Hot Water Rotorua - Friday 4 November 2011
We arrived at our Best Western Motel in Rotorua after our walk in Karanghake Gorge. Provisions were required so we walked into town (about 4km away). The smell of thermal pools became stronger as we approached the town centre - a sulphurous bad egg smell that reminded me of our nephew Samuel.
The pools are right next to town; safely enclosed in a nice park and surrounded by fences wherever the heat of the water is too much for human skin to bear. The town itself is on the lakeside (Lake Rotorua, what else) and is well provisioned for tourists, backpackers and locals.
We had walked enough for the day so on the way back we hailed down a bus (in an illegal area to do so but we played the idiot tourist card) and arrived back at the motel for dinner and an early night.
Walking through a thermal wonderland Wai-O-Tapu and walks Saturday 5 November 2011
An apology for the tenuous title but Wai-O-Tapu is (according to its blurb) a "thermal wonderland" and we are starting to get assailed by the commercial interests in NZ who are piling on the "it's nearly Christmas - give us your money" message.
There are three elements to WOT - the Geyser (Lady Knox), the thermal pools and the mud pools. Having paid full price we did all three!
Lady Knox blows her top at 10.15 every day. Karen asked me how this happened and I surmised in a knowing voice that it was probably some element of mathematical regularity based upon pressure. I was talking rubbish - what they actually do is chuck some soap down. That can't be environmentally sound!
After watching the artificial explosion of the geyser we moved onto the Thermal pools. Karen's pictures show these incredible features. A number of birds make their home around the pools. Frying Pan Flats had a large number of Pied Stilts, a couple of which we were able to take pictures of. The largest pool is the Champagne Pool and it does have little bubbles constantly breaking the service.
Towards the end of our walk we bumped into Ros - one of the new friends we made at Octopus Resort in Fiji. She was running for the backpacker's bus so our catch-up was brief and she quickly headed into the misty distance.
The final stop was the mud pools - a short side track from the road between the main site and the main highway. We spent ages trying to capture pictures of the mud exploding. Eventually we caught some but they were nothing compared to the ones that got away.
After the mud and a hearty meal in a Kiwi Tavern we hiked to the top of Mount Maungakakaramea (Rainbow Mountain) in double quick time. The views were good and the Mountain was indeed composite in colour terms but it did not satisfy our need to walk! On the way back to Rotorua we finished off our day out with a 5km hike around Blue Lake (it's blue; it's a lake, what more can you say).
In the Clouds Tongariro Alpine Crossing - Monday 7 November 2011
The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is renowned as the best one day hike in New Zealand. We were looking forward to it
Our base would the Discovery Lodge, just down from Whakapapa Village on Highway 47 - one of the main centres for tackling the crossing. Having checked the weather (you need good weather for this walk) we stopped off in Taupo (huge lake and nice little town) for a few essentials. Whilst the sun was due to be out and skies clearing, the temperatures for our desired walk day looked low. As a precaution we purchased a warm hat for Karen, gloves for me and Mr and Mrs Incredible base layer outfits for both (see final picture for evidence). Whilst in Taupo we visited Huka Falls and had a quick tramp down the Waikato River to remind the leg muscles of their primary use prior to the almost 20km Crossing.
The Discovery Lodge only had three channels on its TV. The only one worth watching when we arrived was showing Highland Rescue - an episode including rescues of two Scottish idiots of a certain age who should have known better being rescued from snow covered mountains and one northern English moron being rescued from the lakes. We watched as we looked out over desolate land shrouded in heavy rain, knowing that behind those mists were three active volcanoes covered in snow. I hoped that NZ had sufficient helicopter coverage.
What an incredible walk. We both agreed that it was the best walk we have done. The pictures are amazing but don't do the walk justice.
The overall ascent to the highest point of the walk (a scree covered ridge between two craters) is 765 metres with a subsequent descent of 1126 metres. The initial part of the walk (which we reached at 6.30am) is a cross between Dartmoor and the lower parts of the Lake District. The mist was down so we could not yet see the most active Volcano (Mount Ruapehu) to our right.
Ahead of us were the lower slopes of Mount Ngauruhoe (Mount Doom in Lord of the Rings) and a little further away was Tongariro itself. It was about 7km in when the ascent started to take us through the clouds. Eventually we could see the peaks of the Volcanoes and, as we reached the first good viewing point, Mount Taranaki. Mount Taranaki is a Volcano on the far West side of the North Island.
Shortly after spotting Mount Taranaki we reached a view point over the South Crater of Tongariro. This was filled with a layer of snow and ice so you could clearly see the path across the crater to what would turn out to be the first tricky part of the walk.
We walked across the bottom of the crater, carefully watching our step to avoid slipping on the compacted ice and snow beneath our feet. On the far side we had to ascend the side of the crater. This part of the track had been sheltered from the suns glare so was still coated in ice. It gradually reduced in width as it edged upwards ever more steeply until there were no parts of the path that offered secure footing. We held on to large outcrops of rock to prevent ourselves from falling back into the crater down the steep incline.
