Published: January 14th 2012December 12th 2011
You shall know us by our smell
In the morning we go on a wee hike to stretch our legs. I see my first tui bird and tumble over myself to grab my binocs out of the car to look at it better. These birds are excellent mimics, have a metallic tinge to their voices like starlings, and possess undignified, adorable white throat feathers that stick out and bob madly as they sing. The Maori used to keep them as pets, fashioning bone leg rings for them.
But the rest of my crew has wandered down the path so I hasten to catch up. This place has a true temperate rainforest feel, wet and dark. We admire the various lichen and fungi sprouting everywhere as well as constantly oohing and ahing over the way light filters through the fern-trees. Eventually we turn around and pile into our vehicles, heading south.
We’re headed to Tongariro National Park but along the way, we want to check out some of the thermal features. This is what this region is known for. Steam rises from rivers and ponds everywhere, drifting white tendrils against the green land and grey sky, tempting
Lake o' mists
a FREE thermal feature
us with the promise of warmth. We stop at two places offering baths and swimming areas but they’re simply too expensive for this grad gaggle. But Kristy mentions she spotted a steamy looking expanse of water a ways back along the main road. And turns out, once we head back to it, that it’s the one that a Kiwi grad had told us about back in Auckland, off Kerosene Creek Rd (not the most alluring of names when you want to swim…)
I still don’t know what this lake was called but it’s huge and wreathed in steam-mist. Two fellow travelers, an American boy and a German girl, stand at the edge (just a human-made break in the reeds and bushes hemming in the lake), looking dubious. “Too green. It looks slimey,” the boy says. “It’s just algae. Don’t worry about it!” we respond, already stripping off our clothes for a barely hidden quick-change. It is indeed bright green on bottom but we get in anyway.
It smells like sulfur and pond-scum but it feels like a warm silky blanket. It’s not hot to my skin but above lukewarm for sure. Enough to warm you thoroughly.
Right before we did our immodest quick-change and got all smelly and warm in the lake
Besides, we’re proud of ourselves for finding a free thermal feature. We paddle around for a bit and gaze at the steep, thickly blanketed hills all around us. Pods of thick, green bubbles float by, leaving Slimer trails on us as they pop. Hoo boy, we’re going to be an attractive crew after this dip. But other opportunistic folks join us (including the American and German) so we can all stink and slime together. Mt. Doom
Smelling rather pungently, we carry on. We reach Tongariro Visitor’s Centre mid-afternoon and hear more about the fantastic Alpine Crossing. And more about the not-fantastic weather. This is the place where Mt. Doom and Mordor from Lord of the Rings was filmed. But alas, Mt. Doom and its companions is playing coy today. We can’t see any mountains for the low-hanging clouds. Turns out this park was NZ’s first national park and the 4th
in the world, established in 1887. The various tribes (iwi) in the area felt that the only way they could save this sacred space from rampant Pakeha (British descendants) development. A gift for the generations.
First things first, we set up our tents at a nearby DOC
In the Visitor's Centre. This was as close as we got to seeing the mountains...since they were constantly hiding themselves behind fog while we were there
campsite. It’s started to rain so we rush and then huddle indecisively in the campground shelter. It’s only 5:30 and it will be light until nearly 9:00 but…it’s still raining, not just drizzling, raining. Damnation.
It’s back to Whakapapa (pronounced Fakapapa) Village where the Visitor’s Centre is. This is a tiny place, really only here for tourism so we have few choices. Luckily, the one bar/restaurant that the Lonely Planet recommended is open. It feels like a ski get-away place, expansive with comfy booths, pool tables, arcade games, and a fireplace. We ask them to light the fireplace for us so we can dry out a bit and then order pizza and beer. After warming up, Katie, Evan and I get the itch to go back outside and explore, even in the few remaining hours before sunset.
We first check out a short hike going to some pretty waterfalls (Tawhai Falls). The rain has lightened to an occasional mist. We decide on a longer trek and end up on a windy forest hike that teases us with the sound of water. I keep expecting vista points but the rushing water is hidden through a shielding screen
Land o' ferns
One of the many lovelies
of trees. This forest is even wetter and darker than the one this morning, with thinner, more scraggly trees, befitting a higher elevation forest. It’s a pleasure to hike with Katie because she is such a treasure-trove of natural history information and observations. We hike and talk right into gathering darkness and so we book it back to the car.
We turn into the bar parking lot just as the other car is turning out. Turns out our companions were the last ones in the bar and it was clear they were the ones holding up the employee’s home time. The campground has filled up since we’ve been gone but no one is dallying in this chilly, damp night. We are in our tents as soon as possible, chatting until we snap off our headlamps and fall asleep. Cultural differences
Give way (to yield)
Take-away (to go)
Postie/sunnie/hammie (Postman, sunglasses, hamstring, lots of other things are shortened like that)
There are more photos below