Taupo has always stuck in our minds as a beautiful place, the North Island's equivalent of Queenstown - the latter dubbed as the adventure capital of NZ and the former a smaller version of in many ways. A typical lakeside town with restaurants and cafes along the front and snow capped mountains in the distant views, except these were nowhere to be seen. Couple with the rain of course are many a cloud that hang around the peaks, obscuring the vistas. We had doubted our memory on arrival as only small hills were visible, but the next day's sunshine brought clearer skies and our freedom campsite, backed up to the lakefront, looked directly into Mount Tongariro, the volcanic icon of Tongariro National Park.
After the wet day on arrival, and still lacking our full outdoor waterproofs, walking boots etc in lieu of the infamous boxes, we were glad to see the sun on day two. A quick visit to the iSite (tourist information centre) made the day's walking options, with the limited gear we had, fairly clear. Snow had fallen to lower altitudes overnight so the 5-6hr trail to Tama Lakes was now out of the question in approach shoes.
The best of the options therefore was to climb Mount Tauhara, a 2.5km hike to the peak opens up to views back over the town, lake and National Park. The trail itself is in primitive bush constantly and comprised of deciduous trees, scrub, bushes, pampas grass and the native silver fern that grows tall into distinctive trees as the ferns die and replenish. A gentle climb to what we're hoping will be the start of some more serious hiking not so far away.
In the process of finding a public dump station to empty Hermie and refill with fresh water, we stumbled across the local town market; a mix of foods, local produce and crafts. Taking the time to wander around we came across a lovely old Kiwi, the owner and maker of Celestial Wines. This humble gentleman, who used to milk 300 goats to export his cheese internationally, now has a wine making business with nothing but pure ingredients, so much so that he was swift to assure us that none of the usual milk and eggs are even used in his maturing process, unlike larger commercial NZ wineries. His range was vast, some of which were completely
new fruits to our vocabulary, all equally well explained - and sampled!
Leaving Taupo behind and with the weather on our side we wanted to see the dormant volcanoes of Tongariro NP with snow on their tops. Having hiked the area before we knew the topography enough to identify those in our vista. One of the mountains here, Whakapapa, gives rise to two ski areas in Winter both of which we have season passes for; the ski season lasts longer here on North Island so we plan to return later. Having been opportune enough to see such beautiful vistas it was only fitting that our freedom camp for the night was here in the 'wop wops' - the middle of nowhere!
The Department of Conservation put up campsites with varying simplistic facilities and minimal cost across the whole country. This specific site, consisting of an old vacant caravan resembling a reception and a long drop toilet in total, was the most peaceful and remote place to stay. Each individual space is nestled in between bush and scrub and beatifically surrounded on three sides. The secluded pitches brought the sounds of nature and nothing more, well apart from another
air raid type siren awakening the local firemen, thankfully early evening this time. This siren is seemingly often confused with the Lahar-type warnings, which we know now always include spoken warnings with evacuation instructions. It was exciting for a moment or two...
Our next stop, and a well anticipated few days, was Taranaki National Park. The iconic cone shaped volcano hosts many a hiking route, a multi day circular and a crossing trek that all appealed albeit anticipating only a day hike given the time of year. Sadly the weather was against us, and despite two days in the area, we never once saw even the base of the volcano. The torrential rain at town level was snow down to 600m on the hill, the gale force winds and of course the lack of appropriate equipment still meant the trails were certainly not accessible either day. Stratford has nothing much to offer with the volcano off limits, so on recommendation from several locals, we took the half and hour drive to New Plymouth. With a small window of sunshine we had the best part of an hour's walk along the coast path; some absolutely amazing waves, surfers paradise, once
Our nights in freedom campsites, often more exposed, have helped us to figure out where our little drafts and cold air are sneaking in. So while in a larger town we took yet another trip to Bunnings, a huge chain store here that's almost cross between B&Q and Travis Perkins, and then some. With the appropriate insulation in hand there was more work to do in preparation for the colder climes in store further south.
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