6 days in Taupo and then a long way south
15.12.2011 - 21.12.2011 17 °C
Day 52 (Thu 15/12/2011)
On the way into Taupo we stopped at Huka falls.
Huka falls from bridge
End of Huka falls
We arrived in Taupo and first thing on the agenda was to find a rental car for the next 5 days. A hostel night is around $25 -30, car rental which gives you the freedom to go anywhere is $57.50 a day split 3 ways, much cheaper.
We arranged the car for the following morning then spent the rest of the day in the library, a great find, the best free internet I’d found on my trip so far. After food that evening I did some exercises in the corridor, the only place in the whole hostel big enough. Towards the end of my workout, a French woman called Estelle started a conversation telling me she is into exercising, running, swimming, hiking and literally anything outdoors and active. She told me she was going on a training run at 06:00 the following morning, I changed the time to 06:30 and agreed to go with her.
Let me try to describe Estelle, she is 34 and French (although at first she lied and said she was 30). She’s completely ripped with an 8 pack and had recently won the Wellington 5km in 18:30, significantly faster than anything I’ve ever achieved. The clothes she was travelling with were pretty much what she was wearing. Her bag was huge and weighed 40kg, it was full of equipment for a range of outdoor sports revolving around, running, hiking and swimming. She had cooking equipment, food and drink, a tent and sleeping bag and even hiking poles attached to her bag.
She found out about our road trip and plans to do the Tongariro crossing and wanted in although she didn’t just want to do the crossing, she also wanted to climb the 2 peaks along the hike as well and had plans for scrabbling up the side of a volcano. She later earned the name Extreme Estelle or Extreme for short.
Day 53 (Fri 16/12/2011)
So I kept my word and got up at 06:15 to meet Extreme for our run. I’d previously told her she’d have to go at my pace so I could keep up. She said she wanted to run to Huka falls and then onto craters of the moon if we still had time. This sounded OK so we headed off on our adventure. The pace was pretty good and the track was extremely hilly. Now I’m pretty out of shape for running and I’ve not been going that much since I’ve been away; until then the most I’d ever really run was 10km on a continuous flat course and perhaps 16km in the tough guy races but that involves a lot of stop start and other activities. By the time we’d got to craters of the moon, our furthest point, we’d been running for 70 minutes. By this point I was flagging and not able to keep up with Extreme but that was ok because every now and then she’d stop to take pictures, yes she was carrying a camera as well.
Our run was scheduled to end at spa park hot springs, a point where a 50 degree geothermal river flows over a waterfall through some pools into the large cold crystal clear river. When we arrived here, we’d been running for 100 minutes totalling 15km over what felt like mountains; getting in the hot springs felt amazing. We stayed there for a while but were limited for time because we both had to check out at 10:00.
As we left, Extreme started to run up the hill towards the road, I was like, you have to be kidding me; I hobbled / run for another km up hill to the road where we hitchhiked a lift back into town. I went straight to the rental station where I collected our car for the next 5 days and drove it back to the hostel. I parked it outside for a few hours longer than I should have done and got a parking ticket.
The raincoat people wanted me to buy from the red cross
We spent a couple of hours in the library before a quick trip to the red cross (our new favourite shop) where we bought 2 duvets, a pillow, a roll mat and a 2 man tent for $16 / £8. We stopped at McDs to use the toilet where we met the 2 German girls from KiwiEx who were still randomly hanging around. We pretty much kidnapped them and took them with us to the hot springs, it was a bit cold so we gave them our jumpers to wear whilst they waited in the rain for us to swim in the hot springs. They were already a bit miserable but decided they’d had enough and started to walk the 3km back into town. We didn’t really want to leave so let them go off with our jumpers, thinking they were bluffing.
That day in the hot springs we met 2 Isralie guys and a French Candian hitchhiker they’d picked up who was now travelling with them in their 2 person camper. They were very laid back guys so we made plans with them to do the crossing together and park a vehicle at both ends.
The girls had disappeared so we went on a mission to find them, luckily we spotted them in town and got our jumpers back. They wanted to come with us on our road trip, we told them we’d let them know the following morning if we had space for them even though I had no intention of taking them anywhere nor had their phone numbers to contact them. They realised we didn’t have their numbers so took it to humour them.
We stocked up on supplies from pack n save and headed out of town to find somewhere to stay. We were going to climb the fence of craters of the moon, the place myself and Extreme had already jumped the fence of that morning. When we arrived the gate to the road was closed and there was no way I was walking another 2km up a mountain to get there. We decided to stay in the lower car park which luckily had a small shelter, just big enough to park our car under (it was still raining).
