February 16 and 17, 2014
The most amazing day in the North Island was my Tongariro Alpine Crossing. And my next most amazing day was supposed to be the very next day when I returned to the Tongariro Alpine Crossing to hike up Mt. Ngauruhoe. However I did not take into consideration how sore my entire body would be nor could I have anticipated spraining my other hand, when I slipped heading down to the Emerald Lakes. I was certainly tired after The Crossing and that afternoon after I had showered and sat on the comfy couch in the Adventure Motel and Lodge, I could start to feel myself nodding off. And when I finally moved to get up, my hips screamed at me “Good for you” but now you will feel the aches and pains! My shoulder was not as forgiving either, perhaps my “Gregory” was adjusted incorrectly or maybe it had something to do with the way I was carrying my fancy camera around that entire day. I don’t know, but I was in no condition to climb Mt. Ngauruhoe. But even then, when I went to bed that night I was in denial. “Gregory” was still packed for a proper hike. I decided I would see how I felt the next day and then decide. I had already calculated the time and I knew I didn’t need to get up as early as the others. 30 minutes to get to the start. 2 1/2 hours to get to the start of the Mt. Doom climb. 3 to 3 1/2 hours to get up and down Mt. Doom. 2 hours to get back to the point of origin and another 30 minutes back to the lodge for a total of 9 hours. Easy-peasy! But when I woke up, it was not to be. And I think in the back of my head I already knew it wasn’t going to happen. Common sense prevailed upon me. Probably when I looked at the mountain in full profile the morning of The Crossing. That and my entire body said, if you want to do it, you should’ve booked another day or so to semi-recover from the Tongariro Alpine Crossing first, before attempting a volcano.
So instead, I went to the next best thing, Mt. Ruapehu, the site for Mordor, and I climbed this volcano instead.
When I left the lodge and headed back to Whakapapa Village, the sky was blue and crystal clear. As soon as I turned the corner, there she was, beckoning me to come hither. “It’s a beautiful day. You still have time to climb me and get back to the lodge at a safe hour.” All I could do was stop the car and stare and take photos of her beauty.And then I continued on to Mt. Ruapehu. I had already told Lorraine I was headed to Mt. Ruapehu. It was true, I still had time to turn around and get to the start of the Crossing. I could still do it. I knew I could already get the first portion done no problem. The daunting task would be to get up Mt. Ngauruhoe. But every time I moved, my hips said no. And that was enough for me to keep going on to Mordor. But there was no avoiding Mt. Ngauruhoe. The entire drive had her within my sights. Which technically is bad, since she was off to my left the moment I turned up SH 48. Focus on the road Aunty! It’s not as straight as you would like it to be! Even as I got closer and closer to the village, I was still thinking that I had time to return and do the climb. I was still thinking that as I drove passed the village and up Bruce Road towards Mt. Ruapehu. Even as I stood at the counter to pay for my chairlift ticket, I hesitated, because I still had time to climb Mt. Ngauruhoe. Grrrr! I paid for the ticket. I got on the chairlift and thank goodness, I lost sight of her. Instead I was able to focus on the fact that the only thing keeping me from falling out of the chairlift was a metal bar. Hmmm. What did I get myself into? It might’ve been safer to climb Mt. Ngauruhoe. But there was no turning back now. Not unless I jumped off. And that would be the dumbest thing I could ever do. If I broke a bone, then for sure I’d never be able to climb Mt. Ngauruhoe that day. So after getting to the top, the guy who helped me off said that the next one was just up there. I looked at him and said, “Next one what?” I thought I was already at the top. However after taking a closer look around, I realized that there was nothing here. There was another chairlift. So I headed off and hopped onto the next set of chairlifts, pulling down the safety bar as quickly as possible and sat back and admired the view as I continued to the top. It’s a good thing I didn’t look around too much at this point, which is a good thing. Because she was just off to the left, a little bit behind me. If I saw her, who knows what I might’ve done. But as it is, I didn’t see her and made it to the top, 2020 metres above sea level. Wow! And there was a cafe! The Knoll Ridge Cafe, the highest cafe probably in the world, or at least in the southern hemisphere. Did I stop for a coffee? Heck no! I had a volcano to climb. Granted it wouldn’t have been as difficult as climbing Mt. Ngauruhoe, but still, here I was. There was the top. It was time to go.
So up here, you have two choices: Hike the Skyline which is about a 2 hour return trip, or Hike down the mountain. There was no way I was going to hike down, when I just got up and the brain was telling me that by the time I was done this down hill hike, not only would my hips scream at me, but my knees would too. So, my only other choice, continue going up. But first, a potty stop.
