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NZ – the route – 2,388km plus a bit more

10 Dec

Return to Fiordland… still got nothing….

10 Dec

Wednesday

It’s my last free day in New Zealand – bus tomorrow and then fly to Tasmania on Friday at silly o’clock.

So I’m off on an early bus to Doubtful Sound.  Doubtful is the second largest fjord in NZ – you can fit Milford into just one of the fjord arms.  It’s called Doubtful because James Cook was ‘doubtful’ they could get enough wind to get the ship out to sea again if they visited.

A quick trip on a shuttle to Lake Manapouri … the name has no meaning what so ever in Maori and was a map maker’s error.  We hop onto what must be the best commute in the world – the power station workers travel the hour each way across the lake every day, under the command of our captain, Chris….who happens to be from Essex.

It’s beautiful again, and amongst the lake’s 30+ islands is a pest free zone where the only residents are the native birds, lizards and bats – a continual battle is fought to keep the non native deer, stoats and more off the island.  The Kiwis are very protective of their environment and are continually trying to eradicate the foreign introductions which have no natural predators and spread like topsy – whether that’s animals or plants – pine trees, lupins and broom are all weeds over here.

(Apparently, when they decided to round up the red deer, they used to have jumpers who would leap from helicopters onto unsuspecting deer and wrestle them to the ground.  The untimely demise of one jumper whose steed leapt off a cliff led to the introduction of the net gun)

 

Off the ferry, then, and into another bus for the trip to Doubtful Sound.  The bus driver is Chris’ brother, also called Chris, and also from Essex – and the family resemblance is striking.  Another gorgeous trip with lots of stops for photo opportunities up and over the Wilmot Pass.

 

And onto the boat with Capn’ Bruce (there had to be one before I got to Oz) and ship’s mate Chris, another brother with a striking resemblance to the other two.  Hold on a second…

 

It’s a small boat this time, unlike the 60+ capacity boats I’ve been on (and the day cruises with capacities of hundreds).  So we take our time on the Sound today.  The fjord is massive, of course – the cliffs are nearly a kilometer tall in places, and the bottom of the fjord is nearly half a kilometer down.  Watching the sonar is like watching a blank TV screen.

No seals today, and no dolphins, either – but we spot a couple of plucky Blue Penguins swimming in the sound – the tiniest penguins – these are only around 30cm tall.

(not my pic)

 

We can turn off the engine and sail for a while, and the silence is incredible.  The only sounds are the bell birds in the trees above.  Capn’ Bruce even entrusts the wheel to me for a bit – and we’re still afloat!

I seem to have a huge number of pictures with the same theme – huge towering granite cliffs framed by huge towering granite cliffs with huge towering granite cliffs in the background.  Sometimes the huge towering granite cliffs have more huge towering granite cliffs towering over them.

There are so many waterfalls here that not all of them have a name.  Ask the right question at the right time, and you might get one named after you (no, there isn’t a ‘Tim Falls’ on the Sound – I wouldn’t do that to New Zealand)

So after a few hours on the water, we pull up back to the quayside – onto the bus, back over the pass, and into another boat to cross Manapouri.  I could enjoy this sort of commute… so I face into the 30 knot winds and enjoy the final scenery… tomorrow the journey home begins….

 

Thursday

Back on a bus – to my surprise it’s a different route back – gone are the lakes and the mountains to be replaced by rolling hills and coastline.  I’m suffering from camerashock, where beauty overload means it’s impossible to take another photograph – everything is just as spectacularly gorgeous as everything else.  Up through Dunedin, home of the Cadbury Factory in NZ, through Oamaru, home of some very cool steampunk sculptures and a penguin colony.

And then, finally, dinner with some Unilever colleagues.  Peter and Linda moved out here a year or so ago, and are now busy making their mark in New Zealand.  Up at 4:30 (thanks Peter) (with a raging hangover) for a flight to Sydney – next stop Hobart…. what with timezone changes and such, my 6:30am flight finally arrives in Hobart at 4pm…

Better late than never . . .

