearing Shed’ – New Zealand’s last Angora rabbit shearing operation.
How to shear a rabbit
There, in front of us, a rabbit was stretched out on a rack and all the wool shaved off of her body. This probably sounds quite horrific (and the photos probably make it look quite horrific!) but we were assured the rabbits are completely not bothered about it and this one didn’t seem the less bit phased by the whole thing.
The process took about ten minutes and they shear about one rabbit a day. The handler talked us through it and explained how each Angora rabbit needs to be sheared around every three months or they will die of heat exhaustion due to the amount of wool that covers them.
When it was done, the rabbit happily hopped off probably relieved to be rid of its mammoth coat. We had a quick look at the area where the 120 rabbits there live and they are undoubtedly well looked after – each with their own individual rabbit house and plenty of space.
I guess the beauty of being a backpacker is seeing these quirky little things you had no idea existed, so it was really interesting to learn about rabbit shearing – something I had never, ever thought about before!
Huka Falls and Taupo
After the rabbit shearing excitement had dissipated we headed onto to Taupo via Huka Falls. Huka Falls is one of New Zealands most visited natural attractions – an 11 metre high waterfall caused by the Waikato River, the longest river in New Zealand, being narrowed from 100 metres wide to 15 metres wide as it crosses a volcanic ledge.
The water really crashes down the falls and even though we were a fair distance away you can feel the spray from the water hitting you. Our guide told us that 220,000 litres of water PER SECOND flows over the falls – which is enough to fill one Olympic sized swimming pool in 11 seconds!
Taupo is a really beautiful town on the northeast shore of Lake Taupo. I liked it especially as naturally it is stunning – you can wander round the lake and enjoy the views the encompass the town. But also if you are an adrenaline junkie there are all kinds of white knuckle activities you can do such as sky diving and taking a speed boat ride on the River.
The Tongariro Crossing
One of the Kiwi Experience activities that I booked myself onto in Taupo was to do the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. This is a world-renown trek across Tongariro National Park – New Zealand’s oldest national park and a dual World Heritage Site. The dual status means it has been acknowledge for both its natural and cultural significance. The crossing itself is a 20km trek up and down a series of terrain.
This all meant a very early start, getting the bus at 6am to Tongariro National Park. Obviously backpacking limits you to what you can carry around, so I had to do the trek wearing jeans, trainers and a cheap water proof jacket. When I walked to the entrance to the Park one of the guides/stewards around the entrance to the park basically told me what I was wearing wasn’t suitable for this walk, which is strenuous and gets to quite an altitude. I told him I would risk it and declined to mentioned I was also walking with a ruptured cruciate ligament in my leg that I had done just before leaving England for my travels!
Anyway I set off about 7.45am and completed the walk by 12.30pm it is easily doable for anyone with a reasonable level of fitness. However that is not to say it isn’t very tough in parts, the most challenging being the Devil’s Staircase a seemingly neverending series of steep steps up a rocky face.
As you reach the peak of the crossing, the wind is (or was when we did it) incredibly strong and you really have to fight to keep yourself from being blown over. The combination of the steep ascent and the howling wind made this part a real fight, however once I’d got through that it slowly got easier as we began to ascend.
Unfortunately the weather for the first three quarters of the walk was pretty terrible – I’d read reviews of amazing views and scenery, but for much of it I could see the backs of people ten metres ahead of me and a lot of mist (Blue Mountains Sydney – deja vu!). But with about five miles to go the mist cleared, the sky became blue and I was able to enjoy a glorious finish and appreciate the amazing views I had read about.
Needless to say when I got back to Taupo at around 4pm I was pretty tired – but I did manage to catch up with a friend from home Tim. Tim is a Kiwi, who came to England and I worked with him in England and is now back in New Zealand, so it was good to see him. It was equally good though to get to bed in the evening and get a very good night sleep!
One Night in River Valley
Yesterday we stopped for one night in River Valley Lodge – an adventure lodge in the middle of nowhere on the South Island. The lodge offers plenty to do in terms of hikes, horse trekking and rafting, but none of these really appealed to me so I just sat around chatted, had a couple of drinks and went to bed.
Talking of bed River Valley Lodge has a 47 bed dorm room! I had a look at this, and to me it seemed to be a huge wooden plank with a number (47 actually) of mattress lining it. I am glad I hadn’t booked into that and was in a standard four bed dorm and consequently got a much better night sleep than many others seemed to judging from what I heard this morning!
Anyway now I am waiting around in River Valley to get back on the Kiwi Bus to head to Wellington, the capital of New Zealand and the home of a sporting legend whom I cannot wait to see again…