Feb 17 – 18
Jan and Ben are going for a short holiday around New Zealand and I join them for a couple of days, after which I continue south to Steward Island, as I managed to reserve an overnight accommodation in the huts along the Raikura trail. We leave saturday morning roughly in the direction of Rotorua. We booked ourselves on a white water rafting trip on grade 5 Wairoa river. Compared to my russian rafting experience, the river is much wilder than Katun (which was between grade 3. and 4), the rapids faster and more difficult, also we have smaller and lighter rafts, so the ride is a little bumpier and more technical (in Russia we were on fully loaded boats, that sat quite steadily in the rapids). Again I jump at the opportunity to swim through one series of rapids (this time not hanging on the tail of a kayak). The afternoon turns out to be an exciting experience (except for the fact that someone punched me in the face with their paddle a couple of times in the rapids). Photos follow (although I have not been able to find a single one with my mouth closed):
From there we head towards Taupo, with a short stop at Huka Falls. The colour is unbelievably bright because the elevated amount of air bubbles dispersed in the river as it speeds up through the rapids make the water look turquoise. After dinner and food shopping in town we continue to drive around lake Taupo to National Park. The road trip is hilarious, we listen to a podcast called “My Dad Wrote a Porn” the whole time, and I assure you, I haven’t heard anything quite as funny in a long time. I particularly recommend listening to it on the London tube, because you will end up laughing loudly to yourself and other commuters will think you are either stupid, or more likely dangerous.
The plan of the next day is one of the most beautiful and rewarding hikes I’ve ever done: Tongariro Alpine Crossing. It is not a circular trek, so I recommend using one of the local transport companies who will pick you up at National Park, take you to the starting point, and then come pick you up again at the parking lot of the arrival. They also give you an emergency number to call in case you realize you will not make it back down in time for the last transport. The day is overcast, which is a blessing, because if it was sunny, we’d hugely suffer.
The trek itself is not difficult, the path is gradual and very well maintained, it is only steep in a couple of places just before the summit, where you basically walk on loose volcanic ashes, so it’s a bit like one step up, two steps down. The scenery is incredible. Tongariro is an active volcano, you see (and smell) sulphurous steam rising in many places, there are lakes with unbelievably green and turquoise (and most likely poisonous) waters. And the crater of Tongariro looks like a very angry giant red vagina. Seriously, it’s not me having a one track mind (for a change), that’s what it really looks like. The descend is long and strenuous, although beautiful views over lake Taupo in front of you are a bit of a consolation. We started the trek at 10 am and finished in roughly 6.5 hours, with plenty of breaks for taking photographs and a longish stop at the summit.
Tongariro Alpine Crossing:
The boys give me a lift back to Taupo and continue to Napier, while I stay overnight and continue south on the following morning.
Feb 19 – 21
I fly to Wellington on the smallest plane I’ve ever seen: 6 passengers, boarding time 5 minutes before departure, and they don’t even want to see my ID, just check that my name is on the list. The original plan was to spend one night in Wellington and then fly to Invercargill, but thanks to the approaching tropical cyclone Gita most airports in the country close and I am stranded in Wellington for another day, which I use to visit Te Papa museum. There is a beautiful semi permanent exhibition on New Zealand’s troops involvement in Gallipoli, very sad and emotional. I really don’t understand why do people think it’s a great idea to sail to the other end of the planet and fight for an anonymous hill in a country they had most likely never heard of. I know the british battalions from overseas did not have much choice, but still. The evening finds me sitting at the bar of a random waterfront pub having local seafood and wine, when a young man approaches me and asks me if I want to join their table. Which I accept, it’s always nice to talk to locals, but I accepted a bit too quickly. They are having a birthday party, 3 couples in various advanced stages of hilarity, and it all feels a bit awkward, especially as the girlfriend of the guy (surprisingly, what was he thinking) stages a massive jealous scene. I’m like: “I am sorry, I was actually minding my own business with my book at the bar, I was just being polite.” Jesus, the mixture of alcohol, absence of class (her) and absence of brains (him) can be lethal…
Finally the airport reopens on the next day and I can continue my journey towards Steward Island.