10 Dec

Itinerary for New Zealand

Auckland – Taupo – Tongariro Circuit – Wellington – Picton – Christchurch – Te Anau – Milford Sound – Doubtful Sound – Te Anau – Christchurch

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Fiordland Day 2 and 3 – Milford Sound leaves British author ‘out of words’

9 Dec

Monday

Lunch time start on the bus – it’s a pretty cool vehicle with seats edged to face the windows, transparent roof panels and an arrangement of tiered seating.

Skirting round Lake Te Anau past scenery that would make us gasp if we came across it in England, we drive into  Fjordland.  It takes my breath away.  From the beauty of the Eglington Valley, past the Mirror Lakes (too windy in the middle of the day for a good reflection of the mountains).

Fiordland (Te Wahipounamu, The Place of Greenstone (jade)) is a Unesco world heritage site, and deservedly so.  We wind our way up to the Homer tunnel, carved with explosives through solid granite… and into a series of hairpin bends down the other side that would make James Bond freak.  The granite’s worth a mention – it doesn’t wear away like other rock, so waterfalls don’t form as easily – in fact, when it rains, the entire cliff face becomes a sheet of water. One of the few places where it has eroded the rock is The Chasm, where the River Cleddau plunges through weirdly sculpted rocks.

In the distance is Mt Tutoku, Fiordland’s highest peak.. And by the side the river gaily bounces along, scudding over boulders and occasionally slowing down to create a wider stream.  The water is ice cold and pure.. preferable even to Speight’s fine ale. When the river floods, it often simply changes course.  Nothing seems to stay the same from moment to moment

Eventually the river loses its adolescence  and calms down and we pull into Miford Sound (misnamed – a sound is created by a river – these are fjords and were created by glacial action over many millenia),

Immediately the scenery is astonishing.  Mitre peak rises into the clouds, the walls of the fjord rise vertically from the deep jade sea.  There are only four permanent waterfalls in Milton Sound, but there’s been some rain the day before (hoorah!) and water cascades over every cliff face like teardrops.

Our boat sets off down the Sound, seemingly inconsequential against the granite walls.  Even the planes landing at New Zealand’s busiest airstrip (300 flights a day at Milford) look like moths against the mountains.

Every turn is achingly, heartstoppingly beautiful, and every new sight threatens to reduce me to tears, overcome by the immenseness and the serence beauty.  A bunch of fur seals are lazing on the rock at Copper Point (also called Windy Point – winds through the Sound can reach 100 knots)

We’ve got an exchange group from around the world on board – these 6th formers come from round the world and are spending a year in New Zealand . . . Why didn’t they do this kind of thing when I was a kid?

Eventually the boat stops, and they unrig the kayaks – we set off in search of penguins which are often sighted along the coast.  Sadly, none today, but we do find Captain Jack Sparrow’s island from Pirates of the Caribbean.  We find sand flies though – little buggers that need orcs setting on them (Sir Ian McKellern’s words, not mine).  And then back to the boat, jumping in off the top deck to the sounds of squeals (the schoolgirls), applause (a swan dive from our german delegate) and stoic silence followed by a larger splash than strictly necessary (yours truly).

After a fabulous dinner, and a look at the sky – the sunset is amazing, as the sun finally disappears behind the cliff face and lights the coulds with pinks and red.

By 11pm the stars are out, but it’s a bit cloudy, so we retreat to our bunks… and I can’t sleep.  At 1am I am up and on deck.  The clouds have cleared, and it’s an incredible sight.  Dust clouds and far off galaxies whirl in the unfamiliar sky.  The Southern Cross is hidden behind the fjord walls, but the starfield shines brightly in the inky black velvet of the night sky.  As I drink in the incredible beauty, I marvel at what God has created, at what wonders I have had the privilege to see.. And as if to underline the incredible wonder, shooting stars plunge from the heavens.  Humbled and awed, I make my way to bed.

