These boots were made for walkin'

Trip Start Oct 29, 2003
Trip End Ongoing

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Saturday, May 29, 2004

and that's just what they've done,
can't believe I've walked so far just for bloody fun...

It was just as well I jumped out of the plane when I did as the next two days were miserable weatherwise. On the Saturday it rained persistently, but I was staying in such a lousy hostel I went for a three hour walk along the Waikato River to the roaring and crashing Huka Falls. On the way back I found a better hostel where I dried out in their cosy TV lounge before returning to my dump.

Thankfully by Monday things had brightened up as I had planned a bit of a walk - or tramp, as the Kiwis say. I picked up the next Stray bus in Taupo for the short ride to the start of the Tongariro Crossing, widely hailed as the best one day walk in the country. Now this tramp is not for tarts as it's an 11 mile climb between two volcanoes: Mounts Tongariro and Ngauruhoe (the latter of which was digitally enhanced in Those Films to portray Mount Doom). Mount Ruapehu is just to the south, which last erupted in 1995.

With enough food and water - hopefully - for the seven hour trip, twelve of us left the bus at 9:45am in bright sunshine wrapped in several layers against the chill wind. It wasn't long before we were sweating though, scrambling up rocky lava flows to Tongariro's south crater. Then it was up to the Red Crater, possibly the hardest part of the climb as one moment we were in warm sunshine slipping in mud, and the next in cold shadows slipping on ice. At 1886m this was the highest point of the walk, but then the mists rolled in making it harder to see how far we could fall.

The mist cleared as we descended, passing Emerald Lakes and steaming sulphur vents, whose eerie appearance, distinct aroma and yellow-green deposits made it seem like an UFO crash site. Some in our group raced ahead, but most of us made it to the bus just after 4pm, legs weary and dogs barking up a storm. Our hostel in Whakapapa (defintely the best place name yet if you remember how to pronounhce 'Wh') was infinitely better than the one in Taupo, with a toasty log fire in the bar and a free hot-tub to soothe sore muscles. I fell asleep in the lounge watching the last day of the Lord's Test - ironically New Zealand are playing in England - but woke up at 3am in time to see my mate Nasser win the game in memorable fashion before I limped off to bed.

Essex Boys: Daz'n'Nass

The next morning I wasn't in nearly as much pain as some people, but I was still hurting. This was the end of my Stray trip with everyone else either continuing south to Wellington or zipping straight back to Auckland. I had a week to get back north so I decided to go west and visit yet another volcano. New Plymouth was settled by English, um, settlers who apparently didn't fancy being a Pilgrim so they came out here instead. New Plymouth is dominated by Mount Taranaki (which also featured recently in the movies, as Mount Fuji alongside short-arsed sword slinger Tom Cruise in The Last Samurai).

When Captain Cook was charting and mapping the coast of New Zealand - and pretty much everywhere he went - he had a habit of naming places after famous English people and important benefactors. So when he called Taranaki 'Mount Egmont' the Maoris weren't best pleased, especially as the local tribes hadn't signed the Treaty of Waitangi. Years of violent battles followed between the English and Maoris and eventually things calmed down, but it was only recently that the government agreed to revert to its original name (and if I managed to climb it I was going to rename it yet again, this time to 'Darrenaki').

The first day I was there the weather was perfect, but I was still knackered from the Tongariro Crossing and I really didn't feel like doing it. That turned out to be a mistake, as bad weather rolled in and most of the trails were closed for the next couple of days. So, much to the relief of Maoris, cartographers and souvenir vendors, Taranaki it remains.

Now I'm back in Auckland for a few days, spending rainy afternoons watching ice hockey and basketball - I s'pose they have to show something now that the English football season is over - and trying to avoid inane backpacker conversations at the hostel (last night a Canadian and an Irishman were hotly debating whether ice hockey or rugby was the more violent sport, and a Scouser and a Geordie were bragging about the number of photos they've taken: "Well I've taken 500 just in the North Island!").

Unfortunately, it will soon be time for this pakeha to leave. I've had a fantastic time here, what with the spectacular scenery, abundant wildlife, and crazy pant-filling activities. Definitely put New Zealand near the top of your list of places to visit.
Next stop is the tiny South Pacific island of Rarotonga in the Cook Islands for a hectic week of beaches, snorkelling and spear fishing. Don't expect an update from there as I might be pushed for time!
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