A woman strolled slowly by. "Hi, how's it going?" I said more as a greeting than as a question. In a short space of time I learned that the English woman had recently retired, and carried out the promise she had made for herself - to drag her husband across to New Zealand for a month's holiday. "A month won't be enough, so we will come again sometime," she told me with a smile. I wondered if hubby knew this. She continued with her stroll as her other half snoozed in their car, oblivious to the world.
People Watching While Sipping a Beer in Taupo with Storm Approaching on the Right
The road continued to skirt around the vast Lake Taupo as I headed towards Taupo. The volcanic plateau surrounding Taupo was formed over 250,000 years ago. The latest eruption occurring in 186 AD, when the Taupo volcano spewed out 24 cubic kilometres of rock, debris and ash, covering most of the North Island in pumice. The ash circled the globe, blocking out the sun with a red dust cloud recorded in both Rome and China. The underground magma chambers collapsed leaving a colossal steep-sided caldera, which later filled with water to form the 619sq km Lake Taupo. Echoes of Taupo's violent past were still to be found to the south in the backdrop of magnificent towering, volcanic peaks in Tongariro National Park.
Lake Taupo is New Zealand's largest lake, and also the source of the country's longest river, the 425km Waikato River. The serene, clear lake was fed by some of the best trout rivers of the world, and was regarded as a Mecca for trout-fishers. Trout were introduced into New Zealand by Europeans, and this vast lake was home to millions of pink-cheeked rainbow trout and the more wily brown trout. It was often referred to as the "trout fishing capital of the world" because of the renowned fisheries in the Tongariro River and other notable streams that yielded huge trout. Tourists could simply catch them from charter boats by lowering a line over the side; not a lot of sport there then! Because of some arcane fishing rule, in New Zealand trout can't be sold, so if you want trout for your supper you have to catch it yourself.
Taupo is a vibrant town with a classy restaurant and cafe scene, located at the outlet of Waikato River on the northeast shore of Lake Taupo. The area is a centre of volcanic and geothermal activity, and hot springs suitable for bathing are located at several places in the vicinity. I picked up a campsite a walk away from the town centre, and set about drying a few things out. With boredom setting in, I soon found myself walking into town, just as the schools were emptying; the pavements were awash with Taupo's future academics.
When I reached the usual conglomeration of cafes, restaurants, bars and shops, I found a small selection of art galleries too. I hadn't had an art fix since Napier, so I had a nose around to see what was on offer.
A Silent Roar of Harleys
At one, the artist was sitting with his easel at the top of a flight of stairs which led down to his gallery, and he was applying measured strokes to a painting he had on the go. A quick glance around revealed he was a landscape artist. "Mind if I look around your paintings?" I asked the guy. "I'd love you to," he answered, followed up by, "Where are you from?" "Go on, have a guess I said," just to see how far off the mark he would be. "York," was his best pitch, which was pretty good really.
"I live in Ipswich, but you can obviously pick up a northern twang. I came from the Lake District originally," I told him. "I know of Ipswich," he said. "Did you live near Windermere or Keswick?" he asked. Crumbs, this man knew Britain quite well.
He told me he was on his own, and travelled about quite a lot, staying mostly at hostels, and he recounted some of his experiences. We had a lot in common; he was 4 years my senior, and had been widowed for 14 years. He openly talked about being a widower, how he had coped at the beginning and how things had got better as time went by. One aspect that did intrigue me, he often came across folk of either sex on their own, he knew how it felt, and he had now got to the point where he would just walk up to them in a bar or restaurant and chat. As a traveller on the streets or on a hike, I could chat to a complete stranger, but in a closed environment like a bar or restaurant, I don't find it easy making that initial contact.
"How long have you been painting?" I asked, returning to my original reason for entering the gallery. "Four years. I have never had a lesson, just self-taught," he replied. He was doing pretty well considering he had never been given instruction.
A customer turned up, so I took a browse around his gallery; all New Zealand landscapes. When his customer had left, he asked me if I painted. "I loved art at school, but went down the engineering route. I draw or paint about once every 8 years. You can see some of my material on my website if you're interested," I said, and he made a note of the URL. He apologised for having to dash off, he had a prior arrangement, but if I was around at 4pm tomorrow, he'd share a beer with me. A very kind gesture.
After the Deluge
After yesterday's exertions, I just wanted a chill out day, so I walked down to the lake side, found a bar that had good music, and sat outside with a cool beer, wrote up my notes, and people watched.
Raindrops appeared, and seeing there was an Indian restaurant 30m down the road, I headed straight for it, and was granted a window seat upstairs with a grandstand view across the lake. As my meal progressed, headlands on the lake started to disappear behind an advancing grey wall. The crashing of thunder was the precursor of what was to come. Small fishing boats were frantically plying their way back to the harbour for refuge. The advancing wall soon engulfed them.
I was amazed to see how the wind had totally reversed its direction as the storm approached. Soon the town was under a deluge. The din from the downpour completely drowned out the in-house music. Outside, the odd brave or mad soul dashing from the car park was instantly soaked. Thunder bolts and lightening, all very exciting.
I finished my meal. None of the staff were bothered about hurrying me out of the restaurant, mind you they weren't exactly busy. The storm passed over, and the streets cleansed by Mother Nature. A warm evening glow appeared in the sky, but there were still drops of water in the air, and the threat of more to come.
I took refuge in a bar and watched the cricket, hoping the skies would clear. No such luck, so I took a cab back to camp, the cabby quite content to talk about rugby. I was whacked, I needed an early night I thought as I squelched my way across the waterlogged grass to my pitch in the corner of the site, the lowest corner where all the water flowed to!