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Monday marked Day 5 and didn't start out that well. About an hour south of Ralph's (beautiful drive as you can see on the left) as we approached Warkworth, my car overheated. I pulled over right away...let it cool a bit, checked the coolant level (fine), and tried to drive again to see if we could get into town. About a mile further (1 km to town) it overheated again and I pulled into a parking lot and called AA (no, not the alcoholics, the Automobile Association) for a tow.
In order to avoid a long delay Dad and Wendy headed into town to find a rental car and I waited for the Tow Truck. About 2.5 hours later we were back on the road and headed south. We lost our chance at a day's activity, but arrived in Rotarua in time to have an early dinner and head to the Polynesian Spa for a hot mineral bath soak.
In the morning we headed to Wai-O Tapu Geothermal Wonderland, and a wonderland it is! This shot is of the near boiling pool and is an intense emerald green with very bright orange rim. Depending on the wind visibility can drop to nothing or become brilliant as the steam from the 70-80 (C) water fills the air. We started with the short walk of about 45 minutes before heading off for the scheduled geyser show. The geyser would go off on its own every 24-48 hours, but to allow visitors to see the spectacle they seed the geyser with soap powder every morning at 10:15. About the most touristy thing we did the whole trip but pretty cool non the less. We loved the geothermal hike so much that we went back so we could see the other two trails through the park. The other two loops are not quite as spectacular, but quite interesting and very beautiful. This is a stop well worth making.
From there we headed off to Lake Taupo for a picknick lakeside and some serious duck feeding. By the end of lunch we had about 25 ducks quacking after our scraps and one kiwi teenager asking for a cracker (we guessed it was on a dare). After another nice lunch we headed to Hukai Falls where an amazing amount of water flows down a waterfall. I don't remember the flow rate, but it was something like 80 Olympic swimming pools every second. From there we drove down to Napier, where we found a great hotel room and even better restaurant. Pacifica is run by a Mauri Chef and "European" (i.e. white) kiwi wife who acts as sommelier and hostess. Dishes are appetizer sized and look like something straight out of Top Chef with great presentation, flavor combinations, and unique preparations of primarily local seafood. It was a long (almost 3 hour) dining experience and not one we will soon forget. Before we left we asked the hostess to suggest some vineyards for us to visit the following day...one of our better ideas.
In the morning of day 7 Dad and I took the Art Deco Architecture Tour while Wendy had a "lay-in". Napier was hit by a devestating earthquake in 1931 followed by fires that leveled the city. When rebuilt, Art Deco was in its hayday and most of the city was rebuilt in this style. Luckily in the 1970's and 80's when people started looking to tear the old buildings down and rebuild, only two buildings were lost before a local trust saved the rest. We had a great tour and by noon were having a cheese tasting at Te Mata Cheese Company. We followed that with a wine tasting at Te Mata Vineyards before heading to Craggy Range for a tasting and then lunch. This large and very impressive vinyard is the recent investment of the children of the founder of Waste Management, one of the largest trash services in the US. Apparently the trash business is quite profitable as this is a very nice vineyard with an outstanding restaurant where we had a too long but very tasty meal after our 7-flight wine tasting in the "cellar door". After that we were a bit whipped which probably didn't help our disapointing tasting at Esk Valley. Overall we were very impressed with Hawke's Bay vineyards, especially their ability to make some truly great reds. Dad brought home 3 bottles from Craggy Range (and a polo shirt), two of which will wait at least 5 years before opening when we plan to come together and remember our trip over one of bottles.
In part 3 we will head to Wellington and the South Island.... Stay Tuned.