The bed in the boot of the car
This was our first night sleeping 3 people in a car, we had Jan and I on the front seats and Freddy in the boot. This night was a bit cold but it all worked out OK. That evening I was trying to find out if Extreme was coming on the road trip with us. I set her a txt saying “Are you coming in the car tomorrow?” – This is the unedited response I got: “Yes, i will swim or run closed lake we could try to meet in library? At what time?”. Still none the wiser we took this to mean she was coming and told her we’d pick her up at midday.
Day 54 (Sat 17/12/2011)
After waking up in our car park shelter, I dropped Jan and Freddy off at the top of a hike that I had run the previous day; this came out at the hot springs so I drove there, got in and waited for them. The hot springs are so good! About 15m out into the river from where the hot stream meets it, the river gets deeper, colder and flows really fast, I tried wading up it but when you lose your grip on the bottom, it washes you away and smashes your feet on all the rocks as you’re trying to re-grip.
The road trip crew
When the guys got back to the hot springs, myself, Freddy and 2 other randoms I met there went for a swim downstream. We held our flipflops in our hands and floated down the river to another exit point we knew of that has a path next to it heading back to the hot springs. Swimming down the river was amazing (pretty cold though, about 14 degrees).
The river at the hot springs in spa park
Me in the hot springs
From here we headed straight back to the library where we met up with extreme Estelle to start our drive to the Tongariro national park. It’s 100km to national park and the first section winds around the huge lake Taupo. The weather was dreadful, cold and raining but the suggestion of a lake swim became reality when we stopped at a lake access point. Extreme, Freddy and I braved the 15 degree lake in the rain and as usual it was awesome. Extreme went for a swim whilst Freddy and I kinda just waded around, it didn’t seem to matter how far out we went; the lake was always waist deep. Before getting out, we found a load of big floating rocks which were pretty cool.
Our only other stop on the way to national park was a high security prison which we found after taking a wrong turn. Because the weather was so bad we couldn’t really do anything so decided to check out the end of the crossing. When we arrived at the car park at the end of the gravel track we found a soaking wet Belgium couple stranded because they had no phone reception to call the shuttle service.
We thought their hostel was a few km’s away so we offered to drop them there however this meant leaving Jan and Freddy there whilst we drove them up the road. It turned out their hostel was 25km away, the couple were so grateful for the lift they paid for 2 huts for the 4 of us that night in the place they were staying.
Due to the weather we swiftly went to pick up the others and head to accommodation, when we arrived the guys had met a Swiss girl in the same situation so we offered her a lift. She was staying at the YHA, 5km further than where we were staying. I was sure this was where the 2 Dutch girls from the kiwiEx were staying so I asked reception and sure enough they were there.
After telling them our plans, they wanted to join in a do the crossing with us the following day so we hung out there for a bit and made plans. We headed back to the hostel and played around in the common room for a bit.
The huts were about a 2m cube made from a material that was probably closer to paper than wood. They contained bunk bed and a single plug socket. Outside the ground was completely flooded and it was still raining, the wind was blowing through the hut and it was freezing. Luckily the room had a tiny electric heater that had to share the socket with my GPS charger.
Day 55 (Sun 18/12/2011)
We woke up at 04:50 in our freezing huts to hailing wind. After a short discussion we postponed the crossing for 2 hours to re-check the weather, informed the Dutch girls and the Isralie guys and went back to sleep. At 06:50 we took a chance and went for it.
We had to leave a vehicle at both ends of the crossing, this involved precision organisation in an area with no phone reception. Firstly I had to pick up 2 Dutch girls from 10km away in the wrong direction then come back to pick up the other 3 from where we were staying. There were now 6 of us in the car and we had to head up a 7km gravel track to the start of the crossing. The 4 others had to wait at the start whilst I drove Fredrik 25km to the start where we would meet the 2 Isralie guys and a French Canadian hitch hiker girl they had picked up. When we arrived we found out the plan had changed and we were now leaving our car at the end and we would drive to the start in their camper van with the 3 of them in the front, Fredrick and I in the back with another 3 Australian mountain bikers who they had met the previous day. 90 minutes later after stopping to refill the other guys water bottles in a random stream (any water is better than no water) we were back at the start and the group was now 12.
We were all travelling in this bus
The start of the Tongariro crossing
Myself and Extreme Estelle set the pace, the 4 members of team extreme had kept up by the start of mount doom so we continued up to the 2300m summit from our current 1600m elevation. The other 8 people carried on along the crossing.
Mount doom in the background
Near the top of mount doom on the ice
The ridge around mount doom
Fredrick at the top, above the clouds
Part of the extreme team
The total length of the crossing is 19.7km across a mountain range. This wasn’t enough for team extreme so we added on the summit climb of 700m up a steep rock and gravel race and a 700m slide down. This equated to an extra 5km and the hardest mountain climb of my life. The views at the top and the gravelsand sliding decent were well worth it. The volcano is still active and although there was no lava in the crater, the rocks at the top were very hot and steaming. I found out how hot the hard way by sitting on one of the vents.
