Monday, 29 February 2016

New Plymouth, Taranaki & Len Lye.

Grey drizzly start, we were so lucky with Tongariro, pouring by the time we left. No mountains anywhere. Drove along The Forgotten World Highway (why don't we use these names, more fun in a traffic jam than poor old M25). It would have been stunning if a bit more visible, Middle Earth hills, then fern forest. By lunchtime the clouds gave way to watery sun. Called at the DOC centre to sort out huts, then to B&B. A larger-than-average building with surprisingly high ceilings. It had been dismantled and brought from S Taranaki on a large truck. Not as daft as it sounds, a whole hotel was moved a few hundred yards in Welington to free up the prime waterfront location for the cultural museum.
A brief foray into New Plymouth, the museum had exhibits on early life here, so hard, particularly if you were posh, and had to wear Victorian dresses and corsets.
Finally the art gallery to see some Len Lye dynamic sculptures and drawings, hard to categorise, influenced by almost everything, strange and way ahead of his time.

Sunday, 28 February 2016


Third day, again woke to clear skies and not a breath of wind. Ngauruhoe red in sunrise. Misted over for a while later, no gales. Chatted to a family from Edinburgh, with 9&11year old daughters who did the circuit, the little one got to the top of Ngauruhoe, the big one nearly did but put off by loose stuff at the top. Also made friends with Simona & Lili, L&A's ages, first major walk. They needed a lift back to their hostel, so we walked down with them via Lake Tama, that we were nearly blown into last year. We stopped at the waterfall just before Whakapapa for a wonderfully refreshing swim (not Roger), then a beer for us girls, and huge ice cream sundae for Roger.
One day to regroup, then another tramp.

No complaints, still sunny.

If John's reading this, we'll never ever complain about snoring again after a night next to the Jolly Pole, a nice chap, but not a good room mate.
Woke to clear sky and sunrise over Ngauruhoe through our tiny window, and easy walk to Waihohonu Hut, only a few years old and like a palace, wooden terraces, picnic tables and plenty of space. The usual outside loo, but only about 50 metres away. Found a giant spider, possibly relative of Shelob, with a cicada in her web, & they're big. Too early to stop, so a short walk up to the old (1906) hut, with photos of spiffing chaps arriving in a horse&cart, then skiing on wooden skis in tweed plus-fours and jackets. At the back of the hut a separate Ladies' bunkhouse for the intrepid few. Next stop, the Ohinapango springs 1/2 an hour away, a fully grown river slides out of the shrubbery in a large basin, where the porous ash collects it over a layer of bedrock. Many smaller seeps for the same reason. Back to the hut seconds before the predicted drizzle starts, then doesn't bother.
Forecast for rain&gales tomorrow.

Tongariro, Ngauruhoe and the rest

On Friday, early start for shuttle bus to Mangetapapa, the start of day two of the Tongariro Northern Circuit, day one is a fruitless 3hours over less exciting terrain. Wham, straight onto the slopes of Ngauruhoe, aka Mount Doom, a total of 800m ascent, so quite doable, but hot, no shade, expecting orcs and worse to pop out at any time. Clear blue sky, stunning volcanic colours and none of the gales that put the kybosh on it last year. The forecast for the next two day a bit dodgy.
A huge flat dry lake at the first "top" then a short detour to a waterfall, not really what you expect in the middle of a volcano. Next a bigger side trip to the stunning views from the top of Tongariro, then back to the high point, the  devilish Red Crater, little wisps of sulphur-steam, and slippery slope, literally, to the unreal Emerald Lakes: can't possibly be that colour. The guide book says pH~3, so not for swimming. Not yet knackered, so up to the blue lake, a bit less weird, then back to the emeralds and a couple of hours steep descent through craggy lava to the Oturere hut, very welcome, cosy & full up. The only water is collected rain, so washing a bit vestigial. Still clear blue sky.

Thursday, 25 February 2016

Glory Worms Again

Up early to get to the start of our glow worm adventures. I'd chosen the wetsuit option, floating gently down the Black Labyrinth in an inner tube, the ceiling dotted with pale turquoise larvae of the fungus gnat, from closer you can see the dangling sticky threads it uses to catch the mosquitoes attracted by its light. They have nasty habits, starting life by eating their unhatched siblings.
Tomorrow we head off on the three day Tongariro Northern Circuit, the one we couldn't do last year because of gales. It looks more promising now. If all goes smoothly I'll be out of contact for 3 days.

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Gold, glow-worms & grub!

First stop today, after saying farewell to Sunlover's Retreat, our amazing B&B, was Waihi , gold capital of NZ in 19th  &
early 20th centuries. Many houses show obvious previous wealth. There's a huge opencast mine at the end of  the high street, new extraction techniques keep it profitable. Next, walking up the Karangahake Gorge, through mines and railway tunnels. Beautiful scenery now the mines have closed and nature healed the scars.
Lastly to Waitomo, more gentle walks through the  river valley, limestone this  time, so full of the caves we'll be exploring tomorrow, with their glow-worms. A short walk after dark and more of the  little creatures, serenaded by moreporks, a shy native owl. I wonder why Terry Pratchett chose that one to team with Ankh.
Grub: green lipped mussels of course, in a cheese&tomato sauce.
As an afterthought, the sky is upside down, the snowman on the Moon is hanging from the top, and Betelgeuse is Orion's left knee rather than right shoulder. Confusing!

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Hugging Kauri trees!

No I don't have a tree fixation, but kauris are special. They're also severely threatened by a fungal disease like ash dieback, to get into the best groves, we had to scrub and disinfect boots. They're sort of conifers, but leaves more the shape of olive leaves, more needly as they mature (for up to 4000 years) and smooth bark as youngsters, developing thick scales as they age, falling off possibly to remove hanging epiphites hitching a ride.
Enough of trees (never), we drove up the East coast and walked a short stretch to Cathedral Cove with spectacular islands & a huge natural archway. I suspect sunrise would be the time to see it, before the crowds. This evening we walked along Sailor's Grave Cove, almost deserted ,and perfect light.
Back for upmarket fish&chips: scallops, green-lipped mussels and veggie fritters.

Monday, 22 February 2016

Tree-huggers, Coromandel.

Overheard at breakfast "the trouble with walking in forests (Kauri, evolved in dinosaur times, big as giant redwoods and confined to the extreme North of New Zealand, also bound to be full of bird-treasures and tree ferns)  is that all you can see is trees..."
Tonight, Coromandel Peninsula, Tairua on the East coast. It's odd how disorientating it is to have the sun in the north even when you're not consciously thinking about navigation. We walked up the local volcano, getting to be a habit, but there are a few here. Ended the day fighting the local gulls off our fish-&-chips. Excellent, well worth fighting for, very fresh with thin crispy batter and a corn fritter.

Sunday, 21 February 2016

Back Again

As promised, I'm back, sort of, from the other side of the world. We arrived in Auckland this morning, Sunday, having left home on Friday afternoon. It seems a long time but we lost 14 hours on the way. Sunny& wonderfully hot, specifically after last weekend's icy walks in Shropshire. Off to the Coromandel Peninsula tomorrow. I don't think it's the one where the early pumpkins blow, that's the one in India! This one has spectacular trees, but you'll also have to wait for photos as I don't have the technology to put them on my Kindle without a laptop.