up and over

[ed. i’ll be adding more commentary, but for now i’ll let the photos do the talking]

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today we did the tongariro alpine crossing.

the crossing is a 18.5km (11.5 mile) tramp through the tongariro national park that travels up and over the tongariro range. the park has dual world heritage for its natural features and cultural importance to the maori. the land for the park was donated to the nation in 1887 by Te Heuheu, paramount chief of the Ngati Tuiwharetoa people.

“Behold, beyond are the fires of these mountains and the lands we have held in trust for you. Take them in your care and cherish them, they are your heritage and the heritage of your children.”

the summits were all formed by volcanic eruptions. at several points along the trek you pass through areas where the mountains are still venting.

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after the alarm went off at 0530 we scrambled to get ready and met the 0630 shuttle bus to take us to trailhead.

what happened next is now referred to as the “key incident” and after today will never be spoken of again. at 0630 it is still pitch black out as we walk from our cabin to the main lodge to met the bus. we’re the last to arrive and the driver goes through the checklist: food? check, water? check, jackets? check, sunscreen? doh!. i say i will run back to the room and get ours. he says we’re out of time so jackie needs to hop on the the bus and then he will drive the bus down to our cabin to pick us up. i get back to the room, get the sunscreen out of the car and as i’m putting the car key back in my pocket notice that i can’t find the key to the cabin. i’m looking everywhere, on my hands and knees outside the door. after a few minutes the driver shouts out that we have to go. so i run back to the bus and ask jackie to get off since we can’t leave for the day without knowing where our cabin key is. we grab out stuff on the bus and step outside just as one of us finds the key. so back on the bus and off we go. we’re not out of the parking lot when i realize in the panic i have not re-locked the car. our car with my laptop in the hatch. 0638 and i’ve already had a full day. nothing to do about it now so off we head to the trailhead.

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it was still dark when we arrived at the start of the trail.

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this was the view looking back from our first summit at soda springs

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the second climb up to the south crater is ahead of us. hey – how did they know about jackie’s gas problem? mt ngauruhoe is on the right. for lord of the rings fans this is mount doom in the peter jackson movies.

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the walk across the south crater was a bit surreal.

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we stopped at the red crater for lunch even though it was only 1030. after getting this far we definitely needed some fuel.

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the photo that just shouldn’t be.

we out on a perfect day on one of the most spectacular walks in the world and i’m on my mobile.

so in my defense i’m not talking work. or to my broker. i’m asking the folks at the lodge to get my laptop out of the unlocked car for safe keeping. hopefully that’s not as bad.

in the we-live-in-amazing-times category, pretty wild that you can make a phone call on top of a volcano, no?

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after we crossed the summit at red crater we began the descent down to emerald lake. this was the most treacherous part of the tramp with a steep decent down the scree. a bit of challenge for those not equipped properly. not too hard with hiking boots and tramping poles – a different story if you’re in jeans and sneakers.

along this part of your trail if your hat blows off you buy a new hat.

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here we are at the central crater looking back at red crater and mt ngauruhoe.

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as we started our descent we could see lake taupo in the distance. ketetahi hut is in the distance in the photo on the right. the tramp that we did was just a small piece of a larger walk that takes several days. there are doc staffed huts with bunks and cooking facilities every 1/2 days journey along the trek. for us it was just a brief stop to use the loo and we’re off.

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the trail is so remote that all the trail maintenance supplies have to be brought in my helicopter. you can see a drop zone in the first photo.

we reached the trail end at a bit after 2 pm and we were back at the lodge with beers in hand by 3.

we were quite proud of ourselves for the completing the crossing and through we kept up a fine pace. that said all day we were frequently passed by kiwis that seemed to be just casually strolling along. it is becoming clear that the average level of fitness in nz is a bit above that in the states and that we need to take the estimated travel times quite seriously. we’ve yet to finish a walk in under the time estimated.

forging north

in new zealand good friday and easter monday are state holidays so that means a 4 day weekend for everyone. trying to learn from our christmas mistake of not booking early the jboss had planned and booked a trip for us to the tongariro region and a relaxing spa visit for gromit.

