16 December 2009

North Island, New Zealand - December 2009

Taking a weekend break from a business trip to Adelaide and Melbourne I headed down to Auckland on the excellent Air New Zealand service from Melbourne. Losing three hours in the process, arrived mid afternoon to be met by my son Kevin, catching up with him for the first time in six months.
We took a long drive southwards from the airport, passing through Hamilton before getting into the delightful rolling hills of ‘Kings Country’. A big contrast to Australia, now drying out again in the heat of the summer months which progressively deplete reservoir levels to record lows, the North Island is a delight, with empty roads threading their way through lush green scenery. It’s like the English Lake District on steroids!



Kings Country, North Island New Zealand


After some three hours we entered the Tongariro National Park, under the shadow of the impressive volcanic peaks of Mt Ruapehu and Mt Ngauruhoe, unfortunately not to be seen due to low cloud. Checking into the somewhat incongruous Bayview Chateau Tongariro, a massive edifice rising from the flat but intensely vegetated ash plains below the volcanoes, we were further disappointed to discover that, with worsening weather forecast for the next two days, the national park authorities were warning people not to make the crossing, and we were further thwarted by the fact that the shuttle services which collect you at the end of the day’s trek were not running either.
Rising to almost 2800m the area frequently attracts bad weather, and the omens were not good…winds blasting to 75kph, with rain and snow predicted.
A quick supper, a few beers, early to bed.



The only view we had in the Tongariro region :-(
The next day dawned, without the grey from the previous day releasing us. A short stroll in the early morning light revealed nothing of the huge cone volcanoes to the north east of us, and a dampness in the air heralded a poor day ahead.
Visiting the Whakapapa Visitor Centre (operated by the excellent DOC of New Zealand), the rangers confirmed that it would be futile attempting any of the higher level walks in the area, so decision made, we headed out of the area back to the north west, in search of sunnier climes and a decent hill to struggle up.
We settled on the Pirongia Forest Park, just to the south of the famous surf resort of Raglan, about 200km south of Auckland.
The drive was tortuous in the final stages, preceded by some fine roads around Waitamo, traversing long ridges with stupendous vistas all around. We travelled about 50km on gravel roads, quite rough in places, and seemingly endless at times.
Just after lunchtime we were on to the hill, parking on a spot above the sea cliffs, looking down to the enormous breakers of the Tasman Sea. Unrelentingly steep, though temperate rainforest and a short stage through more open grass country, the route then took us on to an extremely narrow ridge, with alarmingly steep drops off on either side, albeit intensively vegetated with thorny plants and razor sharp leaves…not a place to lose your footing.







Climbing the Te Toto Track on Mt Karioi
Ladders and chain assisted in places, with one vertical and very greasy rock wall a particular challenge. Eventually, in hot humid weather, we reached an excellent Lookout, with views north to the summit and great views back to the coast behind us.
We were climbing an ancient volcano called Karioi on the Te Toto Track, altitude 756m, but the prospect of more steep muddy paths up through dense vegetation suddenly seemed less attractive than an early beer, so we beat the retreat, descending the chained sections with great care, and finally rewarded with great coastal views from the lower slopes.





Descent from Karioi
A couple of hours later we were cleaning boots and packing away very muddy clothes, before a well-earned beer in the rather stylish Jet Park Hotel, close to Auckland airport (recommended).
Back to Melbourne the following day, father and son having put the world to rights over a fine weekend together. Might just have to do it again…


Last night in Melbourne