We kick off Day One — or rather the latter half of Day One, since the first half was spent driving — at Lake Taupo with a visit to Huka Falls (not Hooker Falls…don’t let that accent mislead you because that would be…ahem…embarrassing…). As we pull up to the parking lot, I’m not quite sure what to expect. Even if I’m not quite smart enough to decode basic, accented English, I am smart enough to realize that everything here is spectacularly beautiful, but that said, we don’t seem like we’re at a high enough elevation for anything overwhelmingly huge in the waterfall department.
Stepping out of the car, I realize we’re hearing Huka Falls before we see it — a big, thundering roar that makes the ground hum. Then, we round the corner and see it, and I am forced to immediately eat my words.
Huka Falls is essentially a natural ramp — 20m tall and just over 200m long — over which 220,000 litres of flowing water (per second!) from the Waikato River gets bottlenecked on its course from the usually-100m-wide path through this 15m-wide gorge. To say it is overwhelmingly huge and impressive is an understatement. Turquoise blue water pummels the sides of the channel, splashing and frothing and churning with a force that’s impossible to describe, let alone capture on camera (though it certainly is worth a try…).
Just about everyone who’s tried to brave the falls — be they swimmer or kayaker — has been sucked in by the unbelievably strong undertow, never to be seen alive again. As we watch the water thunder down the falls, it’s not hard to imagine how — it’s almost an unfathomable amount of water churning and pounding its way through the narrow, rocky pass.
I could stand and watch the mesmerizing froth and flow of the falls for ages, but we have things to do, places to see, and hot pools to swim in. Thus, after we’ve more or less had our fill of the falls, we head down the street to take a dip in the nearby naturally-formed geothermal pools, taking a quick pit stop along the way to take in the view.
The geothermal pools are amazing. When we first wade into the water, I’m at least a little unsure as to whether or not this whole “hot pools” things is a big joke — the water is freezing! However, as we shuffle closer to the miniature waterfall on the rocky bank of the pools — muttering expletives all the while — the water becomes gloriously toasty. Once we’re over near the little waterfall that presumably flows from volcanic hot springs underground, the pool is like a hot bath (only we get sort of muddy instead of clean…), and we plop down in the little cove and relax, chatting and people-watching our fellow hot poolers. Joining us in this area is a highly entertaining mixture of rambunctious young European tourists and happy little Kiwi families, and we sit back and wallow for awhile until the temperature starts to feel a little too toasty and our fingers and toes start to prune.
The walk back to the car from the pools is refreshingly breezy and cool after our thirty minutes of marinating in the hot spring water. As the sun sinks towards the horizon, the fatigue starts to set in and the idea of a warm dinner and cool sheets starts to sound increasingly good.
After all, by now — just day one into our time in central North Island — we’ve driven through The Shire and Mordor, contemplated the watery deathtrap that is Huka Falls, and taken a dip in the coolest (not literally, of course) hot springs this side of the international date line. And so, content with the very solid first day of sightseeing under our belts, we head back into town to our hotel to rinse off the hot spring water, change, and grab dinner. Afterwards, with bellies full of delicious food and wine, we flop into bed — big things planned for our day in Rotorua tomorrow morning.