Tuesday

Rising early, I rush my breakfast to make it back onto deck.  We travel the Sound again, looking again at some of the sights of yesterday – the peaks of Mt Pembroke and its glacier, Bowen Falls and Stirling falls, and out into the Tasman Sea – passing a cruise liner as we go.  The liner dwarfs our small boat – but still fails spectacularly to look significant against the granite walls.  Amazingly, some of the passengers are watching TV. The seals are having a whale of a time though, racing the cruise ship into harbour, leaping through the water like dolphins (and creating much temporary excitement for the schoolkids).

We drive the boat into some of the falls on the way, getting up close and personal to the waterfall in a whole new way.

And then back to the bus, and the incredible drive back.  Somehow it seems tame compared to the awesomeness of the Sound.. And still incredibly beautiful.  I’m tempted to hop onto the Doubtful Sound overnight cruise to repeat the experience… but it’s left already.

This country is just unbelievable… I’m not sure I can manage another day of this without my heart exploding from wonder. I’ve got nothing.  Words aren’t working, and I’m trying my best.  Even the pictures are a poor reflection of reality, and I’m struggling to pack all the memories into my poor little memory.

Fiordland Day 1 – The Kepler Trail (well, a bit of it)

8 Dec

Sunday

Fiordland. It sounds like it should be a song title by Bon Jovi (no, that was Garageland and Brokenpromiseland).  Or Bruce Springsteen. Perhaps A-Ha or Roxette?

When New Zealand does fjords (fiords over here) it doesn’t skimp.  They’re huge and enormous and beautiful and go on for weeks.

Te Anau is the gateway to Fiordland.. A little settlement on the edge of a huge lake, with nothing much going for it apart from some sheep (there are a lot of sheep), and some huge mountains. And a huge lake.  People come here to walk, or to go to Milford Sound or beyond.

Today, I decide to tackle the Kepler Trail.  Kepler takes 3-4 days to walk, and I don’t have the time – but if I hop on the Kepler Water Taxi, they tell me I can do some of it in a day.  OK then.

So I hop onto a little boat with half a dozen other madmen, and zip across the lake.

The taxi drops us on a little beach, with a hole in the jungle that we’re supposed to go through.  It’s like a doorway to another world… as I go through I find myself in a massive beech forest, with palms and ferns (and a sign saying ‘Kiwi Country – no dogs’) (I don’t see one.  Kiwi are nocturnal).

I climb steadily through the forest, past trees that have collapsed down the hill, past giant sandstone bluffs, for over an hour until I come out on top of the hill.  I’ve been sweating all the way up the climb – and suddenly the blast of icy air takes all that away.  The views are still spectacular, but I’m climbing up above the snow line now, and it feels as if I won’t need to shave – the air is simply scouring the beard off my chin. It’s one of those days when not having hair is an advantage.

This is New Zealand at its most moody – the lakes are dark and forbidding, the clouds hang low over the mountains, and a fine drizzle dampens everything. But it’s still beautiful – somehow the lighting just makes the mountains seem more impressive.  I can see the Hidden Lakes that the captain talked about yesterday, and the area of the glow worm caves.  I climb to the bottom of the path to the peak of Mt Luxmore, and decide that it’s not worth the climb to the top (not if I am going to get blown off the mountain).  I’m usually OK with heights, especially on mountains. If God put it there, I reckon it’s got a good chance of staying there. I’m never quite so sure about things that man put up there. But today, well, I think today is not the day for me to learn to fly.

 

So after about 4 hours of walking, I turn round and head down the mountain, warming myself up at one of those wonderful lodges that the Kiwis put up. The climb down is merciless on the backs of my calves. You can’t get the taxi back, so that’s another 2 hours plus back into town.  I think I’ve earned my noodle soup tonight (memo to me… when the Japanese write ‘hot spicy’ on the noodle packet they’re not kidding).

