After Whakatane we had a day in Taupo and then drove to the Tongariro national park. We had been here on our last trip but this time we wanted to walk the Tongariro Alpine crossing, last time we only had flip flops which is no good. The walk is 19kms and takes around 6-8 hours, you climb for half of it so you need good shoes and a warm coat. So we got up fairly early and got a shuttle bus at 7am to go to the beginning of the walk. It was so cold that there was frost. The first hour of the walk was quite easy it was flat and we already had a great view, there were hardly any clouds in the sky and to the west we could see Mt Egmont near New Plymouth poking out of the skyline. Then the gradual climb started. We kept looking up above us and could see tiny dots of people on the mountain and knew thats where we were climbing. So we went up and up and up and the views just got better and better. We got to South crater and had a bit of a snack before moving on to the Red crater which was really amazing - like a big red rock hole, against the deep blue sky it looked good. We walked through a valley with the mighty Mt Ngauruhoe (Mt Doom in Lord of the Rings) to to the right of us. You can climb it if you wish but it takes an extra 3 hours and it's all loose rock so you can easily slip down or knock people out with rocks below you. So we gave that a miss and then climbed a bit more and then below us was the magnificent sight of the Emerald Lakes - three amazingly clear turquoise lakes. We then had to come down this very steep bit which was quite difficult to walk in as it was old volcanic ash - it was like deep sand. So many people including us where just slipping up- you couldn't really hurt yourself as it was very soft but I had an uncontrollable giggling fit at everyone falling over - the funniest was an old lady with proper hiking sticks that just fell really slowly but her sticks remained upright. We looked at the lakes close up and it was the clearest water ever. We had a lunch break and then soon the descent started which for some silly reason we thought this would be the easy bit. For nearly three hours we were walking down hill which is actually a lot more painful than walking up hill. Our knees were really painful and the walk down just seemed to last forever. We thought we were near the end when we reached a forest but it went on and on until we finally reached the car park and got the shuttle bus back. The walk took us 7.5 hours - although we did have a few stops on the way. We were really proud of ourselves afterwards and we both said its one of the best things we've done. We did ache the next day and I counted six blisters on my feet!
After Tongariro we drove down towards the West coast, we were going to have a few nights in Wanganui but after driving through it we decided not to - just looked a bit industrial! So instead we drove right down south towards Wellington to the Wairarapa area to a charming little town called Martinborough which had a really cute little town square. The area had many vineyards and expensive wine tasting tours. We spent one day driving to the most southern point of the north island to Cape Palliser. The sea was really rough and the cliffs dramatic. We climbed up to the lighthouse and nearly got blown away! There was a seal colony nearby and it was great to watch the seals playing in the strong waves. They were just lying on their backs and flapping around.
After Martinborough we drove to Wellington, Cyril got his WOF done (like an M.O.T) and passed which was very good. We had two days in Wellington, its such a great little city - we thought Auckland was laid back but this was super chilled and quite trendy. We went to the great Te Papa museum which is free and we are not museum types but this is a great place to spend a day, there were really interesting displays about earthquakes and volcanoes and film rooms with documentaries on NZ migrants. We could have spent another day there! The weather in Wellington was really cold and wet. We both said it would have been nice to work in Wellington instead of Auckland but then we wouldn't have met all our lovely friends!
Next off to the South Island .........................