January 12, 2003

Hi everyone, this installment of our travel log covers our travel from the Coromandel all the way down to Wellington. We've done and seen a lot, so I hope I haven't already forgotten half of it (although I'm sure Carol will fill in the blanks).  Note that all of these pictures have been borrowed from other sites as none of our photos are online yet.

After leaving Athenree, we headed down to to Whakatane (pronounced Fuck-A-Tawny) in order to visit White Island, which is New Zealand's most active volcano. There are probably thousands of volcanoes in New Zealand, but most of them are extinct or dormant. Being active, White Island is continually spewing white smoke (actually it's mostly steam) into the air. You can see it from the mainland and it's quite cool.

Our first night in Whakatane was spent in a holiday park, and the second two nights were spent in the Karibu backpackers.

We arrived late afternoon, booked our accomodations and the trip to White Island (which ended up being on Monday (we arrived on Saturday), because Sunday was fully booked), and then we went to see the new Harry Potter movie at the local cinema (it being late afternoon and there not appearing to be much else to do). The next day we played tennis for an hour and a half (and Carol beat the pants off me) and then relaxed on the beach for a couple of hours. We had great fun playing in the waves and body surfing. There was also a bit of a rip that we could really feel when walking in the shallow water at times. It's not surprising that many people drown while swimming here - you could really feel the water trying to pull you out to sea. We visited the Whakatane museum the next day, as they also had an art sale on (local artists' work). We didn't find anything we liked enough to buy, but some of the work was quite interesting. We also really enjoyed the museum. The displays were great in that they were all accompanied by text that really described them and put them in context. I think I learned more about Maori and colonial New Zealand in those couple of hours than I have the whole time I've been here.

In the afternoon we visited White Island. It's an hour and a half boat ride from Whakatane, and the sea was quite rough. Almost everyone on board was in various shades of grey and green by the time we arrived. On the way out we saw a pod of common dolphins (as opposed to the bottle-nosed dolphins we saw in the Bay of Islands), and a couple of Sunfish, which are huge fish (the captain said that the ones we saw were probably about half a tonne). You can spot them because they swim with a fin sticking out of the water, so they look like sharks from afar. White Island itself was amazing. It's hard to find words to describe it. It was like a moonscape - very barren and rocky and jagged, but also full of various colours from reds to yellows to greens to blacks. There were a whole bunch of fumeroles, which are vents that eminate from deep inside the volcano and exit at the surface. These constantly blow steam, and are usually surrounded by these brilliantly yellow-coloured sulphur deposits. They also make a tremendous amount of noise. We were able to get very close to a number of these, and actually hold our hand close to feel how hot they were. At various parts of the island the ground was quite hot as well. We walked up to the edge of the main crater and saw the boiling lake therein, which was a turquoise/green colour. We could also see small eruptions of rock from down below. The return trip on the boat was much smoother, which made us all very happy.

