Daily Archives: April 17, 2016

Walk, run, ride

The day dawned clear and bright. From our hostel room window we could see that even Mt. Ruapehu was peeking out from the clouds revealing a clear summit. 

Yes, we’re heading up that way but the brochure I was reading offered options. “Walk up, run up, or catch the lift.” So let’s see if I’ve got this straight. We can climb up over around and through the stark, barren, and boulder-strewn steep mountainside or take a nice chairlift or two up to the highest cafe in New Zealand, have breakfast above the clouds and enjoy a spot of lookout viewing. 

The chairlift won the day but first Marce had to face that fear of heights thing and until today she had successfully avoided chairlifts or anything that lifts you high up and dangles from a cable. But Marce is a team player and after warning the lift helper that this was her virgin ride she clamped onto the bar with a death grip and away we went. After awhile she opened her eyes and I fancied that she enjoyed the ride. A real trooper. 

Two long lifts later and what a magnificent view. We even toyed with the idea of following a route all the way to the summit clambering over boulders, going from white pole to white pole but with no discernible path and an estimated two “Kiwi Hours” each way. One could even hike to Mead’s Wall which was featured in the Lord of the Rings Trilogy. Instead we sat down at the cafe above the clouds and had breakfast while watching a few hardy souls picking their way through the lunar landscape up towards the summit. 


After breakfast the clouds suddenly moved in and we headed for the chairlifts for a ride through the clouds. Coming out of the cloud cover we were rewarded with another spectacular view. The land of the long white cloud is as mysterious as it is beautiful.

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We reluctantly left lively, windy Wellington, the southernmost point on our quickie road trip, and drove north toward Tongariro National Park, the fourth national park in the the world, New Zealand’s first, and one of only 30 UNESCO World Heritage sites to carry the dual Natural and Cultural designations. 

The drive to the mountains was a stop-and-go photo op extravaganza as we tried to fit the expansive landscape into the camera lens. For two people accustomed to a blue horizon where the sky meets the sea, these constantly unfolding verdant hills and volcanic peaks were a tonic. 

I had to yell “Stop the car!” when we passed a fence festooned in all manner of footwear. Later when we had internet access I read that there’s a massive “original” shoe fence elsewhere in New Zealand and that once the idea took hold, as one forum poster wrote, “it became a thing.”

One of the best hikes in New Zealand is the one-day, 19 kilometer Alpine Crossing. That was not in the cards for us, given our limited time, the state of Jack’s deteriorating knee and my lingering back ache. Using our guidebook and a park map we’d selected a short ridge hike to experience the western, more accessible area of the park but when we visited the park office the ranger on duty recommended instead the six-mile hike to Taranaki Falls. We’d thought ahead and packed a picnic lunch, stretched our cramped road-trip legs and started off. 

As we walked the geological history of volcanic eruptions and earthquakes was revealed to us, and we were reminded of our epic volcano hike on Isla Isabela in the Gal├ípagos. The difference is that this volcano is still active, though not at the moment. 

The waterfall made a good lunch spot despite a brisk wind and we were happy to get moving again to warm up. 

We were dragging towards the end of the six miles. We’d originally assumed a shorter hike and a drive back out to civilization for a hotel so we had no accommodations booked and the sun was getting low in the sky. As we walked back onto the park road we came upon a backpackers hostel and checked at the office to see what they might have available. We’d have settled for a shipping crate and a lumpy pillow but they offered us a tiny private room with ensuite bathroom for a reasonable rate. What’s more they had two hot tubs and booked us a free half hour in the “garden room” and a 7 pm table in the restaurant. Life is good. 

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