After hopping back on the Stray bus, we headed about an hour out of Rotorua to Lake Aniwhenua. Definitely not on most tourists/backpackers hitlist.
We stayed in a lodge on the edge of the lake run by a local Maori family who are trying to regenerate the area through tourism. The nearby town of Murupara was very prosperous due to the forestry industry around 30-40 years ago. One of the largest man made forests in the Southern Hemisphere, Kaingaroa Forest, is close by, and was the centre of the local industry. Unfortunately in the intervening years, there have been changes in the forestry industry which means that Murupara is now a very poor area with lots of poverty, which was evident as we drove through the town.
The family who run the lodge recognise that the local area has lots of features which would be ideal to attract tourists – lakes, rivers, forests, waterfalls and other awesome scenery and are trying to encourage the tourist industry to grow.
We had a stop at some stone carvings which pre-date the supposed arrival of the Maori in NZ by around 400 years. The Maori arrived in the 1400s and these carvings have been dated to around 1050:
We then went to see a waterfall near to the lake before heading to the lodge on the lake itself.
The lodge offered several activities including kayaking, cooking and eeling. I opted for some traditional Maori weaving and created this ‘unique’ bracelet:
I may have been drinking whilst doing it…
We had a traditional hangi feast for dinner. A hangi is when the food is cooked on hot stones underground. Huge joints of pork and whole chickens, along with kumara (sweet potato) cook in around 2 and a half hours. The food was delicious.
The evening saw yet another spectacular sunset. I’ve lost count of how many of these I’ve seen.
The next day we stopped by the local school in Murupara to drop off leftovers from our hangi. A lot of the kids here come to school without breakfast and may not eat when they get home so the food that is provided from the lodge is invaluable. There were about 100 5-9 year olds who we met. They did a (really cute) haka for us, and sang some songs, and then we got to join in with play time. Just like the kids I met at the school in Fiji, these kids have loads of energy and are so happy and smiley. It really gives you a warm feeling inside.
After we left the school, we headed for a brief stop in Taupo. On the way we stopped at the Huka Falls. There is a tremendous amount of water flowing through here as it exits Lake Taupo into the Waikato River.
We then headed towards Whakahoro, where we were spending 2 nights. Again, this is not on most backpackers’ itineraries. There is no phone coverage and expensive wifi, so I was cut off from the rest of the world for a day and a half. It was quite nice not to have any internet, and as we all sat around in the accommodation in the evening, it was noted that it was nice that we were talking to each other rather than being glued to our phones.
There were opportunities for horse riding, hunting and jet boating at Whakahoro, but I opted for the gentler option of a walk to a(nother) waterfall.
After another ridiculous sunset, it was relatively early to bed before the 5am alarm call before tackling the Tongariro Alpine Crossing.