06/25/2011, Somewhere in Southern California
Vagabonds, nomads. That's us, still out here in the nebulous realm of somewhere, nowhere, everywhere. Moving from bed to bed as we house sit at the Deese's, at dad's, at Carol and John's; and as we visit family here and there and go on little local overnight sailing trips. Our lives remain unsettled and unstable and mostly as happy as ever. The ultimate irony of the last two years is this: at the end of it all, homeless and boat-less, we're cat-sitting our own cat. The other day I sort of freaked out when I learned he'd slipped out the door without his collar on. "Carol and John NEVER let him out without his collar!" I wail. Then I realize, "Hey! He's MY cat!" I don't know, I think I'm losing my identity ...
But we're having fun anyhow. We've been continuing to fly a little bit, Allan is working on his "tail wheel endorsement" so he's trained and safe in those funny-looking airplanes that sit tail-low and often sound more like old tractors or sewing machines than airplanes. I've had some fun, too, logging an hour the other day in the same plane Allan's flying, an Aeronca Champ owned by Frank Donnelly, aka Dr. D. It felt great to be back in my favorite kind of airplane, and I was surprised at how much I remembered. My flying's not pretty, yet, but it's safe. I'll get the finesse back soon enough. We're also putting a little time in Chuck and Mary's C-172, my old friend 8TN.
This week we had some fun in s/v Our Escape, Allan's dad's Catalina 36, with a lovely sail out to the isthmus at Santa Catalina Island for an overnight in the harbor. Perfect day out, and since it was Wednesday we got our pick of moorings, right up close in the shelter of the island and near the dock. A nice dinner ashore, a fun night at the mooring while the sea lions gorged on the massive school of fish (sardines?) that were flooding the harbor, a curious sleep in the v-berth (why is there velco in the sleeping bag?), breakfast ashore and a brisk walk under cloudy skies to the other side of the isthmus, and then it was time to go.
A mile or so east of the island on our way back to San Pedro, motoring along just fat, dumb and happy, we suddenly had a loss of engine power which caught us offguard, putting little exclamation points over our surprised heads. Some investigation into the matter led us to suspect a fuel problem, and sure enough, a clogged fuel filter was the culprit. Ah! Fun challenges at sea! As we bobbed in the flat ocean, drifting on the weak current, going nowhere in the absence of even a breath of air, we put our three heads together. I stayed at the helm and optimistically pointed us toward San Pedro, occasionally tossing relevant and ever-so-helpful suggestions down to Allan and Grant, who dug into things down below, improvising with kitchen devices and mismatched tools to get the job done. But things didn't quite work out as planned, and soon enough it was clear we would not have an engine to rely on for the rest of the day. But no worries - it's a sailboat. Sailboats have those big white things that stick up in the air and make them go. So normally we wouldn't have been concerned, but we did have that annoying lack of air that I already mentioned, which promised a very long trip across the channel.
We bobbed around some more, thoughtfully eating potato chips and cheese puffs, and finally came up with the idea of pushing the Catalina 36 toward home with the little "rubber ducky", as our friend in Australia calls it, propelled by Allan's grandad's ancient 2.2 Mercury outboard motor. Slowly, we made it across the 20 mile expanse, aided about half the time by a breeze that was forecast to become a decent wind but never did, and the rest of the time by that little Mercury. It was impressive - slow, but steady. We took turns in the rubber ducky, pushing the big boat from the center of the stern, with Dad at the helm of the Catalina and the third person keeping an eye out for ships in the shipping lane and the subsequent wake that might cause the little dinghy some trouble. We were lucky it was a flat sea, and things went well. We even caught a puff or two air inside the breakwater and were able to sail west to Cabrillo Marina and onto the fuel dock, where the magnificently capable Vessel Assist guy came to our aid and backed us into our slip. We had the boat washed up and were on our way to dinner by 9:45pm, after what was, for Allan and I, a very satisfying day, evoking that sense of adventure that we loved so much in our cruising. We'll be back at it soon enough; in the meantime, these little adventures fuel the fire and keep us happy.
As far as work is concerned, I have just a few more days of retirement, and am officially on the payroll again next Wednesday, with requalification training to follow. Allan is scheduled for requal at UPS in mid-July for 20 days. Then, in September, if I haven't already mentioned this part, we return to our home in Oxnard and see what we remember of our old lives.
Oh, and the velco? That's what the missing sheet liners attach to. Mystery solved.
05/11/2011, Claremont, California
Friends and family,
I haven't written since we've returned to the Land of Too Many Choices, and thought I'd give an update on how we're adapting to our land-lubbing life.
We're house sitting for friends in Claremont, California, readying said house for sale with the help and guidance of said friends, the Deeses. Yard work, - lots of it - cleaning, overseeing and working with painters, tree-trimmers, wood-pile removers, carpet stretchers, art collectors, and fence people. It's been a powerful push to get things up to a certain level of presentability for the sagging real estate market, but we're very near, and for me it's been great fun. Digging in the dirt after the aquatic life has been very, yes, earthy.
We've also been taking advantage of much this area of Southern California has to offer. Being my hometown, I have a natural affinity for all things Claremont. The smell of spring -- wild sage and eucalyptus, blooming citrus, and even the mineral smell of warm dirt are the familiar scents which make me feel at home. The downtown area of Claremont's Village, often used as a backdrop for Hollywood films, is as delightful as ever. Speckled with college students from around the world, a healthy senior community and a myriad of intelligent, interesting professionals from conservative attorneys to the ubiquitous liberal artists, with a few liberal attorneys and some conservative artists tossed in for balance, this town is never boring. Allan's dad is around the corner and my sister is down the street. Max the Cat is a just a mile away and the house I grew up in is right next door. And I'm pretty sure the gray cat who saunters through the yard on occasion is a descendent of the wild cat we used to call "Untouchable," who lurked and sauntered 35 years ago.
