Sadly 5 Mile Bay closed to freedom camping during the Covid 19 lockdown and will not reopen. If you are looking for somewhere to stay we highly recommend that you check out Whakaipo Bay a DOC camping area on the other side of Taupo. The access road is a little rough and may not suit some motorhomers. Check out my blog on the place here.
Leaving the National Equestrian Centre we had timed it so that we could watch the opening of the dam at Aratiatia for those that don’t know every day at 10, 12 and 2 the dam gates are opened releasing 80,000 litres of water a second. So for the 15 minutes, they are open 72 million litres of water are released 3 or 4 times a day a truly staggering number.
The car park area for the dam is also a designated freedom camping area that actually has 2 designated spaces large enough for a motorhome up to around 10 metres in length. You are only 13 or so km’s from Taupo here and if all other places were full or you were planning on riding or walking some of the river trail it might be a good spot for the night.
There are cruises on the river departing from here (during winter the first cruise is 1pm) and the ticket office is a motorhome parked in the carpark so that probably offers good security during the day if you did want to walk or cycle the trail.
Not long after we had parked up we started hearing strange sounds coming from the other side of the dam. Going to investigate, we spotted this contraption that operates remotely. It appears to have a bucket on the end of the ram that lowers into the water then scrapes what I assume are the water races for the power station to clear any debris then returns to the rubbish skip to empty its load. We watched it go through this whole process twice both times coming up empty. Making me wonder if it just starts and works on a regular schedule or if there is a monitor that checks water flow and when impeded in any way sets the machine in motion. Either way, it wasn’t really bringing anything up. So either it’s doing a great job or its a waste of time.
We started the walk down to the viewing platform which is about 5 minutes from the carpark, as you can see from the above photos of the river it was all fairly calm with barely a trickle through the rapids. One thing we did notice on the last photo here (taken from the dam bridge) is that there were 3 decent sized trout swimming around before the water was released. We wondered what happened to them in the swirl of the release.
Here I must apologise, for some reason, my videos appear here upside down but when you press play they will play the right way up.
The path to the viewing platform is an easy walk but once you arrive at the viewing platform you would not be able to access this is you are disabled, strangely there are no signs warning of this at the beginning of the track. If you compare the water here in the video you will see the difference from the photo above before the release. The power of the water and the noise is quite something.
We hurried back to the dam to watch the final couple of minutes of water spilling out from the dam. We then looked at the pool where we had seen the trout swimming around to see this maelstrom and wondered what had happened to the fish. Sarah was convinced that they would have found somewhere safe I wasn’t so sure.
With the weather gods sort of shining on us, well at least it wasn’t raining, we decided to head for 5 Mile Bay in Taupo to take a ride along the foreshore before deciding where to spend the night.
We arrived in the bay to discover someone just leaving from a prime position right on the waterfront. We headed slightly further down the roadway to turn around only to have a car park right in the middle of the spot. I tried to indicate that we were trying to park there only to ignored as they locked their car and walked away. We didn’t want to give up on such a prime spot so I managed to squeeze between the caravan and their car so I could drive forward once they had departed.
Once the car has gone and we were parked with space for the caravan behind us to get their car attached if needed. We got the bikes out of the rear of the motorhome to head down the path away from Taupo. We had previously ridden into town from here and wanted to try the other direction.
The first 2 km’s or so the path is, like in the other direction concrete, and very easy riding along the flat smooth path. Then the path changes to crushed pumice but due to all the recent heavy rain, this was quite compacted and still easy riding. It’s probably quite different in summer. What we hadn’t realised is that the track wasn’t quite 4 km’s long before it finishes meaning that the ride back only gave us a total ride of 8 km’s.
Knowing that we would be disappointed with ourselves if we put the bikes away, we decided, once back at the motorhome to then head towards Taupo extending the ride.
It really is such a nice ride along the lake with changing scenery, plenty of toilet stops if they are required and so many photo opportunities. Again the ride is flat and even making an easy ride quickly clocking up the km’s.
There has been quite a lot of planting along the pathway towards the 5 Mile Bay end of native bushes and trees. Whilst I hugely admire this effort I cannot understand why you plant all these things and then leave all the gorse and blackberry still growing right next to the new plantings.
That night there was a touch of pink in the sky not quite what we have seen from others posting photos of the magnificent sunsets you can get here but we were happy with what we saw. If you look at the lake you will see it’s flat calm.
About 2am the flat calm bit disappeared as the wind got up and we were awakened with the sounds of the waves crashing on the shore. Not quite what we expected when we went to sleep the previous evening. Very quickly though we got used to the sound falling back to sleep.
That morning after breakfast it was time to head to our next destination, Hastings and a catch up with friends we haven’t seen a little while. More to follow on the next blog.
Rumours continue to swirl about this area being closed to freedom camping after the hand back from DOC to the local Iwi. As yet there is nothing that I have found that either proves or disproves this rumour. It would, however, be very sad to lose this wonderful freedom camping area.
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To view the places we have visited click here to see them on Google maps. You can click the links to read the blog about that area.
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