 

Queenstown and Te Anau – Land of the Lakes

4 Dec

Thursday

It’s a whirlwind of travel… at some point I will add up how many kilometres I have travelled.  Back on the bus (this time, I caught the bus into town… I may be stupid, but repeating the error of walking between town and the JailHouse with a pack would be criminal.  And there’s some gorgeous scenery going around again… past huge banks of lupins on the road ranging in colour from deep purple to coral and pink… past the occasional speed camera in a camper van (none of this ‘it’s obviously a speed van’ – these get disguised as innocuous camper vans.. And there are a LOT of those in New Zealand). There are unmarked police cars too – one with surfboards on the roof, apparently.

We stop at Lake Topeka… the rock from the glacier has been ground so finely that it turns the water milky – which then reflects the sky causing the brilliant blue.  We catch site of Mt Cook in the distance, the other side of Lake Pukaki, another brilliant blue lake.

Down the Shotover river, past the original bungy jump site and into Queenstown – a lively town around the river & lake and chocka with youngsters intent on throwing themselves off things, into things, over things, out of things and optionally getting wet in the process.  A lovely little hostel on the shores of the lake – possibly the best views of the trip so far. Time for some nice walks up to the hill above the town, and along the banks of the lake.. And some thoughts on the book too, even if it is actually proving quite tricky finding time to write.

 

Friday

 

So, Queenstown.  It’s full of young people, but I manage some nice walks by the lake and a visit to the fabled Fergburger (possibly the best burgers in the world).  It’s definitely getting to the point where the incredible beauty of the country becomes normal.  It’s another incredibly beautiful lake surrounded by incredibly beautiful mountains where the sun sets incredibly beautifully.  I spend my time wandering round shaking my head in amazement.


Saturday

 

A short hop trip to Te Anau.. I’m there by 9:30 am and again it’s another beautiful lake – the second biggest in New Zealand, but in fact has the largest amount of water in Australasia.  As the boat captain is fond of pointing out, it’s incredibly clear and clean and renders the purchasing of bottled water in the town positively criminal.

 

And there’s another jetty to sit and muse on, and watch the lake go by…

 

Time for some walks by the lake again – watching two families of ducks set off across the lake.  The conversation seems to go like this…

Mr Duck – OK everyone, off we go, straight across the lake to the other side

Mrs Duck – well dear, it’s looking a bit choppy out there

Mr Duck – nonsense, it’ll be good for the kids to get a bit of exercise

Mrs Duck – well don’t say I didn’t warn you

Mr Duck – and look, here come Ron and Ethel and their family – I told you it would be OK

Ron Duck – see, I told you we wouldn’t be the only ones trying to cross the lake

Ethel Duck – well dear, it’s looking a bit choppy out there

Ethel Duck – blow this for a game of soldiers dear, I’m off back to shore (followed, eventually, by Ron)

Mrs Duck – see, Nigel – Ron and Ethel are off back to shore… I told you it wasn’t safe. Come along children…

(sheepish return to shore for the entire Duck family including a rather crestfallen Mr Duck (OK, I have no idea what a crestfallen duck looks like, but it wouldn’t surprise me..)

 

and then off across the lake to visit the glow worm caves.  The boat trip is pretty cool, ducking around some of the islands and back into the full force of the wind.  I’m the only one on deck, doing a ‘Titanic’ impression.  The caves are a newish system (only around 12,000 years old) and are still quite tiny and narrow.  They stretch for several km but it needs scuba gear to get there.. So we won’t be doing that.  Through the caves, crouching down to get through, past magical waterfalls and rushing streams… and into a little boat.  Our guide signals us for quiet (the glow worms don’t like noise, and they don’t like light) and pulls the boat along on a rope, in total darkness.  Above our heads, little pinpricks of green light shine out – a lot of the larva were washed away in the recent flood, but it’s still  beautiful display of hundreds of lights, like some cosmic control panel, or a galaxy of little green stars.  It’s surreal, and ethereal, and magical… just being there in the dark, and in the silence, looking at a truly gorgeous natural light show.  As we move round the cave, it almost seems like the introduction to some rock concert – I almost expect the music to start up.

