The Yellow Bus’ door closed and it accelerated off before I could figure out if that was the stop I needed. I looked at the brochure and my map amid high-speed twists and turns. Yeah, I probably should have got off at that stop, I realised.
Oh well, final stop it was then – the Vista do Rei viewpoint that overlooked the magnificent and photo-famous Lagoa das Sete Cidades in the north west of the island of Sao Miguel in the Azores.
My plan was to walk the 20km or so crater rim around these twin lakes that neatly sat in the crater of a dormant volcano, number 16 in my #40by40 challenge.
That shouldn’t be a hard task given this was a national trail.
But then it generally helps if you get off at the right bus stop. Especially when the trail is more of a horse shoe than a nice complete loop. The end points in this case were separated (or rather connected) by the windy road the Yellow Bus was now flying along.
“I could just start the walk at Vista do Rei and walk in the opposite direction,” I mused. “Or, I could do a full loop in the intended direction by walking back along this windy road.”
The question was, did I really want to do that?
That would mean there was more walking involved but actually, when I looked at the return bus times, walking in the originally intended direction did make more sense. And plus, I reasoned, it would be good practice for all the road walking I would have to do during #WalkNZ.
It was decided then.
I settled back in my bus seat just as Vista do Rei came into view, along with Lagoa das Sete Cidades, its blue and green lakes visible below with the village of Sete Cidades nestled into the base of the crater.
Mist clung to the trees, a reminder of the torrential rain that had poured down earlier, and lent the scene a haunting atmosphere.
I looked at the road and looked at the map. I figured it was about three or four kilometres to where the official rim walk started.
My legs felt leaden as I plodded along the tarmac, every so often having to hug a hydrangea bush so as not to get flattened by oncoming cars. This road was definitely on an incline – my racing heart was testament to that. This fact was something I hadn’t noticed from the bus. I also didn’t appreciate how far apart the bus stops were. This road walk seemed to go on forever.
Finally, the carpark came into view – thank goodness for that. I was over road walking. I was vaguely aware I had only been on the road for just over an hour and also vaguely aware that in New Zealand, some days will be eight to ten times that. Not something I particularly wanted to dwell on.
By this point, my sweaty body was also telling me I was over hills but the off-road trail now had me going up an exceptionally steep concreted path to a lookout.
I got there bedraggled. The blue lake peeped out from behind a blob of a hill in the crater. However, I was more impressed with the distance I’d made.
From here, the trail fluctuated up and down along the rim, the lakes sometimes hidden from view by tufts of brush and flowers. But every so often a gap would appear where the lakes filled the view, their cool waters inviting in the muggy heat.
At one point I stood in awe of the lush green cliffs dotted with yellow flowers that fell dramatically into the blue water. In the far distance, the blue lake’s green twin was barely visible while the village looked like something from a model toy railway.
At this end of the crater, the volcano looked tropical and wild. Yet barely a couple of meters away on the other side of the trail, the wild slopes gave way to farmland where plump cows chewed lazily on grass. Every so often a farm tractor would drive along the trail, breaking the peaceful spell.
I ignored the turn off to the village of Sete Cidades and continued on along the crater rim back to Vista do Rei. The last stretch was an uphill battle as my legs started to scream that they had had enough for the day.
When I returned to the lookout point, the mist still clung to the trees but only to some of them. It meant the view to the lakes was clearer. I sucked on a block of frozen pineapple juice and enjoyed the view, another volcano under my belt.