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Published: March 22nd 2016
I did the Tongaroro Alpine crossing. It was like day 2 on the Inca Trail in Peru except here it was freezing, wet and the wind was clocked at 35 mph on the topside crater. The park pulled all camping permits so I was forced off the trail and back into the hostel. Which is good cause I was beat to shit. I ate 3,000 cals up there and still dropped weight. From the time I arrived in Tongariro the weather was like Seattle in December. Cold and soggy. But the people I was with were warm and funny so it was all good.
A word on the Great Walks in New Zealand. On the internet you see these wonderful pictures of solo hikers plodding along some beautiful ridge with blue seas sparkling in the background. The reality is that these walks are among the most popular tourist venues in the country because they're free and nothing else around here is. The Alpine crossing gets, on average, 4,000 people a day. That's more than the Inca trail. The Alpine is the most popular NZ walk. The first 5-klicks are a beautiful flat marshland crossing on an elevated walkway
Alpine Crossing in Tongariro
Looks like Scotland. Feels like Seattle.
with black basalt mesas in the background. These are the best maintained trails that I have ever seen. There are track crews out all along the way repacking trails and clearing brush. Descents are made over concrete stairs. The only way to make these things easier to walk would be to install escalators and the Kiwis are probably thinking about it. After the first section on the Crossing your climbing future gets real cloudy real fast. Switchback traverses over lava rocks as big as bread loaves. The real issue is all of the out of shape and poorly equipped people (hiking in Nike running shoes and no outerwear) who are stopped on the narrow gutter of a trail while they try to catch a breath. It was a frigging mess and it only got worse at 5,000 feet when a freezing rain kicked in on top of 35 mph winds. Visibility became a major issue as well as big groups of middle-aged Koreans in Day-Glo rain ponchos stopping every two minutes to flap around for photos.
At 5,500 feet I met an American woman named Betty. She was dressed in brand new North Face gear and she was looking
Emerald Lake View
It's about 20-yards behind me. I couldn't see it either.
up the track suspiciously. She asked me if I knew how far we were from the top which I didn't but we teamed up for company. She's 69-years old, hails from Michigan, is divorced, has grandchildren in California whom she's visiting after she leaves NZ, runs a window company and did she mention that she was divorced because she did to me three times with sad misty eyes and the first thing I'm wondering is; 'Do I look THAT old?' Well it turned out that Betty is a 69-year old marathon runner whom I didn't have any trouble staying with on the way up but when she saw that dinner with me wasn't likely (though I did give her some of my chocolate which should count for something) she fairly flew down that mountain. I never saw her again. You go girl!
At 6,000 feet there's a dodgy ridge that you have to walk along while hanging onto some chains bolted into the rock for a 200 foot climb. At the top is where the two famous lakes (they are actually more pond than anything) are located. So I stopped there, got a picture, ate something and slid down
Seamus from London; Hostel Manager
Settled in NZ 40-years ago. Remarkable human being. No nonsense spreader of love. Living in the now. He and I hit it off immediately.
the backside through a foot deep layer of scree for half a klick. It was oh, so magical. I was cold, wet, tired and looking at another ten kilometers but hey; I picked it. In all there was a total of 3,700 vertical feet of climbing and it felt like it.
The next morning it took me 10-minutes to get my sore ass out of bed and another 10-minutes to penguin-walk to the bathroom. It was an amazing day. Meanwhile it was still raining outside. I did 10-klicks to a waterfall the next day and it was all I could do to finish it but now I can say that I did a Great Walk though I think it not so great.
I caught the bus out. Only 16 people this time. My driver was Lolly a 26-year old small town Kiwi who told terrible jokes but played wonderful music and so we drove south under sunny skies and through some mountains that looked like the Rockies. Thousands of sheep grazing every pasture. Deep river gorges, small towns. We stopped off at one place known for 'Gumboot Throwing' and we threw gumboots for distance against another Stray bus
Running the Rack at Les Mills
Awesome gym. 4-levels of happiness. I needed this one bad and I spent 3-hours bangin' it here 'cause for $25 you need to get your money's worth.
team. It was very odd but I'm beginning to see the Kiwis for odd folk who delight in bad jokes and silly clothes which they would pull from their backs and give you if you needed them. Their favorite expression is 'Sweet As' which means 'that's really cool' i.e. "Those are Sweet As gumboots you're throwing."
