Day 5: Okere Falls

Words by Andy | Photos by Chris

Day 5: Okere Falls

After a quick wander through town this morning, staff at the local tourist information centre gave us even more must-sees for Rotorua. We’ve had to save some for next time, but squeezed two more in.

Government Gardens are in the city at the edge of Lake Rotorua, right next to where we had our fancy spa experience last night. There’s a whopping great Tudor style building there which houses the Rotorua Museum, but it’s currently closed as they work on the structural safety following 2016’s earthquake. It’s due to reopen at the end of ‘25. 

The rose garden is pretty spectacular, and with everything in bloom it was a welcome aroma wafting through the Rotorua landscape. 

In front of the rose gardens sits the Arawa war memorial, which commemorates Te Arawa men who fought and died in the First World War. At the rear of the museum views of the lake include Sulphur Point, decorated with the familiar colour of silica deposits on the rocks, and some local birdlife.

Our next stop was about twenty minutes north, plus another ten to fifteen courtesy of some bad directions from Siri (we really think she’s trying to do us in sometimes). Oreke Falls was a super recommendation, and today’s highlight. Pulling up in the carpark you can already hear the rush of water. A steep staircase leads downwards and what we discovered at its base was the charging force of rapids, so forceful the water was spilling through to the pathway. This used to be a hydro-electric site, generating 200kW of power at its peak. There’s nothing left of the power house now, except for one salvaged turbine on display and a rusty one deteriorating in the rapids.

Back up the stairs and to the left is where the walking track begins, stretching around to several other vantage points of the river and falls. A local company runs a white water rafting activity here (something for next time) and it appears people also swing from a rope into the churning waters, only to get carried (hurriedly swept) down steam into the trout pool. That’ll be a no from me.

Back up top, the trail leads to two more vantage points. The most unique one was once known as Hinemoa’s cave, but the name has since been dropped because it has no actual connection to the Māori story.

At the time the powerhouse was being built, steps were cut into the stone wall down to the river. At the bottom is a cave you can crawl through that winds around to a point only a few metres away from where you enter. It’s dark, because caves don’t have electricity, and you need to crouch to get through the small opening at the end, but even I managed to do it.

Walk complete and it was time for one more wrong turn, this time my fault, and we headed for Taupō. The drive is a two-lane highway flanked in parts by pine forests sown for the forestry industry. Furry green towers of freshness whizzed by as we snaked our way south, opening into farm country with more chilled-out dairy cows.  There’s even a power plant we spotted along the way which could easily be confused as nuclear, but is actually geothermal. Totes good for the environment! Nearing Taupō looms Mount Tauhara and its three peaks, the gateway to our next stay.

So now we’re at Twin Peaks Motel, and our room looks straight out onto Lake Taupō, which is New Zealand’s largest lake, set in a massive old volcanic crater. There’s even a hot beach here where, if you dig your feet into the pebbly sand at the lake’s shore, you can warm your feet. Makes me wonder whether all that heat under an old volcano crater might…  never mind… the walk along the beach was soothing, as we waited for the load of washing to complete, and the golden hour of sunset gave Chris plenty of opportunities to photograph the lake.

Thai and some gelati to end our big day before turning in.

Tomorrow we explore the natural wonders of Taupō!

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