Nov 5, 2015
This morning the rain and wind had stopped and there was even some blue sky. We had planned to walk the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, but we had already been told that the shuttle-bus operators would not be running today, due to weather conditions. It was still cold outside and from the kitchen window we could see the volcano Ruapehu, apparently with fresh snow from yesterday’s storm. Plan B was to drive back to National Park and then up the road to Whakapapa Village, where there were several short hikes. Before leaving Ohakune we stopped in at the Merino outlet, but after looking around for a while we both decided not much appealed to us. So we headed up the road to the Tongariro National Park visitor centre, in Whakapapa Village about 45 minutes away.
In the visitor centre we bought a small booklet which described the hikes in the park. Two different people had recommended the Taranaki Falls trail to us, so we gathered up our packs and headed off there. The trail started out through a forest, where we could hear birds both native and introduced singing. The beech trees reminded us very much of Patagonian beech trees. But soon we were out of the forest, following the very well-graded packed trail through bush and tussock grass and then along Wairere Stream to reach Taranaki Falls.
The day was getting better, with more and more blue sky, but the wind was still very strong. Now we could start to see the other volcanoes, Ngauruhoe and Tongariro, although they were still mostly in clouds. There was a bench here at the falls, and it was partly sheltered from the wind so it was a good place to eat our lunch and watch the clouds blow past. We also had a good view of the lava flows and glaciers on Ruapehu.
Back in the village we decided to have high tea at the Chateau Tongariro. This luxury hotel had been built in the 1920’s, and it had had a checkered career. The restaurant wasn’t very busy and we were seated almost right away, at the table looking out of the picture window towards Ngauruhoe. The mountain had had clouds covering it for most of the day, but as the afternoon progressed it became more and more visible. It was a great view. Our tea consisted of cucumber, egg salad, and smoked salmon sandwiches; we also had scones with jam and cream as well as a small crème brulée each. Plus a mini-cheesecake. Each. By the time we had eaten this and consumed numerous cups of tea we had no room to eat the chocolate and caramel brownies, nor the chocolate truffles. So we got them packed up for our dessert tonight.
By now all the volcanoes were cloud-free so we decided to hike the Ridge trail to get better views. This trail led from the village up through a forested area and then to, yes, a ridge with great views of the volcanoes. The wind was still very strong, so when we arrive at the ridge it was cold and sometimes hard to stand up. It was a bit of an odd trail; the forest part was a standard gravel track which suddenly came to an end, and it was hard to tell that the narrow muddy track leading up through tussocks was where you were supposed to go.
On our way back to the hostel we stopped along the way to do a couple of short trails, to the Tawhai Falls and to the Mounds. The latter were small hillocks thought to be formed from debris avalanches resulting from eruptions of Ruapehu thousands of years ago. We also did a bit of grocery shopping in Okahune before having our dinner.
Neither of us was very hungry, so dinner was only soup and salad. After dinner we went out to look (or rather to listen) for kiwis, which do live in the area. We drove up a road into the dark woods and stopped to listen for a while, but sadly we didn’t hear any. But back in the hostel’s car park we heard sounds like frogs croaking, which turned out to be coming from a morepork which was sitting on the chimney of the house next door! It was out of range of our flashlights so Rosemary’s attempts to photograph it weren’t too successful.
Nov 6, 2015
This morning the weather was clear blue sky, with not a cloud to be seen. It would have been an ideal day for the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, but we didn’t have time to fit that in and still drive to Paraparaumu today. So after breakfast we packed up and headed down the road.
Our first stop was at a giant statue of a carrot. The Ohakune area produces most of New Zealand’s carrots, so the giant statue had been erected just outside the town. From there it didn’t take long to the turnoff to the Rotokura Ecological Reserve, where we had planned to do a short walk. From the parking area we walked up the trail for about 15 minutes to Dry Lake, which turned out to have a lot of water in it, and then continued on to Lake Rotokura. Our guidebook mentioned that the lake is usually very calm, so the reflection of Ruapehu is very beautiful. But today was the exception, because the surface was rippling and there was no reflection. We noticed a trail heading around the lake, so we followed that trail. But the trail hadn’t been maintained for quite a while and it never had a view of the lake, so it was really a waste of time.
Back at the car we headed back down the road to Highway 1 and turned towards Paraparaumu. From here there was a lot of driving as we moved away from the mountains and down into farmland with sheep, cows, and more sheep. Later in the afternoon the traffic got heavier as we got nearer to Wellington, and we finally arrived in Paraparaumu at about 3:30 pm. Our hostel, the Barnacles Seaside Inn, was right on the main street across from the beach.
The hostel was a square building outside, but inside it was a maze of corridors. Our room was a bit small, but quite enough for our needs. After a cup of tea we took off for a walk along the beach. Our schedule for tomorrow was to take the boat to Kapiti Island, so we stopped in at the boat launch site (right across the street) to confirm our departure time. As it happened the boat had just arrived from the island, so we talked to the boat driver who suggested we should call the office tomorrow morning to be sure.
The afternoon was really lovely, and from the beach we could see across to the South Island and of course we could see Kapiti Island, which was just offshore. We also noticed several fish and chip shops, which gave us an idea for dinner. Back at the hostel we asked the manager for a fish-and-chip-shop recommendation. “Sunlong” she said, so we made up a salad and went over there. It was a Chinese takeaway with a large menu, including fish and chips. We ordered two fish and two chips (for $12 in total) and received an enormous package! When we opened it at the picnic table on the beach we found it contained two pieces of fish and enough chips to feed a family of four. Lots and lots of seagulls were hoping for a handout, but despite our huge quantity of chips we didn’t share.
After we finished our meal we returned to the hostel and had some tea while chatting with one of the other guests, who turned out to be from Burnaby. Tomorrow we were off to Kapiti Island, so we had to reorganize our packs for the trip.
Next: Kapiti Island