 

 

 

South Island here we come….

2 Dec


Saturday

Back on the bus again and off to Wellington.  Travelling through the North Island reminds me of Wales… except that it’s more Walesier than Wales… the grass is greener, the mountains are more mountainous, the hills are hillier, the skies are bluer, the clouds are fluffier, the bushes are bushier, the sheep are.. well, sheepier – it’s all incredibly beautiful even on the flat bits (‘flat’ here is a relative term meaning ‘not quite so mountainous’).  The trees seem to be clinging on to the mountains by some magical power at impossible angles. On any other trip I might read a book during the boring bits.  On this trip there aren’t any boring bits…

Wellington is a kinda funky city.. Time again to catch up on stuff, plan my book, catch a movie.. The museum is fun, with a giant squid and an earthquake simulator – although the stories of the refugees to new Zealand brought tears to my eyes, and sadness to my heart.

And then onto the ferry.. I decided to walk to the ferry, which in retrospect was a huge mistake – there’s a reason they run a shuttle service.  Because it’s a LONG WAY.  Especially when you have a VERY HEAVY PACK.

The fun starts when we leave Wellington – watching the beautiful hills recede into the background while the sea breeze gets rid of all the cobwebs.. And after a while, watching the cliffs of South Island appear out of the distance.  But of course, the path to Picton lies through Queen Charlotte Sound, a network of fjords that to the Maori resembled a tree.  Each turn reveals new joys, unveiling new views of islands, inlets, bays, beaches and the occasional mussel farm.  Sometimes the boat seems so close to land that I could reach out and touch it. Shoals of jellyfish pass under the boat… and I wish the trip would never end (although it’s still bloody cold!)

I can only say ‘eat your heart out, Slartibartfast’….

Finally in to Picton harbour.. And after organising the rest of my trip with the help of the information centre, I decide that the best thing to do is to go for a walk back up Queen Charlotte Sound, up the hill behind the town.  There are amazing views of the harbour and of the Sound… a lovely sunset casting new colours and shadows across the Sound – and on the way back, just because God likes to add a little finishing flourish to these journeys – I see rays swimming in the harbour.  This trip really does keep getting better and better…..

FOOTNOTE – for those who aren’t Douglas Adams fans: in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Slartibartfast was one of the designers of Earth Mk 1, a commission by two white mice.  He was responsible for the design of the Norwegian fjords.  After the untimely destruction of the earth to make way for an intergalactic hyperspace bypass, the mice commissioned Earth Mk 2 – Slartibartfast planned to use the same design for the coastline of Africa.

(It shouldn’t surprise anyone that my laptop is called Zaphod – David’s is called Trillian, and Jonny’s was Slartibartfast.  And the network was called the Heart Of Gold.)

Tuesday

On a bus to Christchurch.  If you sense a certain urgency in my travels, you’re right.  I want to get as much time as I can over in Fjordland, and so it’s back to back travel.  I’m going to stay a couple of nights in Christchurch, and I’m glad I did… not so much for Christchurch, which is a nice enough city, the art gallery is fun, and the botanical gardens are awesome (I did turn up when ALL of the rose garden was in bloom though – fabulous).

Mind you, I DID get my lunch stolen by savage killer seagulls on the way.  On the other hand, there were so many seals lounging on the rocks, playing in the sea, hanging out on the beach or just being cute all over the seafront that I could forgive the seagulls.

The best bit of the stay was being incarcerated in the JailHouse- they’ve converted Addington Correctional Facility into a hostel.  We sleep in the cells (the dorm is surprisingly roomy, but the doubles are a bit cosy!) of course – and everything is in black and white stripes, from the table cloths to the crockery.  The staff are referred to as long term inmates, and dire warnings of solitary abound for antisocial behaviour.  Fab fun!

