I'd briefly stopped at Taupo on the very first day of my road trip, but it was raining so hard that I simply hid in the car, wondering just what I'd got myself into. Luckily my second visit proved a much more interesting one, especially as it was the first real experience I'd had of hardcore tourism since I'd last been in the North Island; the South Island is relatively untouched by tourism, apart from the Queenstown area, but not so the North Island. The caravan park I was in was crammed full of backpackers and tourists, and it brought back the sinking feeling that I'd felt when I finally hit the busy Stuart Highway after six months exploring remote Western Australia. As I tried to fall asleep in my tent, the sound of Saturday night drinking and banging music made me realise just how far I am from the type of travelling that the Kiwi Experience brings to town.
I must digress here, because the Kiwi Experience (and its cousin the Oz Experience) is my idea of a living hell, and one of the reasons I got on so well with Delia in Tongariro was that her opinions on the Kiwi Experience tallied with mine. The Experience is a bus ticket you can buy, and you can jump on and off the bus as many times as you like, as long as you follow the route on the ticket. The buses have commentary and follow the main tourist routes, but the problem is the people; the Kiwi Experience is full of young drinkers, sex-obsessed teenagers and people whose idea of a good time is getting pissed every night and sleeping it off on the bus. No thanks; I've managed to stay away from this kind of crowd by avoiding backpacker hostels like the plague, and if there's one excellent justification for me spending large amounts of cash on the likes of Zed and Oz, it's so I can avoid the 18-30 mentality of the Experiences. There, that's my spleen vented, even if it does make me sound like a bitter old git.
Getting up well before my hungover neighbours, I decided to explore the thermal areas of the central region, before heading east to Napier for some more school visits. My main destination for the day was Orakei Korako, arguably the most impressive thermal area of them all, and I think for once that the hype is justified. The gushing geysers, boiling mud pools, beautiful caves and amazing multi-coloured lakes are a wonder to behold, and photographs just can't do justice to the stench, the atmosphere and the noises of nature at its most hell-like. After Orakei Korako I popped in to the Craters of the Moon conservation area just north of Taupo, home to yet more impressive boiling mud craters, and after breathing in enough fumes to kill a cat, I drove east to the fresh coastal air of Napier.