When I was all set, I followed the guy in front of me. He was already a few metres ahead of me, which was fine. I like my solitude on my hikes, especially after all those people on The Crossing. And it definitely was solitude. I lost sight of him quite quickly, not on purpose. It just happened. I’m guessing he didn’t do The Crossing the other day. And there was no one behind me. Basically it was just the two of us headed towards the Skyline Ridge. And when I couldn’t see him anymore, it was just me. Blissful! Until the clouds started to roll in. I was probably halfway up when I started to see the first tendrils of cloud. And as I kept on going, so did the clouds. At one point, I had to stop and re-assess. Do I continue going up, in the hopes that the clouds go away? Or do I turn back? If the clouds are moving in now, by the time I get to the top, there may be nothing for me to see except pea soup. If I turn back now, I could still see some of the markers to help me get back down.
I kept going up. I always heard from people that the weather changes quickly here, so I was hoping that it would change by the time I got to the top. Well it changed alright. The clouds got thicker. It didn’t hinder me going up, but there was no view. I could not see Mt. Ngauruhoe. I could not see the Tongariro National Park. But I was stubborn. The weather would change. The clouds would go away. I would sit up at the top and eat my lunch. I would wait it out. I said on Facebook that I would wait 15 minutes. I ended up waiting and hour and 20 minutes for the clouds to disappear. While I waited several more people came up and then went back down, because there was nothing to see. But still I waited. Stubbornness is good and bad sometimes. As I waited for the clouds to clear, it actually started head over the ridge and along the track. So really, I couldn’t go back down even if I wanted to. Well, I wasn’t truly stuck. If I was super slow and careful and made lots of stops, I would’ve been able to get back down, I think. But I didn’t want to try it. I wanted to see her. I wanted to see my volcano. I longed to see Mt. Doom. And so I waited. And while I waited, I discovered that I had done something to my hand. Seriously? Another sprain? And this time on the other hand? Right around the base of my thumb, near the wrist. And I came to realize it was probably when I tried to break my falls on The Crossing. Well, on the bright side, at least it’s not broken. Though it hurts like heck right now. I guess that’s another reason not to climb Mt. Ngauruhoe.
Soon the clouds cleared enough for me to be able to get back down the track, but not enough for me to see Mt. Ngauruhoe. I could see the Blue Lake. I could see the lower part of Mt. Ngauruhoe, but not her completely. And as I looked out across the way, I could see a break in the clouds. If I waited long enough and if the winds prevailed, eventually the top of the cone would be in the clear. And then I would have my perfect view of her. And so I waited. And several times I was going to just give up and head back down. I was getting cold and even though I had my layers on, I was beginning to give up hope. But as more people came up, I decided to wait some more. And then, there she was, in her complete beauty with the Blue Lake sparkling below encompassed by the tussock green of the Tongariro National Park. It couldn’t get any better than this. Bliss! Serenity.
It was just me on Mordor, staring out at Mt. Doom. There was no one else about. Not even the Great Eye!
And now I could head back down. The mountain was clear of clouds and I was content to leave. And a flat white beckoned. Heading back down, even in the clear was kind of nerve racking. Again it was scree/scoria and it was another reminder of what I would’ve encountered on Mt. Ngauruhoe, another re-affirmation that I made the right choice. However it the nerves added to the fun and enjoyment of the hike but I am accepting the decision that I made. At the cafe, the view was quite impressive. You could not see Mt. Ngauruhoe, but you could see down the mountain and even see the parking lot. It is a great place for a coffee, a great stop after hiking to the Skyline Ridge. And if I was a skier, a great place to have coffee before heading back down the mountain. After basking on the patio and soaking up more sunshine, I returned to the chairlift and as it swung me out of the building, there on my right hand side was Mt. Doom. She was no longer beckoning me, not really. She was keeping me company, letting me know it was okay that I didn’t climb her. One thing I have to mention is the silence on the chairlift. You’ll here the whir of the chairlift as you go up and down, but other than that there is no sound. And there is no one else around. I guess it’s more popular during the winter. But for me, as I sat there admiring my volcano, it was the perfect time and place for me to sing along with my iPod. Johnny Cash’s Hurt, Royal Wood’s Glory, Ed Sheeran’s I See Fire, all the good stuff. I was so content I was swinging my feet. On hindsight, probably not a good idea but it was like a big gigantic moving swing. Now I don’t usually look a details like this, but while I was admiring the views around me and singing contentedly, I took a closer look at the cable holding up the chairlifts. It’s amazing how that one little lip keeps a person from falling to disaster below. And as I was admiring this mechanical feat, the wind picked up. And every time there was a “pleasant” gust, the chairlift would slow and sometimes it even felt like stopped. But I made it back to the parking lot safe and sound. And I had Mt. Ngauruhoe keeping me company for most of the trip down.
Content with my choice? I am.