And I liked the sculpture in the dyslexia centre gardens… my son has organisational dyslexia, so I have a lot of time for people who struggle with words and language in this way. The first one is called ‘falling in love’, by the way…spot the heart half way down the pillar

Tongariro National Park…. descent into Mordor…

29 Nov

Thursday

So, a 5:30 start and onto the van for the trip to Tongariro National Park.  A word of warning, here – some of these volcanoes are active, the last eruption of Ruapehu was in 2006.  The mountains we’re going to climb last erupted in 1975, but there’s an uneasy peace – the mountain is very overdue to blow its stack again.  And unlike Hawaii and its gentle yet relentless flow of lava – when Ngauruhoe blows her top, it’s car sized chunks of rock flying through the air.

Ngauruhoe was used for Mount Doom in Lord of the Rings – they wanted to film more in the park but weren’t allowed to (too full of trampers!).

Anyway, the bus deposits us at Mangatepopo and we start to walk.  Already the views are incredible.. huge rock faces rising from the earth to frame the awesome dual volcano behind – Mt Tongariro and its sister Ngaruhoe.  Around every turn something new reveals itself.  Whether it’s a pretty waterfall at Soda Falls (looks pretty, smells of sulphur) or a whole new vista opening up in front of me. The mountain itself is totally stunning, rising as a near perfect cone from the landscape.  The lava has carved amazing features into the surroundings – along with the effects of snow, rain and glacial erosion, the effect is beyond words.  Sometimes I can’t speak.. And sometimes I just want to applaud God for her incredible work.

It’s going to be a hard two days walk, trying to fit a 3 day hike into 2 – but the thought of actually climbing Ngaruhoe is just too tempting.  It’s the hardest climb I have ever done – most of it at a 50degree angle over loose scree, or hauling myself up hand over hand on the rocks.  It’s slow and exhausting work, but around 90 minutes later the slope levels out a bit.  There are steam vents here, blowing hot steamy air from deep within the mountain.  Again, the views from the top of the mountain are incredible – it’s possible to see Ruapehu, and Mt Taranaki, the stand-in mountain for Mt Fuji in ‘The Last Samurai’ – which got the locals very excited.

And if I thought the way up was challenging, I hadn’t really thought about ‘down’.  Turns out the only sensible (and I use the word ‘sensible’ advisedly) is to throw yourself off the edge and scree jump all the way down.  It’s a lot of fun, provided you watch out for the big rocks.

We climb Devil’s Staircase (no surprises for guessing why it’s called that) to cross South Crater, which is really a drainage plain between the two mountains – surreally flat in between so much mountain – and climb across Central Crater to look down into Red Crater – still venting steam and sulphuric deposits, the magma pipe feeding it clearly visible.


Over the ridge we look down on Emerald Lakes – the colour from the feed from Red Crater.  I take a slight detour to eat lunch beside Blue Lake – this one a clear blue lake, fringed with snow.  The kiwi kids are having a snowball fight on the beach.

And now it’s away from the main track of one day hikers, and off into the back country.  I only see three more people that day.  I can see why Peter Jackson wanted to film here – it’s just like descending into Mordor – the lava flows and chunks of rock hurled from the volcano creating an eerily stark yet beautiful landscape.  I find myself strangely moved by this land, formed by fire, and can find so many parallels to my own life. Here the fauna struggles to take hold on the blasted rocks, and there are few birds,

Finally the Oturere hut comes into view, my home for the night.  No electricity, no real facilities, but a welcome bed for the night.  We play cards as darkness falls – but it’s ‘Light’s Out’ when God says it’s lights out.

