Mountain of flying (icy) daggers

Published: October 4th 2006
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Thankfully Monday morning didn't involve the usual pre-work routine for myself. Alex on the other hand had two more days to endure. Ensuring that I used my time productively Alex had left me a list of jobs that needed completing before we headed off in Max. Job one involved walking down Queen Street stopping in at Quantas to enquire about new tickets, the Australian Embassy to see if our visas are ok, the department of conservation ("DOC") too see about some free camp sites and STA to get some more insurance for skiing. These jobs done I also had to drive over to the North Shore to pick up a new choke cable. I had managed to break the old one, much to Alex's displeasure, and had been starting the van by moving the front seat to get at the access panel to the battery compartment and where the choke cable joined the engine so I could pull it from there. Not ideal I admit. Anyway, I got the new cable and managed to fit it when back at the hostel which I was very proud of.

Tuesday was Alex's last day at work and I had another job to do. I spent most of the day driving up north to the town of Whangarei (the "Wh" is pronounced as an "f" in Kiwi names) where I had to go to the police station to see how much of our belongings had been recovered. After a depressing hour or two of searching through several boxes of items it turned out that they had some, but not all, of our belongings. It was worth the drive though as we managed to retrieve Alex's glasses and a few clothes each. I then had the long drive back to contend with. We met up at the hostel after Alex had finished work and we set off again, me still driving, heading south and out of Auckland until December! We stopped for the night at a campsite just north of Waitomo which had a gym, sauna and air pillow which Alex found really enjoyable (the air pillow was just as it sounds, a huge pillow, only the top half showing though, filled with air that you can boune on like a bouncy castle). As the campsite was apparently next to a kiwi house (noted in our guide book after leaving) we thought that that might explain the odd screeching we heard during the night. Both of us hope to see one of the elusive birds before we leave as apparently you can't always see them in the zoo!

Wednesday saw us check out of the camp site and we enjoyed a great scenic drive up into the mountains of the north island, stopping for lunch along the way. We arrived at our destination of Ohakune, which is a town on the south side of Mount Ruapehu. This was to be our base for the next few days. We rented our own little cabin and get to use the hot tub and enjoy the inclusive breakfast.

Thursday we got up early as we were off skiing after looking forward to it for so long. After checking the weather forcast and seeing if the ski fields were open we made our way to a rental shop just round the corner that we had scoped out the day before. 20 minutes later we were kitted up for the day ahead and we awaited the bus up to the ski fields. We had a really good day up on the slopes and had found our skiing legs by the end of the day. The weather wasn't ideal as there was low cloud for most of the day making visibility really poor at times. To add to this it rained at times and others, nearer the top of the mountain, it threw littles daggers of ice (as Alex named them) at our faces while we sat helplessly on the chair lifts. The snow was also past its best as it was getting quite mushy due to it being late in the season. Still, we had fun and after a couple of runs on the little slopes to get used to skiing again we set off further up the hill. I'll admit here that I found it quite a bit more difficult to get used to the idea of skiing again as I hadn't been in eight years. This was proved by the numerous times that I nose dived into the slopes! Alex faired better but decided to make me feel better by falling over herself a couple of times. We spent the rest of the day exploring the blue runs on the middle mountain. We came to the conclusion that the blue runs over here encompass blue and red runs that are found in Europe as there aren't any red runs over here. After a couple of tentative runs down these, and a few spectacular tumbles by myself (I occasionally lost control due to excessive speed), we soon looked the part swishing down the hill. Unfortunately there are no photos of our day on the slopes as Alex's digital camera even decided it was too cold and wouldn't work.

The evening after was dedicated to relaxing and the first stop was the hot tub. It appeared that we had arrived during play time though as one man struggled to control his two little children from jumping into the hot tub while trying to explain to them that it is somewhere to relax. Thankfully they left and were replaced by an English could who had moved to Wellington who we had a chat to for a while. After tea Alex and I made the short walk to the pub for the apres ski but we only last one drink and needed an early night after the skiing workout.

The weather on Friday wasn't appealing enough to tempt us up the mountain again so we found more local entertainment that would be a bit warmer. The first stop of the day was a climbing wall based in a hostel in a town called National Park (ridiculous name!). Neither of us had really done any climbing before and found it really challenging but highly enjoyable. We spent an hour or so here taking it in turns to climb some of the 35 routes up the 8m wall. Some of them we were more successful on than others and some we didn't even dream of trying. This was followed up by a more gentle activity of walking from the town of Whakapapa (following on from earlier pronounciation note, "whaka" is pronounced "fukka"). We followed a trail for just over an hour to an area called the Silica Falls where silica from the volcanic rock is deposited on the stream bed. We made our way back to Max for some lunch and then decided to call it a day and made our way back to the hostel for an afternoon of (well deserved) relaxation.