The next leg of our trip was to include some more tramping. We looked into going to a park a bit south-east of where we were, but the road looked hideous and long (and unsealed - of course), plus we really wanted to do the Tongariro Crossing, so we headed there instead. The Tongariro Crossing is renowned as "the best one-day walk in New Zealand". It's also renowned as "very long and very hard". I cannot argue with either statement. It's inside Tongariro National Park, which is a dual World Heritage Area (natural and cultural). There are three large mountains in the park that are all volcanoes: Ruapehu (where there are ski fields), Ngarahoe, and Tongariro. We stayed in Whakapapa village (yes, it's pronounced Fuck-a-poppa) in a backpacker. The weather was clear when we arrived, so we got amazing views of all of the volcanoes. We checked in, went to the visitor centre to get a brouchure for the walk, then started psyching ourselves up for the walk. We met some women who did the crossing the day before, and talked to them about it.  It was good to see that someone survived.  However, they were obviously in a lot of pain because they were limping when they were walking and grimacing. It's 17km long.
You start at about 1100m, climb up to around 1900m, and then descend to around 800m. For those of you unfamiliar with elevations, that's a lot of climbing (and descending). The walk took us about 7 and a quarter hours to complete, with about 6 hours and 20 minutes of that being walking. About half was climbing and the other half getting back down. We had excellent weather - a bit of cloud to protect us from the sun, but not too much to obscure the views. It was very windy on the way up and at the top. A few times it felt as if I might be blown right off the side of the volcano. the views were great, and the scenery spectacular. the beginning was quite similar to White Island, in that it was a barren, volcanic landscape. The main difference is that everything was just so much bigger. Huge in fact. The walk included a couple of craters that themselves were probably bigger than all of White Island.
The second crater, red crater, was an amazing red (duh) colour. After we crossed the peak, we came across the Emerald lakes, which are three lakes up on top of Mt. Tongaririo which are filled with a turquoise/green coloured water. the walk back down the other side took us from this barren landscape, through tussock and shrub, into the forest itself. It was very cool to see the flora change so much as we descended down the mountain. Overall the walk wasn't actually as difficult as I had thought it might be (obviously because of the training that we've been doing, and the fact that I was only carrying a day pack (whereas I was carrying a fully loaded tramping pack on the Pinnacles tramp)), but it was still very hard work. And long! My goodness it was long. But it was definitely well worth it. Not only was it an amazing walk, but gave me such a huge sense of accomplishment afterwards. Actually, not just afterwards, but throughout the walk, as you could see where you'd come from for most of the climb. It was amazing to look back and see how far we'd actually climbed. It was quite unbelievable actually. It was sooooo difficult to do the climbing.  The wind was blowing in our faces for most of the climb, and it was gusty as well.  We got great use out of the walking sticks that Bob got as his going away present from his company.  We talked to an English woman who had just finished biking around the south island for three months.  Even she was finding the climbing difficult.  It was worth it though.  We got to have a huge dinner after.

Having conquered Mt. Tongariro, our next goal was to get to Wellington for our final rabies shot. We stopped along the way in Paraparaumu Beach for the night, which is a nice coastal town on the Kapiti Coast. We visted a "tourist and farm park" where we saw a couple of nice paintings in a gallery and had some Kapiti cheese and ice cream. Mmmmmm Kapiti ice cream!!!!Carol cooked us a great spaghetti dinner at the backpackers, and we went for a walk along the beach at sunset. The next day we drove into Wellington, visited the parliament district, had a tour of the parliament buildings, saw the beehive, visited an old (gothic)church that was constucted out of native timber, and saw the second largest wooden building in the world (constructed in 1876 out of kauri). We had lunch in a nice cafe, complete with a glass of wine (we were really pampering ourselves), and then got our shot and left the city.

We spent the next couple of nights in Masterton, which in the the Wairarapa region, which is another of New Zealand's wine regions. We stayed in a cabin in a holiday park. Yesterday we did a full day wine tour in Martinborough (the wine center for the Wairarapa), which included a gourmet lunch. It was just us and one other couple in a small van, so it was very relaxed. They were a nice couple, and our guide, Pamela was very knowledgeable about the entire region. I guess because the van was so small, she didn't have a microphone, so she kept shouting commentary at us. It was very interesting, and also quite funny, as we'd be riding through the beatutiful countryside, watching lambs grazing and hawks flying overhead, and then suddenly Pamela would scream at us "ON OUR RIGHT IS THE OLD DAIRY FACTORY". She'd actually be much more informative than that, but you get the picture. Today we checked out of the holiday park and headed back into Wellington as we're catching the ferry to the South Island this evening. We went to Te Papa (the national museum) this morning, and saw a gorgeous display of cast glass by a local (and internationally renowned) artist. She's done a number of vessels in brilliant colours using shapes influenced by NZ flora. And that brings me to this cyber cafe, and then end of this journal entry. the next time you hear from me I'll be on the South Island.

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