Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Tongariro National Park

On our way north from Wellington we stopped for lunch in a town called Bulls. We’re not sure whether it was named after a person or an industry or what! However we were most amused by the clever puns they had put on signs and murals around the town.

We stopped again briefly in Taihape (“gumboot capital”!?) for groceries. Laetitia got some material from The Quilted Gumboot (friendly, not the cheapest but not unreasonable).

As we arrived in National Park (that’s the name of the town) we had a lovely view of Mt Ngauruhoe, a.k.a. Mt Doom in the Lord of the Rings movies. Unfortunately we didn’t see the top of the mountain again the next two days!
There are many volcanoes and old craters in the area, several of which are still quite active.

We stayed at Plateau Lodge, a backpackers type of place on the north side of the town. We really enjoyed the fellowship of cooking in a large communal kitchen and eating in the common dining room and lounge area with many other guests. Our own room was small but comfortable. Highly recommended!

The main reason people visit National Park is to go hiking (or “trekking”). The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is supposed to be one of the best one-day hikes in the world, and we can quite understand why (other-worldly volcanic terrain, native forests, views from 2200 metres, opportunities to summit two active volcanoes..) however we did not feel we were quite up to the challenge at the time, and besides the weather was.. unpleasant. We did go to the visitor centre at Whakapapa Village and discovered that the chairlifts were not running due to the poor weather forecast (cloudy with increasing rain). We tried the road up to the base of the chairlifts anyway, but decided to turn back after going about a third of the way because although the landscape was amazing we were already in the clouds and it was getting darker, wetter and colder by the minute. Those staying at Plateau Lodge who did the Crossing told us that evening that indeed they did not see the great views (visibility was apparently about twenty metres) - but still they felt it was worth doing! So perhaps on a future trip (when we’re a bit fitter!) we’ll plan to spend a week in the area and wait for good weather.

Instead we did a shorter walk just off the road up to Whakapapa, and then we drove to the south end of Lake Taupo and back. Lake Taupo is bigApparently it (along with Lake Rotorua) is in fact an old caldera, i.e. large volcanic crater lake. (Must’ve been big volcanoes, eh!?)

We also stopped at a “thermal area” in Tokaanu, where steam was rising from the ground between the houses (also from a few places on the mountainside way above) and we saw a small geyser, some boiling mud and a few beautiful hot pools. Trout come there to spawn! They must like it hot.

We left on Wednesday morning, heading north again.

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