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 Galápagos. 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.