The adventure begins! Part the first…
Once upon a time, there was a girl working in a bar in Napier trying to plan the rest of her travels. Her friend and tupperware partner Luisa was leaving at the end of February, in a Nissan called Dennis. Your girl decides to leave on board Dennis and tour South Island again and fill in all the bits that didn’t get done the first time round. Her Canadian friend Chris, who also worked in the same bar and also ate a lot of the tupperware meals, was expecting his friend Zac for a visit for a month from home at the end of February and casually suggested that they should all go together aboard their faithful steed Dennis. It’s genius.
And that was last week I think. We have all made contributions to the trip dynamic – Chris, who has the most pep out of anyone ever, has planned a full on activity holiday including long mountainous hikes and wilderness canoe journeys that initially seemed daunting but has turned out to be ace. Zac, resident He-Man, taught Luisa and I how to canoe in a forwards facing direction most of the time. Luisa brought a memory stick of Disney films, a terrific car playlist, the actual car itself and some truly wonderful German mannerisms that we all really love. I made an online, shared, colour coded google calendar for the trip with notes and downloadable confirmation documents. Go figure.
We started by tackling the 20km Tongariro Crossing, which is the hike up through the (active) volcano range that was used as Mount Doom in LOTR. It’s been on my geek radar for a while but I was a bit intimidated by it. Chris planned it in as a warm up for all our other activities.
And it didn’t kill me! It’s quite the climb up into the mountains (I think you cover 1100m up in the first 2 km or something insane) but then you’re hiking over a completely alien moon landscape with no green stuff, big craters from boulders thrown out when one of the volcanoes erupts, smoking sulphur lakes and clouds floating past BELOW you. It’s a lot more beautiful than it sounds as well – the rocks are primarily grey, but the sulphur lakes are somehow very vivid shades of green and blue (and thus are named “Emerald Lake” and “Blue Lake” etc, in a stroke of creative genius), and a lot of the craters are lined with red dust (“Red Crater”). I’d usually upload some pictures to illustrate at this point, but have outsourced photo taking to the others and the Internet hasn’t been good enough to get hold of them yet. I’d also probably have described it as sweaty but worth it, but since you’re so far up it’s actually quite chilly.
We managed to score a great hostel nearby for afterwards, which is primarily a ski lodge so was almost deserted at this time of year. We successfully made time for using the hot tub, doing lawn yoga, playing Bananagrams and other such wholesome activity, so we were feeling pretty rested by the time we loaded up the canoes for the Whanganui journey a day later. The Whanganui river comes down off the mountains in the volcano range, and flows slow and brown southwards through a national park of thick jungly forest. We took a few days to canoe 90 km down the river soaking up the Jurassic Park vibe and camping on the shores each night. Having never canoed before it was a bit of a steep learning curve for Luisa and me, although being outdoorsy Canadians the guys were super competent. However, we didn’t get pitched out at all and even though we definitely took a couple of stretches of rapids sideways by accident (and once going unashamedly backwards), we had a great time. We spent a lot of time singing the travelling song from Brother Bear, making maaa-ing noises at goats on the banks, looking at the incredible variety of birds and having floating picnics. I can’t really express how peaceful it was paddling along every day and getting to watch the sun rise over a mountain in the mornings.
Since then we’ve spent a day mooching around in Wellington, topping up my caffeine levels primarily, and are now poised at the top of South Island about to set off again! Next stop, a four day kayak/hike thing. Wonderful.