Lady and the Tramp
Having zipped away my morning in Rotorua (read Flight of the Jungle Bee), it would be a shame to drive the hour straight back to Taupo without exploring. They day is young and I’m, well, not that old. I ask my guide Dan about some hikes in the area and he recommends the Okere Falls Track. The Kiwis have a few different names for things and walking or hiking trails are called tracks. Oh, and they don’t go hiking, they go tramping. As I’m going tramping this afternoon, that would make today Lady and the Tramp. Anyway, this “track” parallels the Okere River, also known as the Kaituna River, and assures some great views.
I drive the twenty-minutes from Rotorua Canopy Tours to the track, park the rental car and step out towards the trail. This is an easy tramp (only 3 Kilometers or 1.9 miles) which takes me walking through history, a lush forest and along a wild river. Rotorua was only the fourth town in New Zealand to have power and the Okere Falls Power Station generated it. At the beginning of the hike I pass one of the turbines which was used when the power station went into action in 1901.
I continue tramping (oh so many jokes) and soon reach the turn off for Okere Falls. As I walk down the steps, sound of rushing water gets louder and louder. I turn the corner and see a photographer sitting on the rail and I hear a whistle. I look down to see an enormous amount of water gushing down the waterfall tumbling out of the trees. The photographer sounds his whistle in response to the one I’ve just heard and, after just a moment, a yellow-raft loaded with seven people appears from the trees. Like the log flumes which used to be at amusement parks (what happened to those?) the raft glides down the falls and I watch as two people tumble out into the water. As I used to whitewater raft quite a bit, I know that this is sometimes the best part. The photographer, myself and a few other bystanders watch as two more rafts appear on the top of the falls and a few more people do some whitewater swimming. When the photographer announces there are no more boats coming, we disperse and I walk back up and continue tramping on down the trail.
I soon come to the signs for Tutea Falls and Hinemoa’s Steps to Tutea’s Cave. I walk down to the overview to see Tutea Falls, otherwise known as Kaituna Falls (see, they can’t decide on names), where I see what looks like something out of the Disneyland ride It’s a Small World. It’s the perfect, blue waterfall spilling out of the lush, green forest and emptying into a tropical pool. As I walk up, rafts begin appearing from the top. At seven meters, nearly twenty three-feet, this is the highest commercially rafted waterfall in the world. As before, there are photographers and screams, but no swimmers this time. This is the last rapid for the rafting trips because, well, after this, everything else would be a let down (or perhaps they just need a stiff drink).From here, I head down to Tutea’s Cave, which is less a cave and more a dent in the rock. Actually, it supposedly goes far in but, as the walkway extends just a couple of feet in, and the cave is dark, there’s just not that much to see.
I start the climb up the steps and continue on the dirt path where I stop at another viewpoint of the river and the falls before exploring some of the dirt paths I come across. I return the way I came, climb in the car and head back to Taupo to the cold house (two words New Zealand – Central Heating) and warm dog.
I decide to head out to a local restaurant in town for dinner. I hope to grab a Guinness at the Irish Pub I’ve found online as I’ve stopped by Irish pubs in most of the countries I’ve been and found them really friendly (perhaps it’s simply due to the whole getting drunk on Guinness thing). On their website, this place talks about their music and trivia nights and seems like a genuine Irish pub. In reality, this is a dive-bar. It’s a cold, dark room with a small bar. While they seem to have Guinness, I’m looking for the warmth of a traditional Irish pub and this has none of that. I politely tell the bartender that I might be back (I really need to stop worrying about insulting people) as I slip out the door.
This town has many fine-looking restaurants and I pop into one of them. There are only about ten customers inside this very large place. I sit at the bar which is far away from the door leading to the cold outdoors and ask for the menu. I order a Pinot Noir (not my choice anywhere else, but these New Zealand ones are fabulous) the young bartender seems confused. I point out the wine on their menu and he seems to understand. I then order the Cioppino (a seafood stew). Once again, I’ve confused bartender boy and, once again, I point to my selection on the menu. He nods his head and appears to understand. I then ask for the Wi-Fi code as my phone has detected a guest network. Bartender boy looks at me, shifts his eyes and says, “Um, I have to check.”
He disappears and, eventually, returns with the code “coffee.” I can see how that one might be difficult to remember. I slap on my best understanding look and say, “So, has this place recently opened?”
“I work twenty-hours a week,” he responds.
Um, okay. He disappears again and, after a while, returns to begin wiping the counter. I ask if maybe I could get my wine (I’ve been here ten minutes). He looks up, surprised (he’s obviously forgotten it), and asks the lady around the corner if she can pour my wine. He then heads over to the table of three middle-aged men sitting behind me and sits down. (I have a feeling these are the owners and he’s related to one of them.)
After another twenty-minutes, my meal is placed in front of me. Okay, perhaps not my meal, but certainly a meal. And while I like salmon, it’s not what I ordered. I point this out and the waitress apologizes, takes away the salmon and assures me it won’t be long. I notice one of the men at the table behind me where the boy bartender is sitting mentions this to him. Finally, after another ten-minutes, my meal is placed before me. While the food is not incredibly impressive, my expectations have been lowered and I’m simply impressed that I finally got the Cioppino. I snarf down my food and, as the boy bartender has returned, I ask for the check. I go through the process of paying and the boy never apologizes for getting things wrong, or even looks at me. I want to give him a nice little lecture on customer service and how, if you get things wrong, and apology goes a long way, but I feel it would be wasted. I actually question whether boy bartender might be wasted (could that be the problem?)
The next day, after some morning work, Frank and I head over to Huka Falls. It’s in Taupo and there’s supposedly a nice hike there and, well, who am I kidding, I just really like the name. Frank and I head over to the trail-head where there’s a lot of water flowing over a very small waterfall. It seems more like a dam with rapids at the bottom. I see a sign pointing out trails in either direction and turn right down the one for Huka Falls. I take a deep inhale (ha!) and begin my Huka tramp.
This tramp follows the river and offers stunning viewpoints of the surrounding area. I keep Frank on the leash until I see another dog run past free as a, well, dog off a leash. After a few more minutes of walking and contemplating whether I’ve established myself as alpha dog enough so that Frank will listen if I call, I decide to trust (something I’m relearning after Asia as well as My Man Friday). Frank doesn’t disappoint and, while enjoying running around, he waits for me every few hundred yards, as well as stopping when I tell him to. (Why can’t all men be like this?) I stop for a while to chat with a German guy sitting on a bench enjoying a sandwich, as well as some Australian women. When I ask the German guy how far Huka Falls is, he points to where I’ve just come from and says he doesn’t know as he came from the other direction. It turns out the unimpressive falls I saw near the parking lot were Huka Falls and the sign was just indicating the trail called the Huka Falls Trail.
It’s time to turn around as the beauty of this hike seems to be the trail itself and I’ll be approaching the parking lot on the other end soon. Frank has a great time running along the trail and I enjoy the beautiful views on the return trip.
Tomorrow – Bath Time.