Just before the end of the crossing
Having got down and back on the crossing we were all pretty knackered and had quite a long walk ahead of us, luckily it was pretty tame compared to what we had just climbed. The last 7km was mostly downhill which we jogged, we were only an hour behind the others at the end but by this point they had already hitchhiked back so we didn’t need to give anyone a lift. Extreme Estelle also hitchhiked a lift back to Taupo so the 3 of us headed back to the hostel to get our stuff, eat and shower.
That night we went to watch Lord of the rings at the Dutch girls hostel and feel asleep after about 5 minutes. At about 01:00 we sorted out the car so we could all sleep in it, Jan and I in the front and Freddy in the boot. Freddy went straight to sleep whilst we drove to a good location off the main road.
Day 56 (Mon 19/12/2011)
Now we had completed the crossing we had loads of time so decided to keep heading south to the next national park that contained the impressive Wanganero river that has carved out a massive valley.
The valley contains a gravel track river road with awesome scenery. We headed down it slowly and it went on for a very long time. Part of the way down we stopped to climb a big sheep covered mountain, we sat on the mountainside for a while and then what seemed to be the owner of the land turned up. He asked us if we’d seen anyone suspicious hanging around and then told us the mayors husband lived across the other side of the river and we should go visit him. We didn’t believe him but sure enough a closed gate led us down a steep path to a big gong and a make shift cable car across the river.
Jan ringing the gong
We banged the gong and a man appeared far away on the other side of the river; we couldn’t hear anything he was saying but climbed in the tiny open cable car and he pulled us across, high above the river. When we got to the other side I explained the situation; it turned out he thought we were his next guests arriving to stay in his guest house. Since we were already over there he decided to show us round his sustainable organic farm / hotel. This place was only accessible from the cable car across the river or by boat, it required external electricity but had its own water supply from the mountain stream and bio toilets. They were growing loads of different organic veg, fruits and nuts. The guy was really nice and I love the set up he’d put together; virtually everything there had been built from scratch by him including the make shift cable car (I worryingly found out after I was already across). We headed back to the other side of the river and went on our way heading to the coastal town of Wanganero, where the river meets the sea.
About to get in the flying fox
The organic farm and the guy who runs it
We stocked up at a supermarket in town before heading 14km down the road to Kai Iwi beach which was recommended in the guide book. The beach was made up of nice black sand and huge amounts of driftwood. The sea had fairly big waves which I had to go and play in. Apparently the water was too cold so I was the only one extreme enough to go in. We then took some food and drink to the beach and watched the sun set over the water (I’ve seen so many sun sets now I don’t bother taking pictures anymore).
Kai Iwi beach
Just after my swim in the sea
The sunset over the west coast
We noticed another car in the beach car park with 2 girls in that clearly looked like backpackers doing the same thing as us. After a long discussion about what nationality they were, predicting German we had to go ask. Shock they were German and also sleeping in the car so we went off together to find a place to set up camp. It turns out they had done this a lot and it was common place for them to park outside peoples houses and just ask them if it’s ok. Without fail, the first house they knocked at the whole family came out to greet them and told them the best spot to put the car. Apparently they regularly get offered food, drink and showers.
I decided it would be better to take the tent down to the beach about 100m away and camp there instead of in the car. Freddy and I camped on the beach and Jan stayed in the car. The stars were so clear this night we could see the milky way and other galaxy clusters. We lay with our heads out of the tent and saw some shooting stars and the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen in the night sky, a sharp orange flash. The night was pretty cold.
Day 57 (Tue 20/12/2011)
Waking up on the beach was amazing, I love the beach, especially deserted ones with big waves. I took this opportunity to do some exercises on the beach whilst Jan went running. We then went and played in some awesome waves.
We were going to head straight back to Taupo but the weather was so good for the first time on our trip we had to stay and sunbath at the beach. I actually got a bit sunburnt in a few small areas where I missed putting suncream.
The road trip crew with the car
We drove the 240km back to Taupo and chilled in a hostel to recharge some stuff before heading to the spa area to find somewhere to stay overnight.
Day 58 (Wed 21/12/2011)
Unknown to us we had stopped the car next to a geothermal stream, having woken up early we headed down to the point where the stream meets the bigger river in spa park, the location of the hot and cold pools. We stayed under the hot waterfall for about an hour before heading into town.
We were hoping to get to the library before the bus left so we quickly filled up the car, met Freddy to drop our stuff with him and then took the car back to the rental station. Annoyingly the rental station office was closed so we returned the key in the key deposit along with the $300 cash payment; a bit risky but we had no choice.