Gisborne and Napier were really delicious. We went there for two things, sun and wine (or other alcoholic things) and we were able to have both for almost the entire time we were there. In Gisborne we enjoyed free tastings at The Cidery which makes all of the Scrumpy, Harvest and Bulmers ciders for New Zealand. Then we were caught in a torrential downpour. Once that passed we were pretty much enjoying the sun for the rest of the week. We visited the Gisborne Wine Center and had two tasting platters with 6 different local Gisborne wines in each tray. The east coast is known for its Chardonnays and Syrahs and both were as lovely as we had hoped they would be. On our way into Napier we passed two wineries - Esk Valley and Crab Farm. It seemed rude not to stop in for a free tasting, so we went in. We also decided it was a good day to try something other than the local wine. We headed just outside of town in Napier to the Filter Room where they brew their own beers and ciders and had a tasting tray there.
In case you're worried all we did on the east coast is drink, we also did some nice walks. Both places have walks that take you to the top of hills/cliffs for lookouts over their industrial ports and into the Pacific Ocean. We also watched both of the quarter final matches of the Rugby World Cup in Napier. Luke had been growing a mustache in honor of Kurtley Beale, but when Australia lost he decided to shave it off.
After Napier we headed inland to Taupo where we did some souvenir shopping one day and did some sightseeing on the other. The standout sight for me was Huka Falls, a waterfall that pushes so much water through such a tight space that when it drops it is nearly as loud and powerful as Niagara Falls. Our next stop was the Craters of the Moon. It is a thermal area with literal craters in the ground. The steam pours out of them and when you get close enough you can hear the bubbling of the steam pushing through the ground. These were different than others that we have seen because there wasn't any water in any of them. The only liquid was a little bit of boiling mud in the larger craters. Our last stop of the day was called the Honey Hive. We tasted enough honey to make me feel sick then tried some Mead which is alcohol made from fermented honey. They even had a working beehive inside that you could look into, kind of like a giant ant farm.
After Taupo we headed south to Tongariro National Park. The campground alone stands at about 1100 meters (3600 ft), so needless to say it was a little bit of a cold night. We were rewarded with a beautiful sunny day at the park though. We did a 4 hour walk which gave us incredible views of the three enourmous volcanoes that live there. The second largest of the three, Mount Ngaruhoe is a perfectly cone shaped volcano and was used as Mount Doom in Lord of the Rings. After the long walk we were pretty exhausted and headed out of the national park for a warmer nights sleep near New Plymouth.
We woke up yesterday and headed to another national park, Egmont. There is only one volcano here, but it is enough. For people that thought they only needed to see Tongariro, they have missed out because Egmont (also known as Taranaki) is a stunning mountain. We drove into the park and got out of the car just in time for the gale force winds to arrive. We had about enough of the wind once we'd take a few photos and I fell over, so we got back in the car and headed north.
We spent the night in Otorohanga, a small town outside of the Waitomo Cave area. Today we are pretty much just heading north again so that we will only be a short drive outside of Auckland for Sunday morning. Our plan is to get in line at the fanzone as early as possible so that we can party all night with the Kiwis when the All Blacks beat France tomorrow!