It’s been awhile since we last posted, and it’s been a busy few weeks, so this post should be a long one, and in fact will be in 2 parts. You can find Part 2 posted below this one. A few weeks ago we were hiding from the rain and gale force winds in New Plymouth. After driving the west coast highway, aptly named the Surf Highway, we were a little bummed that we couldn’t see 5 m in front of us do to the fog/mist/rain. We spent quite a bitt of time hanging out in the New Plymouth museum and library and found a neat camp site just out of the city. We also managed to dodge a 200 dollar fine for not displaying current registration on the car. It involved a trip to the district council, a well worded letter of explanation, and Kelly looking very col, wet, and sorry as she made our case to the clerk.
We decided to brave the weather and climb Mt.Taranaki, an inactive but not yet extinct volcano. We climbed up to a beautiful hut for the night and met some pretty cool people; a Canadian turned Kiwi, a Kiwi and a Spaniard. We played crib, drank wine and had a really lovely night despite the weather. The next morning the clouds were still looming around, with bursts of wind and rain but we decided we could do the climb. The Spaniard, Ouri, came with us and after the first hour the clouds cleared and we had a wicked climb up. The face of the mountain is quite steep and mostly scoria, a black volcanic rock, making it a two steps up, one step back sort of climb. We were told we wouldn’t be able to walk across the crater sans ice axe and cramp-ons, but when we arrived at the top we found what a Canadian would consider a heavy frost... well maybe a bit more than that, but not enough to be a problem at least The crater made for a nice spot to play a little snow baseball and we eventually made it up to the top for some spectacular views and some pictures of Ouri and oursleves wishing a “Bon 2012!” to everyone at home. We made a quick descent, which was a lot of fun and some trouble for Kelly’s geriatric knees.
The following day we took the forgotten highway to Tongariro National Park, where we discovered it was $20.40/person/night to camp outside of the huts on the Northern Circuit Tramp in the park. I’m sure you’ve all guessed that we didn’t pay and decided to camp 500 m off the track instead for free. We woke up early early the next morning and started what we thought would be a 4 day, 3 night hike, which we ended up cutting to 3 days, 2 nights. The first day was a beautiful walk in the shadows of Mt Doom, or as they call it here, Mt Ngagaruhoe. The planes were filled with red tussock and other sub alpine vegetation. We reached the first hut and pushed on, up the Mangatopopo saddle, the first steep climb of the tramp. Upon arriving at the top we were met with hail and rain, after a completely clear and beautiful day. We set up camp in the rain, and obviously it stopped as soon as we were done. It was alright though, the sunset made for gorgeous lighting atop the saddle with the surrounding lava flow rocks and remarkable tussock. Camping on top of an active volcano is sweet, for the record. The next morning we woke up early yet again and started out on what has been called the “best one day walk in the world”. John’s idea was to “dance the Tongariro Crossing” and did quite the job of it. The ground was red with iron oxide and we climb up to the red Crater, an active vent of Mt. Tongariro. The far side of the crater goes down to the Emerald lakes, perfect blue green lakes surrounded by thermal vents. We descended further into the desert side of Mt. Ngagaruhoe to the second hut where we had a quick lunch and continued on through the undulating hills to the third hut. We were met yet again by a powerful afternoon shower and decided to push on for another hour. We set up camp on an island of an old stream bed in the sand. We got black sand on EVERYTHING, but it was a cozy night. It was a long, 8 hour day and we feel asleep early. The last day we walked the remaining part of the track in 3 hours, three and quarter hours faster than the Department of Conservation time. We left Tongariro and made our way up to Lake Taupo for the greasiest fish and chips both of us have ever had. Despite our very upset stomachs, it was well worth it, but we will not be indulging again. I think that we have become unable to digest grease after the wholesome food we ate so regularly.
Continuing on our drive north we spent lunch in Rotarua and pushed on to a beauty campsite with hot water showers in the Bay of Plenty. Hot showers are a rarity in our life. The campsite was great, we got fresh strawberries and met some fellow Canadians from Banff. Our last bit of driving took us past a wicked old mining tunnel system that we explored for quite a while. We walked around in the tunnels which were filled and with glow worms.