A last quick update before we venture back to Canada just in time for summer!

May has just flown by! Our most important and exciting news was our engagement!

The full story is too long and Jack's version is better anyway. The partial story: One morning we went for our regular sunrise run around Mount Maunganui base track. As we rounded the corner to the sun-side, the sky glowed bright orange. Jack took my hand and suggested we take a little break by a picnic table overlooking the crashing waves. He got down on both knees and uttered lots of heartfelt, cheesy, romantic, loving words and popped the question. I said yes! (We didn't actually have a photographer spying on us during the morning run, but the photo is a close rendition of the event). We celebrated with our Kiwi friends with an engagement dinner and lots of little parties. Jack even got to participate in his first (and only?) wedding shower.

I was in Auckland a couple of times in May for speech therapy conferences and meetings. Many of my friends from Tauranga have moved up there, so it was a great chance to catch up with everyone. With a population of one million, Auckland isn't a huge city by most standards, but it is the largest city in NZ and it feels like it. Mount Maunganui traffic jams typically hold you up for about 5 minutes at their worst (and we usually bike by the waiting cars anyway) and my Auckland experience helped put it all back into perspective. Like other big cities, the restaurants, events, and opportunities make people love it there. Plus, Auckland is a very pretty city, surrounded by ocean, black sand beaches, and speckled with volcano centred parks. You won't catch me living there, though - I love the mount.

Jack and I have been exploring the nearby hills and lakes with our biking friends, rewarding ourselves with picturesque café stops on the home stretches. We were thrilled to have some more visitors when Jack's sister, Kay, her husband, Louie, and his sister, Olivia, came to explore the North Island. Together we tramped Tongariro crossing again, dubbed by me and most NZ tourism promoters to be NZ's best day walk. It definitely lived up to it's reputation. Jack and I had done the walk last summer, but since it's winter now in the southern hemisphere there was snow and ice at the top of the peaks, much fewer people, and a bit of a race against the sun to get to the end of the track before dark.  

The evening before out intended walk, there had been a high wind advisory in effect and the shuttle buses had been canceled for the following day. Knowing that the mountain weather can change quickly, we got up before the sun just to check. Fortunately for us the wind and stormy weather had passed so we set out using our two vehicles as our own personal shuttle service, parking mine at the Ketetahi end of the track and their caravan at the Mangatepopo end where we started.

When you look at photos of Tongariro crossing these days, there are long lines of people walking along the tracks, picnicking at Emerald Lakes, and queuing up for the long drop. On this day, nine years ago now, we encountered maybe a dozen other people doing the crossing and most of the time we were all alone. For the first time, we were grateful for unreliable weather prediction and we're even more grateful now we see how busy the track has become. There are plans to moderate the use of the track to ensure positive experiences for all visitors and respect for the land, but none have been confirmed.  

The highlight of the day was reaching the top of Mount Ngauruahoe (aka Mount Doom), peering into the crater and taking in the surrounding snow capped Mount Ruapehu and Mount Tongariro. To the west, we could see Mount Taranaki's perfect silhouette. To the east, we saw Mount Hikurangi and the Ruakumara Range. None of these landmarks were snow capped when we climbed there in the summer, a reminder to reflect on where we have been and how quickly things can change.

The worst part of the day was getting lost in the dark in the podocarp forest near the Ketetahi carpark end of the track. Taking our time to appreciate each part of the tramp, we had lost our race with the sun. To make matters worse, the water from Manga-a-te-tipua Stream had overflowed covering the track and we struggled to find the way back without any lights. Another lesson learned: Never forget your headtorch, even for a day walk. The day got a wee bit worse, when we found that my car had a flat tyre and no tools with which to fix it.  In a surprise turn of events, we had mobile phone reception and the tow-truck turned up in less than 40 minutes and got us on our way again. 

There are always ups and downs when you're tramping so all things considered, this day came out perfectly!  

Now it's time to head back to Canada for some accent refreshment and some Canadian adventures.