The next day, I said goodbye to Tongariro National Park at 8:45 am. I was off on my next adventure. A jet boat ride to the Bridge to Nowhere! I signed up with Whanganui River Adventures. I was off to Pipiriki in the Whanganui National Park. I had to be there by 10:30 the latest. When I was talking to Lorraine the other night, she said it would take me just over an hour to get there. She said the road was good, just windy. I was thinking, no problem. I had already driven Arthur’s Pass, the section between Fox Glacier and Franz Josef and the road through Waipoua, nothing could be worse than Waipoua or even Mangamuka Gorge. I was wrong. Nothing could be worse than the road from Raetihi to Pipiriki. Yes, the road was paved. Yes, the road was windy. But the road was also narrow in many sections. The road consisted of many 25 and 15 km curves and the road had several sections where it was so narrow, you could only drive one car through and the section that made it the most “exciting”, the washout. Ai Yah! And to add to the excitement, the locals drive this road, actually all their roads at 100 km or more. Why even have speed limits? It certainly explains all the signs about slowing down and taking breaks and not drinking and driving, lots of cautionary signs for drivers along the highways. Ai Yah!
Since I am able to tell you this story, clearly I made it alive but still, it was nerve racking at times. I’m sure the scenery was impressive, but to keep my knuckles from turning any whiter, I had to keep an eye on the road. That and I could grip the steering wheel any tighter since I hurt my hand. The only good thing was that I was the only one going in that direction. All others were coming from the opposite direction. I was the last to arrive but not a worry. I was still on time. There was a total of 7 of us including the guide, Thomas. He used to work for DOC and then he came to work for Whanganui River Adventures. The first thing that we did, after meeting everyone, get our life jackets. Very important if in a boat, in a river. Then we hoped into the van and drove less than 5 minutes to the water and then hopped out and walked down the jet boat. There were two canoes attached the back of the jet boat, which I didn’t give too much thought to. I just thought it was like a life raft or something, just in case the jet boat sank. But now that I think about it later, that doesn’t make any sense at all. But at the time, I didn’t question it. We all took our seats and Thomas went through all the safety stuff on the boat before heading out. It was so awesome. We were going to fast and the river was so calm. Again it was like glass until the boat broke through the water. It was just an awesome experience. Every so often Thomas would stop the boat and then explain stuff like how high the water level used to be back in 1904 and then how high it got in the last flood. He explained that people used to use this river like a highway to get from one place to another and how they would go about getting up the river when the water was low. Even back in the 1900s the there was tourism on this particular river. We were in the jet boat for just under an hour. It was just too cool. Eventually we got to the Mangapurua Landing where our hike would start. It would be a 2.7 km hike to the Bridge to Nowhere. Thomas dropped us off and then said he would meet us along the trail before taking off with the boat. Hmmmm. Should that worry us? No. It never even crossed my mind that that should be a concern. I’m pretty sure that out of the six of us, I was the youngest. So if these elderly people were not concerned, then neither was I. Of course these elderly people did not really listen to what Thomas said and so they were hovering about at the start of the trail wondering whether Thomas was going to join us straight away. I pointed out that he said he would meet us further up and so we all headed off.
It was a very nice walk. Shaded and very cool. The sun was out so it was a relief to be in the shade. I was kind of expecting Thomas to be walking with us and explaining stuff, but it was actually okay since we got a chance to talk to each other and enjoy the walk at our own pace rather than being rushed by the guide. In fact we were so engrossed in our conversation that we didn’t even see Thomas sitting in the shade until we were right on him. By then we had split up with the men behinds a few metres while the women were chatting away in front. Thomas had us continue along the way while he waited for the men. Eventually we came upon the lookout for the Bridge. Thomas pointed the way and said he’d meet us on the Bridge while we all went to admire it from above. While we were up there, we could see our guide walking across the bridge. After getting our photos, we all headed back down the little trail and turned towards the bridge. It was then that we all wondered, Where was the road for this bridge? We were walking on a trail. We were not walking on a road. Thomas said he would have stories to tell us and history but first we should enjoy our lunch. It was such a sunny day that we all hid in the bushes at the far end of the bridge. There are picnic tables at the other end, but DOC had cut down enough trees and bushes that it did not provide any shade at all. Thomas provided hot drinks and cookies for us. Normally that would be a great thing, hot drinks, but on a day like today, I needed a frosty, not a hot chocolate. But when it’s free, I’ll take a hot chocolate. And three cookies while he told us the history of this place. I’m not gonna go into too much detail. Basically the area was given to returning World War One Soldiers so that they could restart their lives after the war. The hope was that they could farm in the area but it was very difficult. Most people stayed for 2 to 5 years before moving away. Only three people managed to make a life there for 23 years and then it was the