Finally at the top we could look down upon the brick coloured walls of the Red Crater and the aptly named Emerald lakes. This was the highest point of the crossing and the views were breathtaking. Beyond the features already described we could look back across the crater we had just passed and upwards to the exposed top of Mount Doom. Volcanic rock plains stretched out to our right and down from the top of Ruapehu. The path ahead could be seen dropping at an alarming rate between two craters before moving back upwards to the lip of the final Tongariro crater we would cross (the Central Crater).
The path below was a mix of scree and volcanic sand underneath ice and snow. Others walked upright but we skidded down on our bums until we had passed the vertical drop on our right into the red crater.
After ascending the other side of the Central Crater the path offered views of lakes Taupo and Rotoaira. The scenery changed from volcanic icy moonscape to moor like slopes. Sheltered areas retained snow that covered the path intermittently before a combination of sun and thermal activity removed the last of the wintry residue.
After a brief stop at a hut for water and a snack we headed into wooded areas that were completely alien to the scenery and feel of the earlier part of the walk. We reached our goal less than 6 hours after leaving the start so were able to catch the first bus back the motel. We were a few minutes ahead of a Norwegian couple and a Canadian couple were the final two to make it to the first bus.
An amazing walk - one that everyone who has the chance to do, should do so.
No real animal life to talk about as yet but the Bill Oddie in me is fascinated by the bird life. The song birds are making the most complex noises as we walk. Some sound like Clunk from Catch that Pigeon whilst others bring to mind R2D2 chirruping and whirring away as we pass by underneath. I am told that the Tui is the king of the song-birds.
So far we have seen many Fantails, Welcome Swallows, Pied Stilts, Blue Herons, Black Robins, large white throated gannets and "waka-waka birds". Our car journeys have presented many opportunities to observe large black hawks and we have seen many smaller birds on our jaunts through the forests.
There is one funny little quail type bird that speeds around on the ground in the forests and does everything thing to avoid the camera (and Karen). It is speckled olive green with a small black quiff on the top of the male birds head.
We are hoping to catch sight of penguins on our later trips on the East coast. The Kiwi itself may remain elusive as it likes coming out at night and I like eating, drinking and sleeping then.
Karen vetoed my original plans for the North Island but for posterity I thought that I would capture them here in case anyone else wishes to take the path I would have chosen.
Our first stop after Auckland would have been Kiki-dee. This small town is relatively unknown outside the short grasslands region of Rotomoa but is locally known as the place where everyone wears pink jumps suits and sings duets with a local eccentric called Reg.
The obvious next stop would have been New Zealand's' erotic dance capital Tangonudi and the nearby seaside resort of Witi-ritort famous for its heckling audiences at the annual comedy festival.
A short journey down the Thermals highway (very cold in winter) through Long Johns Passage (not nice when damp) would have led us to the French car factory at Papahnikol. I'm not very keen on the older models but the younger sporty ones with their short skirts are very racy.
Finally we would have taken in the suburb of Wellington renowned for its expensive properties occupied by the media and political elite, Lake Hoi-Tee-Toi-Tee.
Waterloo Wellington Tuesday 8 November 2011
After the excitement of the Volcanoes it was time to head south. A quick stopover in Wellington would be required before we boarded the Interislander Ferry to Picton at the top of the South Island.
After a few hours in the car (during which we passed a huge film set that I can only assume is one of the sets for the upcoming Hobbit movies) we pitched up in a best Western just north of New Zealand's capital. The following morning we packed the car and headed into central Wellington for a few hours before we boarded the Ferry.
Wellington is a much more attractive looking City than Auckland. Its shore line is tidy, full of interesting buildings, cafes and restaurants. The overall feeling is very relaxed. We sat and watched the world go by in the central business district and noticed the ease with which people got on with their daily schedules. It felt like Seattle was supposed to have been like.
A junior school choir entertained us for a short while. They were part of a strawberry festival being held to raise money for hospices. We chipped in our few dollars by buying a couple of bowls of fresh strawberry and ice cream.
The Ferry was late loading but we were soon on our way out into the Cook Strait and entered Queen Charlotte Sound on the other side of the water in good time. The scenery was beautiful but if I am honest the ferry to Victoria from mainland British Columbia presented better views.
We were soon off of the ferry at Picton and heading out to find our motel in the middle of the small, attractive sea port. We had already booked a boat to take us out on our next trek the following morning so after raiding the local supermarket we had dinner and settled in for an early night.
Statto is back. By the time this is being published (Friday 11th November) we have walked 122km and driven over 1600km in New Zealand. 9 Aussie beers have been drunk (sorry New Zealand but in my defence I went for the cheapest) and a few very nice bottles of Kiwi Sauvignon Blanc too. Lots of fine local apples have fallen off the tree into our grubby little hands and many slices of chicken (accompanied by low fat cheese) have formed a large part of our lunchtime diet.
Now I shall leave you to digest those figures whilst I digest my dinner.