I arrived in Wellington during the city's biggest two day festival 'Cuba Dupa!'. After a major pump at Les Mills Extreme (what a gym!) I wandered down to Cuba Street where it seemed as if everybody in the city was hanging out. Hundreds of food stands where I ate the best Mussaman curry I've had since Thailand. All of the bars were overflowing with happy people. There were citizen orchestras wandering the streets. One of them was the Dia del Muertos. About a hundred people decked out in skull makeup and costumes banging drums with dancing Senoritas swaying with the crowd of about a thousand. It was like that cave scene from the Matrix. Contagious. Giant skulls on poles and skeletons decked out in Sombreros. I immediately thought of my son Noah who has always wanted to visit Mexico on November 1st for
Early AM in Wellington getting ready to cross
From the left; Micah: Holland, Lolly: NZ, Thomas: USA and Tomas: Germany. They had been up all night playing Kiwi drinking games and it showed. Especially Lolly who just happened to be our driver.
the day of the dead celebration. I went to a Karaoke bar called Dirtie Granny's which was packed with people singing Oasis songs like Wonderwall. It was a F'ing trip. I was in the hostel getting ready to sleep and I could still hear partiers out in the street. Wellington reminds me of Melbourne, Australia and the people here are OH so friendly. The biggest collection of good looking Kiwi women I've ever seen in one place. Really good people who take you under their wing when they find out you're from out of town. While I played amongst the Wellingtonites the rest of the bus sat in the hostel bar and drank and drank and drank. These kids drink quite a bit but they're even sweeter when they're ripped. The hostel sucked but it was only one night.
The next morning at 6 AM we loaded up for the 8 AM ferry which was 25% full. 4 hours to Picton, South Island. It was a beauteous ride though Fjords and sounds lined with tall conifer covered hills. Virgin forest. Topaz waters twinkling with sun-diamonds. We got on our new bus and headed west through miles of vineyards that
It Was All So Fine
Cruised for an hour at a thousand feet. A feast for the eyes everywhere I looked. Stuff like this will make you cry.
looked like Sonoma. They only grow Whites and Pinot Noirs here for some reason. The wine in New Zealand is very good and I've tasted some wonderful Cabernet Sauvignon for only $7 a bottle but I don't know where they grow these things.
We pulled into Abel Tasman Park at 6 PM. It looks like the coast of Maine and Krabi and Sydney and the Central Highlands and God knows but the effect is so astounding, so Jungian spiritual, so uplifting that one cannot help but catch their breath and feel their heart swell from it all. Magnificent. Living in the Now is what this place is all about. Sweet As.
Yesterday I caught a sailboat up the coast and hiked the Abel Great Walk for 12 klicks. No people this time. Sunshine, waterfalls, suspension bridges, cold, wild Slovakian style rivers and miles of golden coastline. Today I hired a pilot with an ultra-light and we flew along the park coast and over that little rocky island I had visited yesterday where Mama fur-seals nurse fat brown pups and giant Manta Rays idle in the shallows like black diamonds. People in long yellow kayaks paddle out to the
First Sunrise South Island
Really. They had never had a sunrise before.
flats following in the wakes of big, fast moving sailboats. In the distance I could see the North Island and a fleet of fishing boats working the rocks. Below me were orchards of Kiwi-Fruit, apples, plums, peaches and they are all being harvested this month because it is autumn here and soon the air will turn cold and the trees scarlet and the seal pups will strike out on their own and everything comes full circle before it all starts again.
Do you think I like it here?
I love you guys and I think on you every day.
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