Australia and New Zealand 01 Mar 2007 12:16 am
On February 20th the Interislander ferry took us from Picton on the south island to Wellington (the capital of NZ) on the north island. The ferry is a huge ship that apart from passengers also transfers whole trains and lots of trucks and cars, and takes about 3 hour to make the journey, most of it through the beautiful Queen Charlotte sound (fiord).
The first thing we did in Wellington is take another rental car from the agency. It’s a Nissan Wingroad station that looks older than the Mazda we had on the south island, although it has much lower kilometrage (129,000). We restocked ourselves with food and drove to Plimmerton, a pretty sea-side suburb 20 minutes north of Wellington.
On the next day we toured Wellington, visiting the “Te Papa” NZ national museum (very impressive, and the entrance is free, untypically to NZ) and took the cable car to the botanic gardens. If NZ looks like one big green garden, in the botanical gardens (which they seem to have in every town, no matter how small) it’s even greener.
After Wellington we drove north to Mt. Egmont / Taranaki. It’s a real conical volcano (dormant, last eruption was in the 1770s), 2.5 km high and recently starred in the role of Mt. Fuji in Tom Cruise’s “The last samurai”.
Our goal was, of couse, to climb it ! Which we actually did on the next day. The climb is from 900 to 2500 metres, and is very very hard. It took us 5 hours to reach the summit and we were completely exhausted, not to mention a little bruised by climbing on steep slippery gravel part of the way. There is a crater on the summit, which is completely filled with ice. Here is Anna on the summit, high above the clouds, looking a bit exhausted after the climb.
The way down took significantly less time – 3.5 hours, but was even more difficult than going up. In addition to the fact that we were quite tired, the steep descent caused even more slips, and we fell countless times (although in parts it was fun, when we did rock-ski until the next fall). All in all this was the by-far harderst trek we did in NZ so far.
On the next day after a good night’s sleep we headed to Tongariro national park, NZ’s oldest national park and the most visited place on the north island. There is a very popular trek in the park called the Tongariro Crossing, which is considered to be the best day-walk in the country. We decided to do a longer 4-day trek (Tongariro Northern Circuit) that includes the Crossing in it, because we didn’t want bad weather to ruin the beautiful Crossing if we only spent one day there. In hindsight this was a very good decision.
The first day of the trek was an easy 3-hour walk in reasonable weather. We reached the hut early and had a lot of time to rest. In the evening we played a very nice card game with a Scottish guy living in Houston, two Canadians living in Auckland (NZ) and an Estonian guy (who introduced the game).
The second day of the circuit is crucial, because it goes through the best parts of the Crossing. We chose to stay in a hut that allowed us to see the best parts on the 3rd day again, in case of bad weather on the 2nd day. And the weather was indeed bad, very very bad. We tramped in bad weather in NZ before, but this day was definitely worse than we’ve seen before. It was quite cold, cloudy (no visibility farther than a few metres) and raining. The worse, however, was the wind. It was so strong that it was difficult to walk on the exposed ridges. We felt that had we been small, without the heavy packs on our backs, we could’ve been literally blown away. When we reached the hut we were drenched and cold, without seeing anything on the way. The wind and rain kept raving through all the evening and the night, but it was warm and dry in the hut. We changed our clothes, hanged our wet gear to dry above the heater, drank some hot soup and instantly felt better.
The plan was to see what the weather would be like in the next morning (the forecast was ambiguous). If it was to be the same as the day before we would have ended the trek there, as there was a road 2 hours away from the hut.
Luckily, the weather on the next (3rd) day was very good. As we woke up, we saw the clear sky and discovered there was a nice lake just below the hut (we didn’t see it at all on the previous day). We quickly dressed and ran up the mountain to see the views of the crossing before the weather changed to the worse. Here we are with one of the Emerald lakes.
The whole Tongariro national park is a volcanic desert, with three volcanos that used to erupt from time to time (but not recently). Everywhere are remains of volcanic activity – dry lava, basalt and smell of sulfur. This area, by the way, was filmed as Mordor in the Lord of the Rings, with mount Ruapehoe starring as Mount Doom. The excellent sunny weather continued throughout the whole 3rd day, which was the longest of the trek (6+ hours). We stayed in a hut near a river and saw the warden deploy possum traps (she told us she caught one just last night). This is how our 4th wedding anniversary was spent. Not too romantic, sleeping in a bunk-room with two other people (a pair – she from Slovakia and he from Czech Republic) on the same bench with us in sleeping bags, but still special. The festive dinner was composed, of course, of crackers, cheese and 2-minute noodles, like always on a trek . We did have a very good berry jam though.
The 4th day was also easy (4 hours) and the weather was pretty good (the sky was cloudy but it was warm, without rain and strong winds) and we saw a few waterfalls along the way. We finished the circuit yesterday, and today we’re already in Taupo – a small town on the banks of NZ’s largest lake.
Here is our route so far.
Congrats on the arrival of spring, and happy Purim to you all.
Anna & Eli