It was just a one night stop at Taupo this time, we are making our way slowly towards Auckland. We stopped at the Wairakei BP to use the public dump station, and purchase a nice hot coffee to take with us on our trip. Close by was the Wairakei Geothermal Power Station, and we could see some of the many pipes and hissing steam beside the road. When the first generator was commissioned at Wairakei in 1958, it was only the second geothermal plant in the world to begin large-scale commercial operation and the first to exploit a wet (rather than dry steam) geothermal resource.
Roadside pipes in the Wairakei Geothermal Power project
Our drive today took us along SH1 and through Tokoroa, Putaruru to Arapuni, turning into Powerhouse Road, for our stop for the night. With power available, together with toilet facilities, and all for a very reasonable cost, our two vans were soon settled in this peaceful rural setting.
Powerhouse Road CAP (Cost applicable site)
And staying as we were on Powerhouse Road, we soon went exploring to find it. We knew about the power house, but were unaware of the swing bridge – that sounded like fun.
Our first glimpse of the power station and the swing (foot) bridge was from the road bridge, and the public could go no further. The Arapuni Power Station is the oldest currently generating, the first government-built, and the largest single hydroelectric power station on the Waikato River. At 80 years old, continuous improvement and refurbishment of the station's generation equipment ensures Arapuni remains efficient.
Powerhouse and swing bridge
Back in the car we went to find the entrance to the swing bridge – of course we wanted to walk across it. And there it was – luckily some other visitors showed us the path to reach it. The bridge was built in 1925 for construction workers to reach the power station site. And we were pleased to read that motorcycles and horses are not permitted on the bridge.
Robin and Geoff looking down at the river
And one of us
The powerhouse and dam at Arapuni are under protection of the Historic Places Trust, becoming Category I Historic Places. It is one of the few generating power stations in New Zealand to be listed on the register. During WW11 the Powerhouse was camouflaged to prevent it being bombed by possible Japanese airstrikes, foliage was placed on top, and the building was painted in camouflage colours. Japan did not invade New Zealand so the powerhouse remained unscathed – but it certainly is an interesting story, and one we knew nothing about.
Story of the dam that disappeared during the war
After all this interesting history, we took a bit of a tiki tour and went to check out a couple of local free parking sites for future reference. The best of these was Jones Landing on Lake Arapuni, and what a pretty place it was. Jones Landing is named after Gordon Jones father who had a boat shed there. Locals and tourists can come for the day to enjoy boating, fishing, swimming, and picnics, or freedom camp for a couple of nights. We may well do that on some future trip.
At Jones Landing
The huge rocky outcrops were most intriguing. And we learned later that these impressive geological features were formed by ignimbrite blocks which are vertically fissured by cooling stresses. How about that! It was a great afternoon exploring an area we didn't know much about.