Craig and Ross in New Zealand

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January 23rd 2015
Published: January 23rd 2015
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Episode 4 (Saturday 24.01.15)

Day 17 of our New Zealand trip and day 17 of sunshine !

From Rotorua we traveled South to Tongariro National Park, stopping first at Wai-O-Tapu geothermal area and Huka Falls. Of the various geothermal parks in the region, Brent and Shirl said that Wai-O-Ta[u was best, as it has everything – geysers, bubbling mud pools and steaming lakes of various colours. They were right. We also saw the mighty Waikato River, noisily thrusting its ice blue waters through a very narrow gorge at Huka Falls.

And so on to Tongariro. This world heritage listed National Park features active volcanoes and fantastic lunar-like scenery. It is at its busiest during Winter, when everyone comes here to ski, but it is also popular in Summer, for its wonderful walking trails. The finest day walk in New Zealand – and indeed one of the best in the world – is the Tongariro Northern Crossing, a 19.4 km (6.5 hour) tramp that takes you up thru stupendous volcanic scenery and emerald green high altitude lakes. I was very keen to the crossing it, but a little nervous. Could I manage it, fitness wise? There were signs warning about appropriate fitness being needed. Most of my hikes over the years have been are short 1- 3 hr jaunts. Maybe if the weather proved crap, I couldn’t go and that could be my excuse for not doing it! Yet like every other day here, the day dawned clear and sunny. I had to do it ! I left Ross to amuse himself in the nearby town (it has a lovely old Chateau, and a historical train station) and I set off at 8.30am with plenty of water and food. There were some tough parts – one very steep bit where I had to stop every 5 minutes to catch my breath at one stage, but the barren volcanic landscape was amazing. I got overtaken all the time by so many other walkers, and initially felt a little deflated, but then realised that about 90% of them were all younger than my 51 years (mostly 20 and 30 something Europeans, actually). Anyway, after stopping at Blue Lake on the summit for lunch, I made the crossing within the 5- 7 hour time frame and was extremely pleased with myself. Easily the best hike I have ever done in the world. I highly recommend it to everyone with an adventurous spirit (see pics opposite).

Do you remember how I got lost on that island in the Bay of Islands and stumbled upon two people who helped me find my way ? (Matt and Alicia from the USA). Well, we crossed paths with them again at Tongariro. They were coming out of a shop as we were entering it ! They too had done the crossing. We compared experiences and exchanged e-mails - expanding the circle of friends that we inevitably make while traveling.

From Tongariro we drove some 4 hours over to the city of Napier, on the East coast. For two reasons; all the Art Deco for Ross and the world’s largest gannet (seabird) colony for me. Napier was destroyed by a massive earthquake in 1931. Some 258 people were killed and those buildings not brought down by the quake were consumed by the subsequent fire, which raged for 2 days. The city was then rebuilt in the style of the day – predominantly Art Deco. The good people of Napier had the foresight to maintain all the buildings in the Art Deco style, and now the retro chic city is much admired. We went to an eatery called “Charlie’s Art Deco Restaurant” for dinner. It was a strange place. We were the only diners there. Our waiter was an earnest fellow with a ruby complexion and ears like an irate elephant. Looking around the room, Ross said:

“Well I guess you can call it Art Deco, ‘cause the floor looks like it hasn’t been cleaned since 1931.”

The food was quite OK, though. In Napier, we stayed at The Masonic Hotel, - Art Deco – which was nice.

For the gannets, you can walk 18km (return) to the Cape Kidnappers along a beach at low tide or there is a novel way of getting there -by tractor, with a Company called Gannet Adventures. The tractor pulls along a large long trailer fitted out with seats. You sit with your feet dangling over the side. As I had some lingering blisters on my feet from the Tongariro expedition, we chose the tractor option, and enjoyed the trip out to the headland. The views of the cape and gannet colony were excellent. The gannets had chicks, big balls of surly white fluff that sat there pestering their parents.

Returning on the tractors, we spotted an elderly guy and his elderly wife coming to shore on a small boat. From the boat, he directed his wife to get out of the boat and pull it ashore. Maybe he was disabled…. but no, he then jumped out of the boat, lit a cigarette, and directed her to back the car and trailer down, and winch the boat onto the trailer. Then he directed her to get stuff out of the boat and load it into the car. Puffing away, he said:

“No, leave that box in the boat. Don't put that chilly bin there, put it in the back. Watch what you're doing. Move the car forward. And don’t get in the car yet, I’m still smoking.”

I’d have backed the car up and driven over the old fart a few times, and then just driven off !

Well, today we head for Wellington.

Love and best wishes to all

Craig (and Ross).

p.s. Scroll down for additional photos....

Additional photos below
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