The trip was planned for November 1996, considered the break of summer. At this time the weather is normally fine, mild and with respect to tourists still reasonably quiet. The travelers in this case are two university students who had to catch the time after the exams before embarking on their holiday works.
We were aiming to leave Auckland
at 6am to avoid rush hour traffic, but it turned out that we didn't
get moving until 8.30am, right on time for the peak traffic. That
didn't last too long though, as the traffic heading south wasn't
as heavy as we had anticipated.
We got to Waitomo Caves around mid-day, our first stop. In the caves we met the organized bus-loads of tourists in the guided cave walks. Being the only two teenagers in the crowd, we felt a bit out of place among all the 'senior citizens, that most tourists happened to be.
The cave was quite interesting in its unique way. Unlike the ones I had visited in the States where the cave entrance is situated within the tourist shop, thus bearing the disadvantages of not being able to see the exterior of the cave itself; the entrance to Waitomo cave is simply a steel door and is located some distance away from the shop. Apart from the usual stalagmite and stalagmites, there is also a large population of glowworms living in the cave and the visit finishes off with a short boat ride in By the time we got to New Plymouth the rain and wind started to get pretty heavy. In deciding the accommodation for the night at the information center, we thought we would give B&B a try, since neither of us had any experience with it. It was another 10 min or so before we got the right street and settle ourselves down at the B&B called, the Tree House
The hosts showed us around the house and our room and it's only at that point did we realize how good B&B was! The costs is about the same as a motel room but it doesn't have the smell of commercialism, prevalent among motel and hotel operators. For a yet-independent 19-year-old, the feeling of being at home was probably helpful lessening homesickness.
We took the advantage of the interval between showers climbing at a near-vertical slope on a 154m-rock nicknamed sugar loaf by the sea. It's quite interesting to see the dense black sand on the beach along the west coast, due to the abundance of titanomagnetite, an iron mineral.
The shower started again as soon as we got into the car and so the chance of camping out for 2 nights as we had planned seemed very slim.
Unable to do a proper tramping and camping out, we thought we could compensate it by doing lots of short walks. We went to North Egmount in the morning thinking we may be able to get to the summit. But the ramnant of hail along the side of the road on the way to the information center gave us the first ominous sign about the weather. Upon reaching the visitor center, the empty carpark plus the fact that we were then told that the weather would be very rough and unpredictable seem to be telling us So we thought we could just walk up the translator track up to a hut (The hut of a local Ski Club) first and decided whether to head to the summit or heading back from the looped track. During the first 45minutes we were sheltered in bushes, but as the landscape changed from alpine bushes to shrubs we were more and more exposed to the fierce wind. The wind got worse and so was the weather - it started to hail! [ I was thinking " Gee, for God's sake! It's mid November in Southern hemisphere and it's hailing Closing the door behind us, the rattling sound of the wind brushing against the window gave us an uneasy feeling. It turned out only the club members can enter the hut, and so we were left in a shelter next to the hut. Seeing the weather was about to get worse, we couldn't really afford to stay on the top for too long, so we wrap ourselves up and started to decent. It was a bit easier descending down because there was only wind but no hail. We went back via a bush track and reached the info center safely f Having being through the terrible weather in the morning, my confidence was greatly boosted in the afternoon and we headed south to Stradford House embark on the bush walk to Dawson falls. The 4-hour of walk, started at 3.30pm, however, put us under much pressure to get back before dark. Our B&B host ran down stairs when we got back as they were quite worried because we didn't get back until 9pm.
Having pass several cities and localities in the past two days,
we started to have an increasing confidence on the correlation
between the number of Macdonald's and the size of the city. We
stopped at Whanganui to fill up the petrol tank and visited a
tower situated some distance above the city.
Going to National Park/Turangi we took the sealed road and stopped at Aramoana Track, to do the 2-hour walk, which was mostly through farmland. Farmland turned out to be a lot harder to walk than bush tracks for a city-born. Not only was the ground bumpy, one also has to look out for some typical 'animal waste' dotted along the track. Half way through the track , the weather turned bad and it started to rain. Unlike the track in Mt Egmount National Park where we were geared for bad weather with water-proof jackets, the weather had been fine and sunny for most of today so far. As a result, in our t-shirts, and sudden shower came as a little surprise. Well, if it just rains, then the worst thing that could happen is just getting wet, but to keep up with our 'luck' that had persisted in the past two days, the shower last no more than 3 minutes before it turned into a hail. Now that's not just going to get us 'really' wet, it also hurts!
The track was of course, turned into a very viscous mud soup, and it made walking a lot more difficult then. Luckily the last 1/4 was on a sealed road (The Wanganui River Road) rather than track because the returning loop was closed.
Walking on a state highway in the rain probably made us seem like a couple of miserable travelers that we were even offer a lift by a passing-by car! Since the temperature was fine in Whanganui and we were sitting in the car, none of us was paying much attention to our wet t-shirts and shorts.
However we started to see the reason why water is used frequently as a coolant in industry plants as we progressively increasing our altitude while heading towards Turangi. There was a town called National Park on the way and we thought we might stay there. Getting out of the car to look for a motel reception saw two shriveling figures hovering in shorts and t-shirts, and unfortunately, we couldn't find a reception. So we decided to move to Turangi instead, which is about 30 minutes away.
We had a late start this morning, probably due to the much lowered
temperature compared with previous nights.
Our goal today is to do the walk to Ketetahi Springs and move to Taupo by the end of the day. We visited the Trout Hatuary on the way. Compared with the tracks we did in the past few days, this one was popular by more than 10 folds! The car park was half full when we got there. It was a two and a half hour track . The first half was in bushes, the second half was exposed sub-alpine shrubs The track winds around the mountain and the only way to tell where the spring was by the intermittent steam been blown from the hot springs. We saw lots of well-dressed (proper gears) trackers along the way. "Aren't you cold in the short?" was asked by quite a number of the fellow trackers.
As we ascent higher into the mountain, patches of snow started to come into view, which made it hard to believe it was mid November in southern hemisphere. Silica deposits and orange fungi were two prominent features along the hot spring. The water itself, instead of clear, was of a gray color, but otherwise felt like water. Descending down the mountain, we made our way to Taupo, a tourist city built around lake Taupo tay in B&B again, and we had a total independent unit by ourselves this time.
Having done all that walks in the past four days, we thought we
would do something easier today. We joined the tourists at Huka
fall and did a short 2-hour walk along Waikato river stopped at
a playground of substantial size to have a wee play.
On the way to Rotorua, it was time for canoeing on Waikato river in the afternoon, at a holiday retreat called Hidden Valley (at Oraki Korako). My clumsiness in operating the paddle attracted sufficient mosquitoes and sand flies to give me enough bites that added up to a grand total of 30 at the end of the day. After a short tea-break, we were off to the opposite of the bank visiting a thermal area. The amount of thermal activities in Taupo Volcanic Zone was so great that it's not uncommon to see hot steams Now at the end of day, we headed off home stopping for an hour in Rotorua before finally making the drive home. The trip finishes in rain (again!) - a finale that echoes with the beginning of the trip.
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