Thames, Taupo and Turangi

After our hike in the north of Coromandel we rested up for a few days in Coromandel town. Our stay there was extended so that we could again see Ann, who was 40ks away, and who gamely hitched over to join us for 2 days. Resting in Coromandel town was great, but our eyes were already turned South, to the mountains we wanted to trek in. The morning we had picked to travel (to Thames), the owner of the campsite interrupted our early morning packing to ask Daniel for a hand installing the cover of his truck’s cargo area. Once that was done, he asked where we were going and as it was on his way, offered us a lift … sweet! He dropped us right at the hostel door, so we were napping in our new room by 8.30! We had a bus booked for the following day, so spent the day enjoying the hostel facilities (they had a real fire!), their dog (who we took for a walk) and the local cafe (which served coffees by the bowl!).

From Thames, we took the bus to Taupo where we arrived late in the evening (8pm – well passed our usual bed time!), and decided to spend 2 days sightseeing. The town is on the Northern shore of NZ’s largest lake, the Southern end of which is bordered by the snow capped peaks of the region’s volcanoes. These were the mountains we were planning to hike in, and our first sight of them from the hostel terrace when we woke was magic! During our stay in Taupo we walked along the lake, enjoying the sunshine and the spectacular lake and mountain scenery, and on the second day we took a riverside track to Huka falls. On this trail we had our first ‘loss’ of the trip, with Daniel losing the prescription lenses for his glasses after he took them out to insert his shades. We discovered this once back in the hostel, so retraced our steps (all 10ks of them) but unfortunately didn’t find them. Being Daniel, he is of course carrying a back-up (contact lenses) but only has a 2-week supply, and as it will be a while before he can get lenses made, is trying to get by either by wearing sunglasses (even though it’s mostly raining), or squinting 🙂
While the walks weren’t that long, and we weren’t carrying our backpacks, we were exhausted … it seems we had grown soft after the many days of rest! The walks we had planned for the following week were intense – long alpine treks through some snow and ice, so we would need to find our hiking form, and fast! Although the weather was fine while we were in Taupo, rain arrived as we were leaving and the forecast for the following week was bad. Nonetheless, against the advice of all, we decided to push on to the mountains, as we were ready again for the simplicity, and the peace and quiet of the trail.
We hitch hiked the 50ks from Taupo to our next destination of Turangi, at the entrance to the Tongariro National Park. This time a lady driver stopped for us, and kindly reorganised her luggage to fit us in. When we hitch, I always sit in the front as the native English speaker, as with Daniel there is a risk that he won’t quite catch the kiwi accent. So there I was sitting in the front trying to be an engaging, charming companion, while the lady kept looking in the rear view mirror and saying “so, what work does Daniel do?”, and “what are Daniel’s hobbies?”, and “how is Daniel finding New Zealand?”. She definitely and blatantly took a shine to him! The flirting was both ways however, with him complimenting her on her fine driving. It was indeed fine (and she wore magnificent white driving gloves), and she told us after that she used to drive the local ambulance. Although I worried about her eyesight after she asked Daniel if he was still a student 🙂 I had every reason to fear for her faculties as she was at least 75, and she told us the batteries in her hearing aid were no longer working … She is the proud grandmother of a world champion extreme kayaker, who is trying for his third world title next week in Norway, and she is to be a great grandmother next month!
She was extraordinarily kind, and insisted on driving us right to our hostel in Turangi. She also gave us the food she had in the car (2 oranges) as well as her address and an invitation to call for tea if we pass through the area. When we left her we were buoyed by her kindness, and amazed at her spirit – picking up 2 scruffy strangers at her age! I also have to hand it to her – no matter her age (or eyesight!), she knows a fine thing when she sees one 🙂
In Turangi, we did an inventory of our food and bought some extra supplies so that we have enough food and fuel for 10 days in the mountains. We will be staying in basic mountain huts, which means we can leave our tent behind, as well as some electronics and other bits and pieces we won’t be needing, in order to compensate for the extra food. The terrain we will be on is rugged and steep, and in an effort to trim any weight we can we have gone through everything in our packs to decide whether to bring it, or store it at the hostel during the trip. We have also hired crampons for the trip, so the weight transfer is not all one-way! We are booked on a shuttle to the mountain tomorrow at 7am, and should be back in civilisation in about 8 to 10 days. We are planning to do two 4 to 5 days hikes back-to-back if the weather is suitable, or else just hole up and enjoy being in the mountains. The park is a UNESCO world heritage site, and home to 3 active volcanoes, including one which erupted in August (which has closed part of the park), so we are hoping to have a few fine days or mornings to appreciate the environment. The town we are in at the moment – Turangi – is full of skiers who are enjoying the ski fields in the park, so that tells you something about the weather and the trail conditions we can expect! Here’s hoping the heating in the huts is working!

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