government that told them to leave. And this was a newly elected government that had no intentions of maintaining the bridge. Since the bridge was built, there were only two cars that ever drove over it. And that was at the inauguration. Two cars drove over the bridge and then went around the corner before turning around and driving back over it. That is it. The bridge’s true name is Mangapurua Bridge. It got it’s current name from a photo in the paper showing grass growing all over the bridge and from the angle, it looked like the bridge took the driver into the mountain side, hence the name Bridge to Nowhere. Because it looked like it took you nowhere. I tried to Google the photo, but no such luck. There are some photos where you can see the grass growing close to the end of the of the bridge, but this photo that Thomas had actually had tall grass growing all across the entire bridge. It was quite amazing to see. Anyway after telling us the history of the bridge, we went over the bridge and he fed the eels in the river below. He had old bread that he threw down into the river and then as you are watching, thinking that nothing was going to happen, there they were. These black snake like things started moving from behind rocks! They had to have been huge. We were so high up and to be able to see anything like that from below, huge! Thomas said they had to have been around 12 years old. And he says they are huge because he feeds them every time he is out here taking other tour groups to the bridge. After awhile it was time to head back to the Landing. Thomas sent us along while he cleaned up the stuff on the bridge. So again, we were on our own. Eventually we made it back to the Landing and it wasn’t long before we could hear the roar of the jet boat coming up the river. We all hoped in and waited for the men, who were lagging behind again. While we waited, we could see people in canoes coming down the river. There actually was a lot of canoe and kayak traffic on this river. And I could understand why, at least on this day. It was such smooth surface, and fairly calm. There were a few small rapid like features on along the river. Nothing like the Aratiatia rapids, but if you were in a canoe, it would probably disturb me. Of course I have never been in a canoe so I am no expert but I can imagine.
This time while headed back to the starting point, we had a lot less talk and a little bit more fun. 360 spins! That was so much fun. And Thomas was going so fast, it was almost kind of hard to breath at times. When he told us at the beginning to hold on to our hats, I thought he was just saying it for the sake of saying it. Thank goodness my hat had a string. Thank goodness the string was cinched in tightly. This was a fantastic experience. When I was down in Queenstown there was a possibility of going on a jet boat on the Shot Over river, but at the time, I had other more important things to deal with such as photography tours and Milford Track one day tours. I wasn’t really all that interested in 360 spins. And at that time, I already knew that I would be in a jet boat with this tour. And I’m so glad that I did this. Not only did I get to see and learn about the Bridge to Nowhere, I also got a little excitement in the water, a totally different experience from being in the waters of Doubtful Sound. If you ever make it out this way, you should definitely give it a go.
Once back on dry land, it was time to head onto my next final destination, Wanganui, or Whanganui. This is a very nice city. I quite like it. It’s not too big nor is it too small to be boring. And they had at least two wool shops, though when I got into town, they were closed. That is another thing with the shops in small towns/cities. The shops all close at 5pm. Unless the town is big on tourism like Queenstown, most shops are closed by 5pm. And good luck if it’s Sunday. Being on vacation for so long, you tend to lose track of your days and times. You’ll know if it’s a weekend if you come across a market and the smaller towns will have orange cones set up far up the road warning people to slow down because there is a market up ahead or you’ll know it’s a Sunday when you arrive in town and EVERYTHING is closed, except the local i-Site. Sigh. Well, my last weekend that will meaning anything to me will be this weekend. I’ll be in Wellington by then and I’ll be there well before the weekend actually starts, that means I’ll be there by Friday.
When I got in to town, I decided to go out to eat and went to a Japanese restaurant. I was in and out fairly quickly and then back to the hostel. While there I began to think about climbing Mt. Ngauruhoe again. It got to the point where I was calculating times again. Two hours to get back to the start of the Crossing. 2 1/2 hours to get to the start of the climb to Ngauruhoe and 3 hours return and another 2 hours to get back to the parking lot and then 3 1/2 hours drive to New Plymouth, which was the next night’s destination. Do-able. Long day but do-able. Eventually I ended up Face-timing Sister W. Thank goodness she picked up. I needed someone else to reassure me that it was okay. And of course Sister W’s other half did mention that Frodo and Sam never really climbed to the top of Mt. Doom, just to the door which was like halfway up. And since my sisters are my LOTR gurus, If they were okay with me not climbing Mt. Doom, then I was okay with not climbing Mt. Doom.
Content with my choice? Truly and Honestly, I am. My longing for Mt. Ngauruhoe will always remain. As I end this super long post, I have accepted this feeling as a longing and I will not and cannot call it a regret.
It will be this volcano, Mt. Ngaurahoe, and the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, that will bring me back to the North Island, just like it will be Doubtful Sound that will bring me back to the South Island.
Wishing you were all here with me. Luv, Aunty!