As you probably already know, we're in New Zealand and have been for the past week. After a brief tour of Auckland, which I have to say is more like Liverpool than a capital city, we headed off south. Come to think of it, I bet even Liverpool has more people.
We headed to the lake Taupo area to go tramp (Kiwi for hiking) the Tongariro Crossing. The Tongariro crossing is described by most people as New Zealand's best tramp. I last attempted the crossing in 2004 but was a little unfortunate as the weather was rather shocking. Like really shocking, with the only thing of interest being a lake that I almost walked into ... thanks to the less than 10 metres visibility.
So after checking the forecast, which looked good, we headed down Turangi which is one of the starting points for the crossing. As we headed down from Auckland we stopped off in the wonderfully volcanic area of Rotorua for a afternoons walk around the 'Waimangu' volcanic park. Here we were greeted with a Disneyland full of colours, steaming vents, blue lakes, bubbling pools, flowing minerals and hot springs. This is also New Zealand's newest geothermal area with all the geothermal features forming after an eruption in 1898. It has been eruption ever since with the last time being 1975. I was most impressed with how the area has recovered since the last eruption, with lush vegetation clinging onto every crevice it could possibly grow on, including the ones belching sulphur and stream.
Disneyland does Sulphur
Later in the afternoon, as we headed towards Turangi, we stopped at Taupo airport to check the deal with doing a skydive. We had heard that lake Taupo was the place to do one and I was interested in doing a dive in a few days after having bottled it in 2004. We were met by a lovely lady who replied in a subtle Kiwi accent "if you want have a dive, we have a plane leaving in five minutes ... you can dive now if you like!". I looked at Sarah, who smiled, at which point my heart started to beat a little faster. It got even faster as I donned a jumpsuit and harness. And then stepped up a gear as I jumped into a small plane with a bunch of other nervous people looking on. The plane cruised to an ear popping 15,000 feet at which point Damo pushed my out the rear of the plane...
Hit in the face with a shovel at 15,000 feet
I don't remember much of the first few seconds other than trying to grasp for breath in order to scream and of a rather horrible a sinking feeling. And then my senses came too me ... someone had hit me in the face with a spade. Or so it felt. My glasses and mask were pressed so tightly against my eyeballs I could not see a thing. And my skin felt like it was about to be peeled from me like a banana. Some two minutes later I was on the ground, having landed on my arse, in a mild state of shock and exhilaration. This is something I am going to have to do again.
We made it to Turangi later in the evening and after a rather brief nights sleep we headed off at the crack of dawn to the Tongariro crossing. I'm going to let a few photos do most of the talking and conclude that that this has to be one of the best days hiking I have ever done. With the help of a perfect blue sky day, I felt as if I was on the moon. You could easily imagine yourself as Frodo, walking up the sides of Mount Doom, trying to destroy the ring. Thankfully we started at 5.30, when only a few people were about, but after a detour to climb Tongariro summit, we returned to the main path to find something akin to the checkout queue at Tesco. With everyone in the queue sporting spots, hoodies, jeans and plimsoles ... the gap year brigade had caught us up.
Mount Ngauruhoe AKA mount Doom
Sarah at the Emerald Lakes
On Mars AKA the South Crater
I really do feel sorry of Mike and Helen who accompanied me in 2004, when we saw nothing. We could have been the Chilterns for all we knew. I hope they get a chance to come back as this is a truly magnificent walk. And for those of you still wondering, I am still undergoing my reverse culture shock after leaving the third world. Thankfully New Zealand is a good distraction. Next stop after Turangi is Hawkes Bay to visit Beermonster and Soffi. We last saw them in Brunei three years ago.