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on our trip up we went the western route through wanganui. since it was good friday the town was locked up tight, but looked like a great place to visit and we’ll put it on the list to return to soon. we did find one cafe that was open and given the holiday we set our expectations low. i was expecting mediocre fish & chips. turns out it was very good. great english beer selection and i had a venison burger with mango chutney. hard to beat.

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another great tree lined main street with cafes, shops and a majestic old theatre. almost all of the banks in new zealand are australian owned (like the one above) including unbelievably the bank of new new zealand and new zealand bank.

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right past the cbd was a huge park along the river. the children’s area was themed around nursery rhymes with the 3 bears, humptey dumptey, etc. inside the big pumpkin was a prep area, huge grill and picnic tables. most of the public parks here have public grills that gas fueled and free to use. they have a flat metal cooking surface like at mcdonalds and are started just by pushing a button. a lot easier (and safer) than everyone bringing charcoal and dousing it with lighter fluid. at one end of the park was the ultimate tree house.

after we passed through wanganui we decided to take the scenic backroads up to our destination. the guidebook described it as a can’t miss vistas – so how could we pass?

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i’m not keen on living out of the city, but if i were the homestead in first photo would be ideal.

two stories behind the second picture. firstly the sign on the cliff. you are entering a single crewed ambulance zone. that means when the ambulance arrives the paramedic can either treat you – or drive – but not both at the same time, so try not to be an idiot and need any urgent medical care. keep that in mind for the photos below. and why is jackie laughing? she is wearing sandals and has just stepped in a pile of poo. guess who’s riding on the roof rack for a while?

the last photo could easily be from vermont, and was a brief glimpse of fall. we had great tall, slender birches lining the road for the early part of the drive.

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the drive started out on a nice winding paved road, but the pace quickly slowed as the road turned to gravel and was frequently shared with local livestock.

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the first shot is great on several levels. firstly the bulls lining the road. “sure – come on down. we’re nice and friendly. ignore the horns. and forget about the sign reminding you that this is a single crewed ambulance zone. what are you waiting for?” nextly is the 100 kph speed limit sign. 100 kph is about 60 mph and is very fast for a paved country road. much less a gravel road with a steep drop off on one side. or more so for a single lane, gravel road with a steep drop off lined by bulls.

at one point we let a local farmer pass and the visibility dropped to zero. we assumed we’d know when we hit the livestock.

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as we emerged from the country road our final destination – mt tongariro – came into view.

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the last town before we arrived at tonariro was raetihi. more than a bit depressing since it was clearly struggling and a shadow of its former prime.
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yet another former bank of new zealand building shamefully degraded to office for a local radio station.

so when the town elders were sitting around the table in the late 1930’s trying to decide how to celebrate the town’s upcoming centennial, how did the conversation turn to a rest room?

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mt ngauruhoe at sunset in another this-is-why-we-moved-here images.

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our home for the holidays is the wilderness lodge in national park. yes – the name of the town is “national park”. the first several conversations about where we were staying had a who’s on first quality.

a: “so, where are we going to be staying on our holiday?”
j: “we’re booked at the wilderness lodge in national park”
a: “great – what town is that in?”
j: “national park”
a: “right – but what town are we nearest to?”
j: “the lodge is in in national park”

at this point i give up and don’t see the light until we pass the state highway sign that welcomes us to national park.

after we unpack the car we head up to the lodge for dinner only to find out that they are booked up for the night. this was a bit surprising since the small dining room never seemed more than half full. feeling bad they offered us a bowl of fries. so our good friday dinner was fries & beers on the couch watching willy wonka on the telly.

we were off to bed early after setting the alarm for 0530 so we could catch the 0630 shuttle bus for our big tramp tomorrow.

super bowl monday

with us 18 hours ahead of boston, super bowl sunday is actually on monday. that means it will be up to the jboss to root for patriots whilst i’m off making money for the man.

espn international is part of our cable package and carries the occasional baseball or american football game. we were able to see the 2 pats playoff games, but no surprise the super bowl is only available on one of the sky sports package channels.

on the day it was below zero in green bay we were spending the afternoon at the ocean.