Saturday saw us leave the skiing area and we made our way around Mount Ruahepu, getting some fantastic views now the clouds had lifted, and headed north up the Desert road for Taupo. The scenery was spectacular as usual and we soon came across Lake Taupo which is very impressive. We headed straight for our camp site and headed out for a walk. We followed the Waikato river, which was beautifully clear, downstream for about an hour. Near
the start there is a hot stream that enters the river, and by hot I mean 40 Celcius!, we didn't have our swimming clothes but stuck our hands in to sample the heat. At the end of the walk the river changes from a quiet river into a raging torrent as the 100m wide, 4m deep river is squeezed into a 15m wide, 10m deep flow as it passes through an area of hard rock with
spectacular consequences. The area is called the Huka Falls and lasts for 50-60 metres until the rock runs out and there is a 5-10 metre waterfall at the end depending on the river flow which is controlled to run the hydro-electric power station further down stream. After an ice cream we made the return journey (bumping into a couple we met in the Kiwi hostel in Auckland - Anja, it was Anna and weirdo boy!) to the camp site to relax for the rest of the day. Luckily for us the camp sites over here seem to love hot tubs and so we relaxed there for a while despite there being annoying little kids around the place.

Sunday morning we left the camp site and headed into Taupo town. Here we treated ourselves to a great cooked breakfast with views over the lake. This was followed up by a wander around town and picking up some vital supplies. We then made our way to an area called "The Craters of the Moon", which is a very fitting description. The whole area from Mount Ruahepu to the north coast of the North Island is a volcanic region. The Craters of the Moon is a great example of where the volcanic activity is visible on the surface. We spent a good hour or so wandering past huge craters, steaming holes, colourful mineral deposits from the steam and even bubbling mud! The whole area is very surreal and well worth a visit. The afternoon was a little less relaxing as we made our way for a scenic flight at the Taupo gliding club. Alex was the first to go and was given a great 40 minute scenic flight over the Taupo region. The flight also allowed Alex to have a go flying the glider which she really enjoyed and coped with well. She was also shown what happens when the glider stalls and after that declined any more fancy moves after feeling only slightly giddy. My turn eventually came and I had a great time trying to fly (with more than a little assistence from the pilot). I think he had got a bit bored on the previous flights as he wanted to show my some aerobatics which you have to pay more for. I was certainly keen. After the stall he threw in a stall turn, tight turns as the glider falls to the ground and lastly, his trick to impress the people who paid for the aerobatic flight, a spin, which was awesome. Unfortunately the cloud was too low for a loop the loop so that one was left.
Back on the ground we headed further north to our campsite for the night which was right next to lake Rerewhakaaiteu. Things here were very quiet except for the busy bird life including one duck with up to 12 ducklings at one point.


Heading back south slightly we called in at an area called Wai-o-tapu. We were in a bit of a rush as there is a geyser, called Lady Knox, which errupts at 10.15 every morning. We were a bit confused as to whether we had missed it or not as the clocks had recently changed to daylight saving but we made our way there in just enough time. I was a bit disappointed, whereas Alex wasn't, as the geyser wasn't as natural as we had first thought. Instead of it going off voluntarily a guide gives a bit of detail about the geyser and tells you how it errupts. This is done by placing bars of soap in the top of the geyser which breaks the surface tension of a pool of cool water which then mixes with a pool of hotter water underneith to form a fairly impressive geyser. After this we made our way around the rest of the park which was a feast of volcanic action. There were craters, fumeroles, silica flats and a myriad of different colours from the various elements vented from the steam.
The afternoon was spent heading north again, with a scenic diversion to the blue and green lakes and the buried village of Te Wairoa, which was destroyed in the 1881 eruption of nearby Mount Tarawera. The port of call for the evening was the town of Rotorua, with the nickname of Sulphur City which is very apt due to the pervading smell of eggs. Here we found another great camp site which included an outdoor swimming pool, three natural mineral baths which use warm water from the ground, a bubbling mud pool and a hangi cooker (explained later).
At about 6pm we were picked up for our evening's entertainment. The trip was with Tamaki tours which gave a cultural evening dedicated to the Maori way of life. After a brief introduction in the company's office in town, we made our way out to the village of Tamaki. There were five coaches in all and each selected a chief for the evening. The chiefs had to accept a peace offering before we were allowed to enter the village. We had a brief walk around the village seeing some traditional dances and crafts before we were entertained with a Maori concert and Haka which were awesome. The eye rolling and tongue wagging were much more impressive than any you'll see on a rugby pitch! The concert was followed by food, cooked in the traditional Maori hangi. This involved cooking the food slowly in a pit in the ground with hot stones. The food was fantastic (including kumaras!) and we were both stuffed after a couple of trips to the buffet. This was also followed up by dessert which we couldn't refuse.


Tuesday was spent in the town of Rotorua as we headed up the mountain of Ngongotaha. Here we were greated by fantastic views of the surrounding area and we could partake in some luge. This is basically a go-kart which you ride down some great twisting tracks. Even the so called scenic route was great and we both managed to get a wheel off the floor while cornering at some point and we managed to fly past some of the less adventurous kids that were hogging the track. The weather took a turn for the worse in the afternoon and caught us while walking around the free thermal area after having a walk around town. A quick dip in the thermal pools back at the camp site sorted us out. We also cooked our tea in the steam hangi which used the natural steam rising from the ground to great effect as the food was yum.


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