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Published: November 25th 2014
Leaf, Fred and I took the 5 hour train from Auckland to Ohakune, and Kris and Nick drove with all their camping gear. (We stayed in a cabin).
We arrived in Ohakune, a small town in the central plateau national park, to torrential wind and rain. It was not possible to see the mountains at all through thick clouds. First 2 nights Kris and Nick also rented a cabin. The Central Plateau of North island has several snow capped volcanic peaks, and there is geothermal activity. Mount Ruapehu last erupted in the 1990s.
The first day was pretty cloudy and so we could still not see the volcano peaks. We were lucky to have Kris Nick and Leaf as guides, who knew shorter safer alternatives to the Tongariro Crossing. We had a nice walk through the forests and across a boardwalk over a marsh to a mountain hut and back. The forests here differ from Waitakere. There are tree ferns called Wheki-ponga with a permanant skirt of dead fronds hanging down around the trunk close to the camp site. Further up in the forest are silver beech trees and small umbrella ferns. Higher still the trees become very short.
Next day, also cloudy, we drove over near lake Tapau to bathe in the hot pools at Tokaanu. This was a real treat.....slowly swimming in an outdoor pool as warm as a hot bath. After bathing we went along a boardwalk to view the thermal activity nearby. It is incredible to see the mud pools bubbling and the steam rising from weirdly coloured bottomless pools of water. Very 'other worldly'. How precariously we live on a thin crust of earth above the bubbling inferno! Not much is growing beside the geothermal pools except Kanaku, which is a sturdy version of the Manaku plant. Nearby we could see makeshift geothermal ovens constructed of corrogated iron and old rags and pallettes by local people. After this we drove over to look at Lake Tapau, where we saw black swans (found in Australia and New Zealand) instead of white swans found in Europe. Tapau is a massive lake filling the crater of a massive volcano.When Tapau erupted about 2000 years ago the clouds of ash could be seen from China. Looking back towards a near volcanic mountainside we could see clouds of steam rising through the trees from the hot springs running
Finally, on our second to last afternoon, the weather turned nice and we were able to see the snowy peak of Mount Ruapehu through the clouds. It was a beautiful sight, and all the better for waiting so long! The last day the mountain top view came and went teasingly as the clouds moved across the sky.
Last day we had the best walk. We started just below the snow line and walked along part of the 'round the mountain' walk to a waterfall. Beautiful views down and across the plateau, and up to the bleak mountain above. In the sunlight the small mosses and lichens and alpine plants growing there were coloured beautiful greens and oranges. It was like walking across the top of the world. We were walking mainly across black larva flows with plants growing in some parts. Other parts looked like there had been landslips and were bare. There were waterfalls higher up. To reach our destination we had to scramble over rocks between waterfalls and ford streams. Those with good balance jumped from rock to rock to do this, and others hung their shoes and socks around their necks and paddled.
Our final waterfall was lovely. It ran over rocks coloured white by silica deposits, which made it special.
The morning of departure we said a sad farwell to Kris Nick and Leaf, who were driving back to Auckland, while we were getting on the train for a further 4 or 5 hours to Wellington. We just had time to take a stroll through town and photograph the big carrot, which is Okahunes symbol! Skiing in winter, forestry and carrot growing are the industries here. Apparantly carrots grow well in the light volcanic ash soils of Ohakune, unlike the heavy clay soil on my allotment in Tonbridge.
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