Seeing & Doing at Mount Bruce, Napier & Taupo
Mount Bruce, Napier and Taupo offer much to see and do in the Center of New Zealand’s North Island.
MOUNT BRUCE, NAPIER, TAUPO, NEW ZELAND
Mount Bruce forest (Pukaha) once covered a large area boasting a marvelous ecosystem supporting thousands of native birds. Now Mount Bruce forest is a mere 942 hectares and, sadly, most of the birds that lived here have either become extinct or they no longer inhabit this area. The present day ongoing restoration of Mount Bruce involves an aggressive hunting and trapping program to discourage immigration of predators coupled with an endangered native bird breeding program in which birds are ultimately set free to breed in the wild.
At Pukaha Mount Bruce National Wildlife Centre, although the concentration is on birds, they also nurture tuatara, the only surviving reptile from the time of dinosaurs, as well as a population of long finned eels. Management supplements the eel’s natural food sources and while the female eels (normally loners) gather below the feeding platform staff take the opportunity to educate the public about these interesting creatures.
The first bird to be kept at Pukaha was the flightless bright blue and green Takahe with its thick red/orange beak. A very rare bird indeed. In fact, it was thought the Takahe extinct until someone found a few in a remote area of Milford Sound in 1948. The work the center is doing and how they are doing it is fascinating and well worth a visit.
Another sighting for us at Pukaha was that of the Brown Kiwi. Since kiwis are nocturnal the wildlife center has constructed a special ‘kiwi hut’ with simulated night lighting where visitors may view the kiwi through large glass windows. Kiwi is the only bird in the world with external nostrils at the tip of its long beak which helps it locate insects and worms underground using its keen sense of smell.
Some bird species we observed at Pukaha were the same as we had seen in the wild on Ulva Island: the rare Saddleback, Stitchbird, Kakariki (parakeet), Bellbird (like the one we heard singing ‘If You Knew Susie’) and the Kaka … although the Kakas we saw on Ulva were larger and more colorful than the ones at Pukaha.
Simply put, Pukaha Mount Bruce National Wildlife Centre is amazing. It’s not a zoo. Much of it is restored natural forest where visitors may witness conservation in action. Workers and volunteers are passionate about their work and encourage people of all ages to open their minds and eyes to what is and what is possible: to be enthused about the natural world around us, to being part of keeping our planet strong, and to assist and respect wildlife, whether in another country or at home in our own backyards.
Napier, the capital of Hawke Bay province, has a well-established Maori history.
The bay, sighted by Captain Cook in October of 1769, was described thus, “On each side of this bluff head are low, narrow sand or stone beaches, between these beaches and the mainland is a large lake of salt water I suppose.”
Trader, whalers and missionaries were the forerunners of the permanent residency here. In the 1850’s farmers merchants and innkeepers arrived.
The drive from Napier to Taupo was very pleasant ~ good road and beautiful scenery. Once in Taupo we checked in at the Visitor Information Centre and began our exploration of the area.
First up; Huka Falls. Here the Waikato River eroded through soft mudstone and pumice until it struck a layer of hardened silica from earlier geothermal activity. Over the centuries the river cut a deep narrow channel into this hard layer and when a soft underlying layer collapsed, the steep-sided basin and falls were created. The shape of the basin generates a tremendous … and dangerous … undertow. Today the river continues this erosion as it makes its way upstream.
Just down the road we visited Prawn Park … the world’s only geothermally heated facility devoted to raising prawns. The Waikato River supplies the fresh water needed to accommodate this breed of fresh water prawn while the Wairakei Geothermal Power Station provides the heat necessary to bring the river water up to optimum growing temperature.
Our guide showed us a large male ‘breeder’ with his long blue pincer legs, as well as the breeding, larva and growing tanks (where Terry held his hand under water with a bit of food in his palm as young prawns crawled up to snatch a snack).
Before leaving Huka Prawn Park we had lunch … you guessed it; prawns.
Craters of the Moon … really, that’s what this low-key geothermal attraction is called.
From earliest times people have been attracted to thermal areas which provided heat, a method to cook food while the hot, mineralized waters were used for bathing and medicinal purposes. Also the colored soils of these areas were used as dyes for garments, carvings and body decoration.
Geothermals were highly valued by those who lived near them and become popular tourist destinations.
As man’s ability to harness the power of steam grew, geothermal uses expanded. The generation of electricity is probably the most obvious example; the world’s first geothermal power station to use steam from discharging hot water was built at New Zealand’s Wairakei Station in 1958. Geothermal steam and hot water is used locally to heat homes, dry crops, grow tropical prawns and heat swimming pools.
Craters of the Moon has only been active for a relatively short period of time, its history, thus, is limited. Maori certainly made use of other thermal ‘hot spots’ in the region and collected red ochre (a reddish clay) from this area.
The walking loop around the site takes about 45 minutes to complete. Its grade is easy and has both fine gravel pathways and wooden boardwalks.
On the way to our accommodations, we stopped at Taupo Bungee Jumping where Terry contemplated adding such an adventure to his agenda. Sherrie didn’t need any time to contemplate, or to announce an emphatic “No Way!” Her fear of heights even kept her from stepping onto the cantilevered jumping platform.
Should this appeal to you, it’s only a five minutes’ drive from Taupo. They have ‘normal’ bungee jumping and ‘water touch’ bungee jumping. Their website says they “specialize in getting people wet” and should you wish to test your relationship, go tandem.
Lake Taupo Top Ten Holiday Resort
Lounge or take a dip in the thermally heated lagoon pool. While the kids play within sight, float over to the swim-up café and bar; you can even watch a movie from your warm water vantage point. The resort has powered and non-powered sites, cottages, motel rooms, self-contained family units, deluxe and standard cabins.
Address: 41 Centennial Drive, Taupo
Phone: +64 7 378 6860
Free Phone (within New Zealand) 0800 332 121
PUKAHA MOUNT BRUCE NATIONAL WILDLIFE CENTRE
Entry fee covers seven daily wildlife talks and feeds, as well as entry to the nocturnal house where you will see Manukura, the world’s only captive white kiwi. As well as self-guided, they also offer a number of exclusive guided tour options to get the most from your time at the center. Check their website for details, prices and booking. After your tour, you may stay as long as you like in the reserve (until 4:30pm closing).
Address: 85379 State Highway 2, Masterton
Mailing address is PO Box 680, Masterton 5840
Phone: +64 06 375 8004
HUKA PRAWN PARK
An all-day pass includes access to the entire park where you may enjoy guided tour of nursery and hatchery, prawn fishing, pedal boats, stand up paddle boards, trout feeding, water bikes and more. Check their website for details and pricing.
Address: Karetoto Road, Wairakei Tourist Park, Lake Taupo New Zealand
Phone: (07) 374 8474
CRATERS OF THE MOON
Earth is a fascinating place to live and at this New Zealand attraction you may walk among craters, hissing roaring fumaroles spewing steam and volcanic gases, steaming moss covered grounds and bubbling mud ~ a glimpse at the power below our feet.
Directions (5.5 km north of Taupo): State Hwy 5, exit Wairakei Park, Wairakei Drive (follow signs) to Karapiti Road to end. (For more detail view website.)
Phone (Kiosk): 027 496 5131
No fear of heights? You may want to jump right into this madness. Solo. Tandem. Touch water. Stay dry. Full dunk. Extreme Swing. Combo. It’s up to you. Whichever. It’s a real blast over the wet Waikato River.
Address: 202 Spa Road, Taupo
Phone: +64 7-377 1135
Free Phone (within New Zealand): 0800 888 408
Email: (form on website)