After some fun on the beach in the Coromandel, our next stop was a dairy farm in the Waikite valley, just south of Rotorua.
I thought the girls might be disappointed leaving the beach behind. As it turned out, this was their favourite week of the trip so far.
Our new surroundings reminded me slightly of Ireland, except with more sunshine and fewer pubs.
Ireland also doesn’t generally have boiling hot river water. Whereas we managed to spend quite a bit of time floating around in some pretty hot water, at our new favourite thermal pool.
This region of the north island is famed for its geothermal activity, which seems to boil down to having a particularly thin layer of earth standing between it and some extremely warm volcanic material.
At the Waikite Valley Thermal Pools, you can walk to the spring that is producing a constant stream of fresh water at 98c. This is cooled down in a series of separate pools, before you enter it in a healthier temperature range of 38-40c.
Unlike Rotorua, the air here does not have a sulphur smell, so we were all extremely comfortable spending a few hours in the healing waters. The pools are open until 9pm, so we particularly enjoyed coming down after dark, to enjoy the cooler air and to catch some stars.
Milking the Cows
Another good find through Airbnb, our cottage in the Waikite valley came fully equipped with a herd of cows and an especially nice family.
By 7.30am on day 1, the kids were both fully dressed, welly boots at the ready, awaiting the arrival of their new best friend, Stephanie.
We went to meet some of the younger cows first, but even the babies seemed fairly large up close, and the kids were wary of getting licked to death.
Each new day arrived with the same unfamiliar eagerness to get dressed and have breakfast, before the cows needed fresh pasture. It was very sweet to the see kids so excited each morning, and literally waiting at the door for the sound of the farm jeep approaching.
After requiring a chaperone on their first day, my services were no longer required. As soon as they spied Stephanie approaching, they were both bounding down the drive. Gone for the next hour, apparently in heaven, come rain or shine. Helping to move fences around so that the cows could access their next dose of fresh grass.
Our amazing hosts then made us all get up early one morning, to go and visit the main herd for milking time.
These cows were altogether bigger than the kids had got used to, and you could immediately tell that Lexi wasn’t quite as keen as her sister. This may have been because she’d been woken up too early, or perhaps she wasn’t altogether happy about the distinct aroma that filled the air.
By this stage of the week, Kiera had all but decided that her future lay in farming. She’s pretty determined once she sets her mind on something, so it wouldn’t surprise me to see her back on a dairy farm at some point in the future.
Stephanie, along with her husband Steve, let the kids get right into the action, and they had a go at placing the milking tubes onto one of the herd.
We then got to have a little try of the fresh milk, at which point Lexi let it be known that she’d be happier getting her milk from the fridge. She did give it a go eventually, but she wasn’t converted.
The kids were sad to leave “their” cows behind. We had all been made to feel very welcome, and it was nice being back in some country air.
Waikite valley was a perfect spot for us, and it was also handily placed for day trips into Rotorua and Taupo.
Whakarewarewa Maori Village
Aside from geothermal activity, a strong Maori presence is one of the other notable features of visiting Rotorua.
We opted to visit the Maori village at Whakarewarewa, rather than the government run set-up at Te Puia. Both sites have viewing points to the Pohutu geyser and we preferred to visit a real community rather than a museum.
Our visit started with a cultural show, which was going well until they invited some audience participation.
We were then taken on a tour of the village by one of the local guides. It did feel slightly odd to be taking a tour while people were busy going about their daily lives, but we discovered that this has been happening in the village for the last hundred years. Even the Queen has done a tour, so I guess it must be ok.
Despite watching for an hour, we couldn’t seem to get the Pohutu geyser to spray more than a few feet of water, but I guess you can’t have everything.
Redwoods Treetop Walk
One evening we did manage to drag ourselves away from the thermal pools to visit the Redwoods treetop walk in Rotorua. A 500-metre walkway, suspended up to 12 metres off the ground, held up by bits of rope.
We visited in the evening, just before sunset, so managed to glimpse the forest in daylight and see the night lights being switched on.
Huka Falls at Lake Taupo
Lake Taupo looks spectacular in most photos, but we decided to visit on a day of grey skies and torrential rain.
I wanted to see Huka Falls, and the kids were eventually impressed by the sheer force of water cascading down in front of them.
Seeking shelter, we spent most of the afternoon at a glass making studio. Whilst initially being an excuse to get indoors, Lava Glass turned out to be an unexpected diamond.
It was fascinating to watch the glass blowers at work, creating elaborate and beautiful sculptures from fragments of sand.
If we hadn’t been travelling on a budget, I may have been tempted to spend some money in the gallery. Instead we limited ourselves to a hot drink and cake.
We’re off to see the bright lights of Wellington, which will be our last stop in the North Island.