On the road again, leaving the volcanic region and heading farther towards the South. Google maps points out about 5 hours driving, we actually need 6,5 hours including breaks. We decide to take the route along the Tongariro National Park.
I do not know how may different kinds of landscape we crossed today. Around the corner the views may already have changed totally. From Rotorua we head towards Taupo, the road leads through an ocean of yellow blooming gorse. The street constantly twists and goes up and down. Closer to Taupo the earth in some places fractures and in between the gorse steam rises from the zigzagging cracks.
New scenery: The road leads along the large Lake Taupo, has in parts exhaustingly been cut out from the rocks. Signs warn “falling rocks”, though fortunately not on us. South of the lake the volcanic nature reserve begins. The volcanos are to the right, their peaks hidden in clouds. The route is called “Desert Road”. At first we have to follow the serpentines far down, then up again; there is only bush to both sides, everything is green. Then a last summit and suddenly you are in the middle of a steppe. There are no trees on this high plateau, nothing stops the view across these endless fields of prarie grass. Only a few weeks ago the Tongariro darted its ashes all over the region but we don’t see anything of this phenomenon. According to newspaper reports we had expected it to be worse.
Unfortunately rain follows us, with every break we take it catches up. We see steep cliffs that would look beautiful on any coast, then again hilly farmland changing into wide grounds with broad meadows. Later on the road goes up again very steeply and suddenly we have to pass through a narrow canyon – the street has literally been glued to the rocks above the river, there is a railway line on the other side, leading through tunnels.
The farer we come to the South the more inhabited the region becomes. Masterton is a real big town, the lodge we booked is a good choice for the next two nights. After this long journey today we don’t have any energy left to search for a restaurant so we simply decide to have diner in the restaurant belonging to the lodge. It is not easy though to get a table as currently all the business Christmas parties are taking place. We succeed in getting hold of two seats directly beside the kitchen door and have good views over the whole restaurant. Beside the truly excellent diner it is a very special experience: All party guests around one bigger table are wearing Santas bonnets all the evening, with these temperatures! Crazy.