While we endure an uncharacteristically humid heat wave in Mount Maunganui, I hear that Ottawa is in the midst of a blizzard. It’s a fair compromise, I suppose – houses in Canada have central heating and NZ has the most amazing beaches in the world.
January has been relatively quiet, perhaps due to the heat-imposed slog. Jack and I regrettably ended our holidays and headed back to work, but soon arranged to meet up with the visiting Canadians for a new adventure: Mount Taranaki. If the mountain looks familiar, it could be because Mount Taranaki acted as the double for Mount Fiji in the movie “The Last Samurai”.
En route to Taranaki, Jack and I stopped in New Plymouth for dinner and sight-seeing. The highlight was a kinetic sculpture by Len Lye. Len was a Kiwi by birth and known for his experimental films and sculptures. New Plymouth boasts his tallest Wind Wand, essentially a 45m carbon post topped with a clear sphere of red LED lights that bends in the wind. Definitely unconventional!
Mount Taranaki has its own weather system so despite the sunny weather in the region, a persistent ring of cloud surrounded the mountain. Matheo, Dale, Ariana, Jack and I tramped along past ski lodges and ski lifts, then more steeply up many hundreds of steps created in the rock and scree. As we climbed, we made our way through clouds and dust with rapid changes in visibility, humidity and temperature. Eventually the stairs faded away leaving only scree. As we fought our way upward through the gravelly scree, the phrase, “one step forward, two steps back” became incredibly real for me. Just like walking up the down escalator!
It was a relief when the scree turned to large boulders and we reached the snow where we found ourselves above the clouds. They looked like a sea of cottonballs spread out in all directions. We moved cautiously over the snow covered crater, which had an eerily melted circle of snow in the centre. Mount Taranaki hasn’t erupted since the 1700s and thankfully, it was not a sign of impending volcanic activity the day we were there.
Finally, we reached the summit at 2508 metres. With the clouds below us and the sun out in full force, we warmly picnicked among the blue mountain beetles. Every so often we caught glimpses of turquoise ocean and green pastures through gaps in the clouds. We met another climber who was climbing Taranaki for the 84th time and a teddy bear on one of many of his adventures.
We slid down the snow back to the crater. The first time I’ve tobogganed in at least a couple of years! Cautiously, we made our way down the boulders and the scree. Navigating the scree was really difficult for me. After 11 falls, I lost count, but pressed on through the tears. Back to the campground, we took in the pink sunset on a fully exposed Mount Taranaki.
Multiple ‘by the side of the road’ stops were discovered on the way home. Three Sisters turned out to be a series of seaside caves carved out by the movement of the waves. To reach the caves you must enter at low tide through inescapable, slippery, sticky, gooey mud. We past by beautiful 3-tiered cascading Marokoa Falls, explored the beginning of elaborate Piripiri caves and visited a massive limestone arch, remaining from a cave-gorge collapse.
The highlight of our roadside stops was bouldering in a farmer’s field. We made our way through the gates of two packed sheep pens, causing lots of panicked scurrying and baaing, no matter how subtle we tried to maneuver ourselves. On the far side of the pasture were the boulders. This was risky business. No ropes and a pasture full of prickly weeds and sheep poop. Even if you fell and landed reasonably safely, the chances of hitting a slippery spot were high and would lead to certain filth. As we climbed, the farmers sheared sheep in the shed behind us, blasting their music while the sheep all around us baaed steadily.
Very sadly, we said good-bye to the Canadians and drowned our sorrows in new adventures. We took the ferry over to the farming and logging community on Matakana Island. It is not far from where we live, but strikingly isolated and sparsely populated. We explored the whole island by bicycle leaving no road or driveway untouched. A sandy logging road led us to the beach; twenty-four kilometers of white sandy beach to ourselves, where we picnicked, swam and sunned until it was time to catch the ferry home.
West of Tauranga, the Kaimai mountain range was begging to be tramped. We drove through Matamata, home of Hobbiton, then on to the base of the beautiful Wairere Falls in the Kaimai-Mamaku Forest. At the top of the falls, we walked out on the water to the edge of the 153 metre drop. There we refuelled, then headed down again, with a cooling dip in one of the rock pools.
In mid-January I got a bought of the flu, just in time for the weekend, putting the kibosh on our snorkeling plans! Perhaps a blessing for two reasons: cyclones and sharks. It’s cyclone season closer to the equator, which has meant uncharacteristically large waves and strong currents for us. The currents bring warm water closer to the shore and with them come the sharks. There have been sightings of bronze whalers, hammerheads and makos. Recently, they caught a 3 metre bronze whaler off our beach and there was a photo in the newspaper of a group of sharks less than 20 metres from oblivious swimmers. Not good for snorkeling!
The news of the death of Sir Edmond Hillary touched all New Zealanders. Sir Edmond is a celebrated Kiwi for being the first, along with Tenzing Norgay, to summit Mount Everest. When he died on January 11, there were many ceremonies in his honour, including a tribute walk to the top of Mount Maunganui.
Auckland Anniversary long weekend commemorates the first governor of NZ. Coincidently, it was my first NZ anniversary! We celebrated with a trip up to the Coromandel, NZ’s cottage country. We stayed at Eleanor’s bach on Little Bay. It is a just-the-basics bach so we all camped and only went inside to hide from the mozzies. The baches around us, however, were more akin to mansions. Many of the occupants skipped the windy roads and flew themselves up in their helicopters. Eleanor’s dad, a naturalist who works for the Department of Conversation, regularly argues with the helicopter pilots when they chop down native trees in favour of better views and landing pads.
During our time at Little Bay, we tramped to the top of One Cabbage Tree Hill, but spent most of our time in the water mastering the art of body surfing in the big waves. Next to Little Bay was Teeny Bay, perfect for snorkelling sans sharks. Tragedy almost struck when Jack's waterproof camera slipped out of his pocket and into the sea. After hours of careful searching in full snorkelling gear, it was recovered among the rocks under the waves.
It’ll be back to school for the kids next week. Shoes and calculators are on sale as we gear up for autumn. I’m holding out for a couple more summery months!