The next morning I’m up at 4:50 – partly prompted by the cold, partly by the promptings of a need to visit the bathroom (which is about 50 m away) and partly by the knowledge that I have 9 hours of tramping to complete by 2pm.  A peanut butter and banana bagel later (at the end of this tramp I will have consumed 7 bagels and four yoghurt bars) and I’m off.  The sunset is gorgeous, and I’m perhaps not making my best time – so I am rapidly overtaken by Irish girl Claire and a Scots couple from the cabin too.  The landscape isn’t as dramatic, but in England we’d be writing home about this – the heathers and grass tussocks covering gulleys and creeks, with pretty streams running through them – and all the time the mountains of Ngauruhoe and Whakapapa to left and right, dominating the view.  I climb through a strangely out of place birch forest – and run down the other side to the next cabin, Waihohonu Hut.. Just time enough to catch my breath before the last 6 hour stomp.

The ridge here is windy and dust blasted – a previous rainfall has washed the paths and steps away, so it’s tough going. Another detour leads to Lower Tama Lake, a beautiful blue filling an eruption crater – but looking for all the world like a Pacific Island lagoon.

The Whakapapa visitors centre comes into view in the distance – but God has one final treat in store, a last little gem that He’s reserved just for the end – for those who are prepared to just go a little bit further.  Down a steep set of stairs I discover Taranaki Falls, a lovely waterfall in the equally beautiful Waiere Stream.  I’d like to go and stand under the water.. But I press on to the Visitor’s Centre and wait for the bus to recover me to Turangi and my hostel.

It’s been an incredible two days.  I’m physically exhausted, but overcome with the beauty of the park.  The park itself was a gift from the Maori people – the Maori hold land in common, and, resisting the fact that the land would be parcelled up and sold to the settlers, made a gift of it to the nation, preserving its beauty for generations.  I give thanks to the prescience of the Maori leaders, and give even more thanks to the Creator of such an incredible and beautiful land – formed and created by tension, by fire, by upheaval: polished by rain and snow, by ice and wind, and continually changed by new stresses and explosions deep within.

Lake Taupo…. nothing’s by accident

26 Nov

Tuesday

 

So, on the bus and into Taupo.  Lake Taupo is a huge volcanic lake formed 26,000 years ago.. It’s the largest lake in New Zealand.  I’m actually here by accident – I booked Taupo so I could tramp the Alpine trail – turns out it’s easier to go from Turangi at the other end of the lake.  But there’s a nice walk up the river.. The Waikito river is New Zealand’s longest (it’s a day of superlatives) and its crystal clear green water makes its leisurely way down towards Auckland.

Well, mostly leisurely.  I walk down to Huka falls, around 90 minutes walk, where the river is squeezed into a 15m canyon.  Through here pours 220,000 litres of water each second – which is enough to fill an Olympic swimming pool in 10 seconds. Huka means ‘foam’ and it’s a truly beautiful sight as the foam cascades out of the end of the canyon.

A Maori chieftain attempted the falls once and only just escaped with his life…

 

Rambling is called ‘tramping’ out here (probably because everywhere is so huge, the meandering of ‘rambling’ has to be replaced with the enforced purposefulness of ‘tramping’) and I decide to walk further downstream through some beautiful countryside – past the geothermal power station, and up to Aratiatia Rapids.  This used to be the biggest rapids in Australasia – Aratiatia means ‘Pathway of Stakes’ referring to the stakes put in the ground to help people climb the rapids.  But after the river was dammed for power, the rapids have shrunk to a trickle of their former glory.

Careful observation reveals that something is not quite right though – there is something slightly ‘wrong’ with the river – exactly why there is a damp watermark two metres up the wall of the lake below the rapids (which fall 28m in 1km).  Why is there so much damp and moss around?  And why does the alarm sound at 3:50?  Turns out that 3 or 4 times a day, the dam is opened, turning the rapids back into the incredible spectacle they once were – it’s a thrilling sight to watch the water cascade down the rocks, turning the very pretty waterfall into a raging torrent.

Our Maori chief would have stood little chance – and I am glad that the teenagers bathing in the pool at the bottom have had the good sense to get out early.  After half an hour, the dam gates fall again, and the river slowly returns to the peaceful flow from before.

 

It’s been around 8 hours of walking – but still time to leap into the river – f.f.f.freezing – and then swim round to the hot pools – the flow of water creating a strange combination of hot and cold.

