Wandering along the boardwalks of the Waiotapu Thermal Springs.
Wandering along the boardwalks of the Waiotapu Thermal Springs. Jan Bathersby

Who needs to rest when New Zealand is calling?

NEXT time you've got a few days off and are wondering what to do, why not get away completely?

Sure, Brisbane's handy and Byron Bay is a world removed but why not get serious about getting away?

What about heading to New Zealand?

Oh sure, it's another country.

And yep, it means finding the passport and booking flights.

But it's amazing how much you can squeeze into three days and still be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for work on Monday.

 

Visiting the Waiotapu Thermal Springs is like stepping back to the time of the dinosaurs.
Visiting the Waiotapu Thermal Springs is like stepping back to the time of the dinosaurs. Jan Bathersby

Here's how we did it:

FRIDAY:

8.25am: Emirates flight out of Brisbane bound for Auckland. Sure, it meant a 4am start but if you're going to do this you have to get serious about it.

2.35pm: Touch down in Auckland. The time difference is a bit of a killer.

3.30pm: A valuable hour lost getting through Immigration but with only a couple of carry-on bags to worry about we could give baggage pick-up a miss and head straight to pick up our hire car.

4.30pm: On the way to Rotorua at last after a frustratingly long wait for our hire car.

With the trusty GPS leading the way, we negotiated the inner-city motorways and were soon in the countryside where dairy farms and horse studs replaced traffic jams and high-rise.

5pm: Okay, we're lost.

Apparently the trusty GPS is set on "scenic route" and we left the main drag just outside Auckland.

Nothing to do but plough on and trust technology (although I did over-rule it a couple of times when it was obvious that the signposted, dual-carriageway sealed road was a better option than the goat track it was suggesting).

Happily, the scenic route really was that and we drove through some lovely little rural towns that we would otherwise have missed.

6.30pm: Thankfully the sun sets late in summer because there's still an hour's driving left. We've stumbled on Matamata, where they shot a lot of the outdoor scenes for the Lord Of The Rings movies.

It's too late to see the sights but the tourist information centre shaped like a hobbit's home is worth a few photos.

7.30pm: Arrive safely in Rotarua and check into the Holiday Inn. They're right, the place does smell of sulphur.

A quick dinner at one of the many restaurants in Eat Street and then home to bed - we've got a big day tomorrow.

SATURDAY:

8am: Slept like babies and there's no point wasting time - we've got some sights to see today.

We head south, planning to skirt around Lake Taupo and get to Mount Ruapehu, an active volcano that is capped by snow during the water months.

8.45am: We're among the first to arrive at the Wai o Tapu Thermal Valley hot springs, which means we get to wander thought the array of bubbling hot mud pools with only a handful of other early risers.

 

Wai o Tapu Thermal Springs
Wai o Tapu Thermal Springs Jan Bathersby

It's quite an amazing place. Sort of like stepping out of the Stone Age with a curtain of steam rising from the top of hot pools fed by hot streams hundreds and even thousand of metres below the ground.

10.30am: On the road again just as the crowds begin to arrive.

11.15am: A detour off the main road brings us to Huka Falls, a spectacular waterfall at the tip of Lake Taupo. It's an amazing sight as the Waikato River is forced into a narrow ravine before plunging over a short, but powerful waterfall at a rate of 220,000 litres a second.

12.30pm: We arrive in the beautiful town of Lake Taupo, on the banks of the lake which shares its name.

This is one seriously pretty place and probably fairly laid-back but today there's a major triathlon underway and the town is jumping.

1.30pm: On the road again after a bite to eat. Lake Taupo is massive and our journey takes us around the water's edge for more than 40km. The shoreline is dotted with little villages and scores of people are out swimming, fishing and boating.

2.40pm: A short nap in the car parked beside the water. I never said the three-day getaway thing wasn't tiring.

3pm: Back on the road but running out of time and the sunny day has turned a bit sour.

We make it to Ruapehu National Park where we hope to see the volcano but it soon becomes obvious the low clouds and showers of rain will defeat us, so we decide to head for home base.

5.30pm: Without constant stops and meandering, the trip home is always quicker and in no time at all we're at the Polynesian Spa in the centre of Rotarua.

Four rockpools of varying water temperatures (starting at 35 degrees) help soothe away aches and pains and it's easy to spend a couple of hours just soaking up the therapeutic waters.

7.30pm: Dinner in downtown Rotarua and another early night.

SUNDAY:

10am: After a well-deserved sleep-in and a lazy breakfast in Rotarua, we're back on the road for the return trip to Auckland but this time we're taking a different route.

1.30pm: After a slow drive through some more beautiful New Zealand countryside, we get to the Waitomo Glow Worm Caves to find we should have booked ahead.

My wife is keen to persevere as her grandparents visited here in the 1960s and delighted her with stories as a child.

A kind staff member bumps us up the list and before we know it we're wandering through limestone caves surrounded by millions of glow worms.

3pm: Back on the road to Auckland.

6.30pm: With plenty of time up our sleeve we pull into a roadside parking area just off the end of the airport and join the crowds watching the planes pass just a couple of hundred metres above us.

9.15pm: All aboard our Virgin flight home.

9.55pm: The time difference means we touch down in Brisbane just 40 minutes after taking off.

11.30pm: We're home in our own bed on the Sunshine Coast.

MONDAY

8.30am: Arrive for work feeling a little bit dusty but able to answer the usual "how was you weekend?" queries with "nit bad - we went to New Zealand for a few days".

Absolutely worth it!

* The writer and his wife paid for their own trip.


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