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the hats make us dorks look even dorkier, but if you look at the graphic below you’ll see that one country is nestled neatly under the cozy comfort of the ozone hole.

you gotta do what you gotta do.

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the real new zealand christmas tree

pōhutukawa is a new zealand native evergreen that produces amazingly vibrant red flowers each year from november to january with a peak in late december.

accordingly it is referred to as the new zealand christmas tree.

quite stunning.

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the flowers are actually a mass of stamens.

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the first tree is at the bottom of the tiber street steps and send me off and welcomes me home each day. the second shot is from my evening bus stop. i’m looking down the parade down to the ocean. you can see the Pōhutukawa’s lining the parade.

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when the season ends the ground is covered in a blanket of red. we saw this yellow flowering variety at the zoo. i’ve since learned that they are cultivated from a lonely pair of yellow’s found 1940 on mōtiti island in the bay of plenty. explained as genetic drift.

closed for the holidays

ok – so i guess the whole thing about a better work life balance in new zealand was not just marketing hype.

new zealand has nearly shut down for the next 2 weeks.

i was looking forward to my time off, but was not prepared for everyone else to take time off also.

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2 footnotes to the last image.

it’s from my favourite lunch place – the higher taste restaurant. i went in the first time out of curiosity and have been going back 2 or 3 times a week since. if they would cook all my meals i could become a vegetarian (vegan actually) tomorrow and miss nothing – well except the all-you-can-eat tony roma’s baby back ribs dinner.

the second is the irony of the hare krishna restaurant being closed for christmas

o tannenbaum

today we went off in search of a christmas tree. this was a bit of a surprise to us but putting up a tree is much less common in nz than in the states. and many of those who do put up a “tree” are actually putting up a branch. turns out if you cut off a branch from one of the local pines and turn it upright it looks more than a bit like a traditional christmas tree. and since a big pine will yield a truck load of these this is what most kiwis use. you can pick one up at the local gas station for NZ$25.
we opted to try and find the real thing, and after asking around quite a bit we found a flyer at the local high end grocery pointing us to a christmas tree farm in greytown – about and hour and a half up state highway 2.

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the weather was fantastic and it gave us a reason to go to a new place, so off we went. the drive to upper hutt is a nothing special, but then you begin the climb up a narrow twisty road through the rimutaka range. the views were spectacular and the driving a bit harrowing. the road is about an inch wider than two cars, falls off sharply and most of the time all that is between you and the abyss is a rickety wooden picket fence. great views from the top.

after you descend from the rimutakas you drive through the martinborough plains. the scenery reminded me of our earlier travels through the canterbury plains on the south island and why we came here.




it was a bit odd walking the aisles of the christmas tree farm on a warm sunny day in our shorts and t-shirts.

this picture of boston this year is more what i am used to.

we soon found a nice douglas fir that met our needs and asked one of the staff to make it ours. after they cut it down they carry the tree and you carry the chainsaw. given the distance back to our house the tree actually rode inside

here it is back in our home and ready for the holidays.

on the way home we stopped in featherston for a snack and beer at one of the late 19th century hotels that most small towns here have. these are great old buildings from the gold rush days that will have a bar on one side of the ground floor, a dining room on the other side and lodging on the upper floor. [no excuse for lack of photo – sorry] the condition of these varies dramatically from town to town and it hurts me badly to see any of them not at their best. this one was in fantastic condition. it was easy to envision the miners at the bar on side and the town’s elite in their victorian finest dining on the other. in keeping with history we had that classic snack from the gold rush era – nachos.

at work the next day when some of my colleagues asked what i had done over the weekend i told of our success with both the tree and the stand. i think they were quite amused at the length that went to to get a tree. when i mentioned how hard it had been for us to find a stand and asked where they got theirs, the response was “a christmas tree stand? – you mean a bucket filled with rocks?…” i’m guessing we may have one of the few special purpose built christmas tree stands in island bay.