 

Thursday

 

Well, looks like I got my booking wrong – so another 18NZD to get my bus ride on the right day (the staff were unrelenting, but very nice with it).  And half an hour or so round the lake to Turangi.  Another very nice hostel – and the realisation that I would be up at 5am to go on the walk.  I plan to do the one day Alpine crossing – but a chance conversation at reception plants the idea of doing the 3/4 day Northern Circuit in 2 days.  Walk fast, young Timmy.. I just hope I have enough warm clothes!!!

 

Anyway, time enough now for a gentle walk up the banks of the Tongariro River.  The water is not as clear as Waikito, and at first site seems to be full of detergent foam.  Closer inspection reveals that it’s foam, but not detergent – it’s actually the light weight pumice rock from volcanic activity from a landslip upstream.  Some of the floating boulders are quite large, and it’s weird to see rocks bobbing downstream.  There’s been a huge slippage of rock upstream, turning the usual jade green translucence into murky brown with floating rocks.  It’s bizarre and yet strangely wonderful.  Apparently the rafting companies are struggling, basically because they can’t see the rocks in the river!

Again, there are some beautiful views along the trail, and despite the fact that this is a plateau…. It ain’t flat, as I discover when I cut through to the riverbank and find it’s 30m below me.

 

 

 

And into a new country – New Zealand… and Auckland

23 Nov

So, back on a plane and off to Auckland after a VERY uncomfortable night in departures at the airport (not much point getting a hostel room when I need to be up at 4am).

 

The flight is only about three hours, but I still feel a little trepidation as I fly.. Not sure what that’s about – perhaps missing people back home, perhaps not sure what the next part of the adventure will bring, perhaps worried about finances.. But it will pass.

 

And, suddenly, I am in Auckland.  Another country, another city.  This time I REALLY have no idea what I am doing, as I haven’t bought the guide yet. The hostel, which is out in the suburbs in Mt Eden, a nice, quiet area, is busy, which is a complete change – I’m invited to someone else’s birthday party, and chat until far later than I expected!


Since I’ve got a few hours to spare, I decide to climb Mt Eden itself, or, more properly, Maungawhau,to give it its Maori name.  The mountain is tapu, or sacred, and it’s not allowed to descend into the crater itself, known as The Food Bowl of Mataaho (god of things hidden in the ground).  It’s the most perfect volcanic crater I’ve seen.  Auckland, by the way, is built on 50 volcanoes – and not all of them are inactive.  The views from the top of Maungawhau are spectacular, and it’s possible to see One Tree Hill, which inspired the U2 song of the same name.. Sadly, the tree is missing, as the locals chopped down the non-native pine that had been planted to replace the sacred tree chopped down by settlers in 1852.

The next day, I take a thoughtful walk back up the volcano again – and then walk into town – to buy a travel guide and make a few plans!  It’s quite a walk into town but pleasant enough… I discovered this rather disturbing sign on the way…

…and this shop that sells nothing but different types of bottled water… a bit like a low alcohol wine shop

… and yet the most interesting thing in town is a public display of ‘earth from above’ photographs by Yann Arthus-Bertrand, most of which have an ecological theme – a soundtrack playing encouraging our ecology.  Very, very impressive pictures.

A wander round town, an hour planning where next… and back to the hostel for veggie noodles and a chance to help someone with some pretty severe mozzie bites. It’s odd, because it’s nearly Christmas – but Auckland have only just got round to putting their decorations up.. and there’s not that many of them either.  It’s all very low key compared to the UK.

 

Sunday – well, I started out at the local church, which was a 2000 people service run 3 times each day – great fun, quite thought provoking for all sorts of reasons – and then visited the local ceroc to dance a while.  Wow… the beginners classes here would really rock your socks off – leans and everything. Not, I have to say, the friendliest dance venue I’ve ever been to…

Ah well.. off to Taupo next…

 

And then, in the evening, a fight with technology – but that’s another story entirely….

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