Friday, 20 February 2009

Tongariro National Park

Read our Auckland posting first.

Around 350km from Auckland lies the Tongariro National Park. The park is home to a number of volcanoes which have erupted as recently as 2007. It also has waterfalls, steam vents and lots of beautiful forests. On Wednesday, we 'tramped' (as they call walking here) to the Tama Lakes, created by explosive volcanic eruptions.

The park is a setting for one of NZ's most famous walks, the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. We walked part of it on Thursday, on our way up Mount Ngauruhoe (2,287m) a.k.a. Mount Doom in the 'Lord of the Rings'. We met a lot of people on the mountain doing Smeagol impressions and asking us if we were going to throw the ring into the crater. Makes you wonder how many people have actually done that...

We camped in a Department of Conservation (DOC) camp site in the park, surrounded by trees, heather and grasses. The DOC provides an abundance of camp sites in wonderful locations, their standard varying from basic to serviced. The basic camp sites are free and the serviced ones are pretty cheap too.

On the camp site, we met a lovely family from Montreal, Canada, who are also travelling round the world for a year. Patricia, Jean-François and their children Evelyne, Naomi and Julien, had lots of interesting stories (and tasty red wine) to share in the campers' kitchen. On Friday morning, we woke up to torrential rain and rapidly rising water levels in the stream. After sharing some coffee, we all abandoned camp and started driving towards Wellington in the hope of some shelter from the rain. It certainly made us feel like we were in Scotland again!

Our friend St John joins us in Christchurch on Tuesday so we're catching the ferry to the South Island tomorrow morning (Sunday). St John, from Edinburgh, should be quite at home here with the current weather.

Preparations in Auckland

Our hostel in Auckland was a curious place to stay. Located on an industrial estate, it was walking distance from the city centre, via K-Road. This street is famous for quirky shops, cafés and also the local red light district – we always seem to find it in every city we go to! The hostel itself was a mixture of backpackers and longer-stay residents. One man we met there turned out to be a devout born-again Christian (with a whiff of alcohol on his breath).

Recovering from jet-lag, we managed a Sunday stroll around the city centre. It was very quiet, even for a Sunday. People were probably away for the weekend enjoying the weather. In addition to the Skytower, we found this iGod poster outside one church.

Our spare time was taken up by making plans for our road trip around New Zealand. For us, renting a car and buying camping equipment turned out to be much cheaper than hiring a camper van. On the recommendations of Tony, the very helpful hostel manager, we spent Monday scouring the very cheap 'Warehouse' for pots, pans, plates and cooking utensils. We picked up a tent for under 200 NZD (around 80 GBP) at the camping store 'Kathmandu'. We hoped we wouldn't regret it!

Picking up the hire car on Tuesday morning, we found ourselves driving along Queen Street in Auckland. Although this is the main road through the city centre, traffic was surprising light. After loading up the car at the hostel, we began the journey south to the Tongariro National Park.