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Tongariro National Park 

The roads in New Zealand are fantastic.  There are no pot holes, they are well maintained and the scenery is truly spectacular.  Driving through the Tongariro National Park, the roads were really quiet, which was great for us as it allowed us to make a few stops to take pictures and breathe the freshest air you can imagine.

There are still three active volcanos (Tongariro, Ngaruhoe and Ruapehu) in this national park with Mount Ngaruhoe standing out because of it's typical volcanic shape.  Another famous volcano is Mount Ruapehu, which is also famous for it's great skiing fields in winter. Mount Tongariro erupted just last year, sending blocks as big as 1 metre in size up to 2 kilometres from the vent, after being dormant since 1897.  The ash cloud travelled 250 kilometres in just four hours and was 25 kilometres long and 15 kilometres wide only 39 minutes after the eruption.  Even today we could still see the smoke coming out from the side crater, visible from the road.

Tongariro National Park also has a popular hiking route called Tongariro Alpine Crossing which passes between Tongariro and Ngauruhoe.

The beautiful clouds over the National Park really justified New Zealand's nickname - Land of the long white clouds.

From here to Lake Taupo it is only 20 km and the drive is truly scenic around the lake.  This time around we were not brave enough to take a dip  as the water was very cold even in the summer, but some people would call it refreshing.  Only a few more kilometres from Taupo and we arrived to the set of waterfalls on Waikato river, Huka Falls.  The most popular part of the river is where it narrows from approximately 100 metres across into a narrow canyon only 15 metres across.  The volume of water flowing through is staggering, often approaches 220,000 litres per second!!!  The most impressive stage of the falls is an 11 metre drop.  People often think that we add vibrance or saturation to our pictures but the water in Waikato river has a unique blue colour due to the clear water reflecting blue light and the air bubbles in the water that intensify this colour.  You can't swim in this river as it is very dangerous but the temperature of the water varies between 10C to 20C.  

You know that you are close to Rotorua when you start smelling the typical sulphuric smell.  Something like rotten eggs.  Local residents are used to it, but visitors can smell it from afar.  This time round we didn't have time to visit Wai-o-Tapu Thermal Wonderland, but we love this place for its beautiful and vibrant colours and lots of bubbling mud, which is great fun to take photos of.

In the morning we decided to take pictures of Lake Rotorua and then crossed the road to Hamurana Springs

Rotorua is not only a place of fascinating Maori culture, hot springs and boiling mud pools but THE place for adrenalin lovers.  You can chose from white water rafting and sledging, four wheel driving, sky diving from 9000, 12,000 or 15,000 feet, bungy jumping, jet boating and Zorbing.  The choice is yours.  We managed to take photos of a couple of groups doing white water rafting at Okere Falls.  A seven metre high waterfall lays claim to being the highest commercially rafted waterfall in the world.   Okere river is a site of significant Māori cultural and spiritual values.  The area is renowned for the tribal wars of the past. Behind and around the Waterfall exist caves used for the hiding of women and children, and later the burial ground of Chief Tutea.  He was buried in this then inaccessible place as it is a huge offence to take someone's bones from the grave.  

After a little excitement, we headed to Coromandel Peninsula.  We stayed at the 10 Holiday Park at Hot Water Beach in one of their new luxury cabins and they are awesome.  Nice, clean, new.  The facilities in the holiday park are also great with a nice Fish and Chips shop on site if you didn't bring your own supplies which you can cook in the well equipped kitchen there.  Hot Water Beach is unique!  Its name comes from underground hot springs which filter up through the sand between the high and low ocean tides.  Within two hours either side of low tide, it is possible to dig into the sand allowing hot water to escape to the surface forming a hot water pool. The hot water temperature can be as hot as 64°C.  This place is well known not only to New Zealanders but also foreign visitors who often dig large holes, relax and soak in the thermal water.You can bring a spade and bucket with you but they can also be hired from the nearby surf shop.  Because we stayed only one night, the low tide was at 2am.  This time we passed getting up at midnight to give it a go since we've done it several times before.

We also drove about 10 kilometres that afternoon to Cathedral Cove, which is arguably one of the most picturesque spots.  To get to the beach, you have to take about a 40 minute hike, but it's well worth it.  The Cathedral is a huge arched cavern that penetrates the headland between two coves. The beach itself is sandy with a Pohutukawa backdrop—a perfect place for a picnic or sunrise photography.

Last time we were there, we hiked at 3am in complete darkness through the forest to take photos of the sunrise but to our surprise when we got there, we found about 50 tourists from Japan with their tripods and cameras already prepared for the rising sun.  We couldn't believe our eyes. This time around we were quite lucky, it was only two of us there and no one else with the first people arriving after the sunrise.

Next day it was a two and a half drive to Auckland, and then the west coast to take a few pictures of the sunset.  Piha is a well known beach for surfers and has a very unique black sand.

We stayed at the Langham Hotel on Symonds St, which has a great Spa centre with sauna, steam room, pool, jacuzzi and a gym.  That was exactly what our bodies craved and it was a beautiful finish to our trip after so many kilometres driving around New Zealand.

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