New Year’s Day and it’s time to move on. We board the Waiheke ferry and then head south-eastwards then back up north towards the Coromandel Peninsula. Tommy entertains us with various podcasts to pass the time. When we reach the peninsula we decide to go the scenic route up the west side. First we stop off at Thames, the centre of the great New Zealand Gold Rush in the late 1870s. The mine here was the largest in the world at that time and 20,000 prospectors flocked to seek their fortune. Very few succeeded – less than 10% – and those who failed found themselves leading a life of drudgery underground where conditions were truly appalling. Thames had 120 pubs and three churches for the miners’ day off (says something about the poor devils’ priorities); now all that remains are some lovingly restored over-ground buildings and four stampers which were used to crush the ore out of the quartz – in its hey-dey there were 800 of them and the noise must have been deafening.
The brisk wind has not abated by morning – the lake has white horses and big waves – and we decide to make up for yesterday’s Hobbit faux pas by visiting Mt Doom, in fact the volcano Mt Ngauruhoe. We aim for Whakapapa, centre of the North Island ski industry and the famous Tongariro Mountain Crossing, one of NZ’s most renowned ‘tramps’ on the flanks of the snow-capped Mt Ruapehu and not for the faint-hearted. We content ourselves with a 6 km amble through the windswept volcanic landscape reminding us of Sam and Frodo’s journey to Mordor, the Taranaki Falls Walk, which is busy but rewarding for the falls, where we have a picnic lunch. It feels very much like a day out in the Lakes.
We are quite glad to see the back of the house in Taupo, though it did provide the shop where I bought a snuggly merino and possum wrap and some gloves. The cold has got the better of me! Now for Napier, a rather dowdy seaside resort town, with gloomy sea-front motels and a rather underwhelming aquarium. We missed the fine Art Deco buildings round the back built after an earthquake 1931.