We've re-established a presence at Cable Airport in nearby Upland, reputed to be the largest family-owned airport in the world, where I've been a fixture since I was 17. I got my first airport job in the flight school there as a desk chickie, (aka counter cutie) and in subsequent years flight instructed, and had three planes, one at a time, in a hangar on the north side of the field. Our dear friends Chuck and Mary hold down the fort at the most sociable hangar on the planet. Known as "The Tumbling Gyro," it's outfitted it with a full bar, kitchen, bathroom, workshop, an elevator to Mary's second-floor office, and - oh yeah - it actually does have an airplane. The Tumbled Gyro serves as the "Cheers" of Cable Airport, the place to go for a cold soda or a drink after a day of whatever anyone's day might be filled with. Chuck and Mary have been a stabilizing force in my life for many years, and their generosity knows few bounds. Recently they even offered their airplane for our use to get current in single engine planes, which Allan did last week and I am looking forward to doing tomorrow morning.
As I write we are in the company of Allan's brother Mark and his wife Pam, (pictured above with us at Fullerton Airport) who flew their 4-seat Mooney from Texas for a 12-day holiday that encompassed Mother's Day and the Planes of Fame Airshow at Chino Airport this weekend. We've been bopping about the southland in cars and planes, staying and hanging with family, moving about like nomads.
Oh, and that's the other thing: stability. Did I use that word in a sentence earlier on? Because if I did, it was misleading. There's really no domestic stability in our lives, although I'm not complaining. If there's one thing that came out of the last 2 years - fraught with and underscored by instability -- it's that taking it all one day at a time really is the best, and easiest way to live. After we shake off the mild confusion every morning, and have more-or-less successfully answered the questions "where are we?" and more importantly, "what's for breakfast?" we just go with the flow. Since our return we've slept in no fewer than 6 beds, packing and unpacking, in a perpetual state of putting even smaller versions of our stuff into duffel bags to cart to the next place for a few days. We've taken to always bringing our own sheets and pillows for some semblance of familiarity, which, for me, is quite calming. We'll continue this bed-hopping for a few more months. Right now we're staying with Mark and Pam at Allan's dad's house while Deeses are in town for a week. Then we'll move back until we do a little more travelling, hoping for a trip to Texas, some time in California's Bay Area and a few days in New Mexico, with more visits to the mom's in Oxnard and Santa Maria. We return to our jobs sometime in July, when we'll sleep in hotels for recurrent training in Colorado and Kentucky. It won't be until September when we move back into our home in Oxnard that some level of domestic stability will return to our lives, but as long as the day starts with a hot cup of coffee -- preferably with a nice dollop of half-and-half - and as long as we can share it together, we're fine.
Since we've been back we've attended a wedding, a funeral, an 80th birthday party, the symphony and the theatre. We've spent good time with our families and realize more than ever before how important they are. We've loosely reconnected with the church I attended 10 years ago and which has conveniently moved down the street. We've flown in 8TN, Chuck and Mary's Cessna 172 and sailed on s/v Our Escape, Allan's dad's Catalina 36. We've become accustomed once again to the grocery aisles and their dizzying and almost embarrassing abundance. We've stuffed things into our storeroom and yanked other things out. We have roofs over our head, beds under our backs, and coffee in the pot. It's as good as ever.
03/25/2011, Claremont, California
We're sitting on a United-Continental Airlines Boeing 747, the latest in our recent string of airplane rides, jetting our way across the Pacific from Sydney to Los Angeles and flying along the same route -- in reverse -- that we sailed in the last 17 months. We're going home.
But where, exactly, is home? Home is where the boat's moored, where the camper's parked, where your clothes and your pillows are, or where the food is. Home is where you feel at rest, not biding your time until you really are home. Much to my surprise, I didn't yearn for home on this trip. In fact, for the first time in my life, no matter where we were in the last 18 months I felt completely in the moment and happily at home. Whether we were zipping back and forth between Marina del Rey and Ventura in the last stressful days while Catalina Yachts was still prepping the boat for us, or on our first official passage at sea down the Baja California coast, with 18 foot waves and 30 knot winds, or in the clean, starkly beautiful anchorages in the Sea of Cortez -- we felt warm and settled on Fly Aweigh. As we provisioned her for the long crossing to the Marquesas, snug in our berth in the charming seaside town of La Cruz for two months, sailing on Banderas Bay and learning more about our boat, we felt at home. On the 22-day crossing Fly Aweigh kept us safe, and by the time we got to Hiva Oa, it felt odd not to be aboard. Throughout French Polynesia, across to Beveridge Reef, The Cook Islands, Niue, Tonga, Fiji, New Caledonia, and finally into Australia, home was wherever we were.
When we sold Fly Aweigh I thought we'd experience a deep sense of loss -- I expected to feel ungrounded, and quite literally homeless. But the next surprise was that we never felt that way. We were blessed with fantastic buyers, who made it feel good to pass Fly Aweigh on to her next adventures. After arriving in New Zealand we had generous friends who gave us a place to stay on their boat, Curious, and just like that, Auckland felt like home. Traveling around the North Island in Subaru Sally, borrowed from our dear friends Michael and Gloria, and sleeping in their borrowed tent also felt like home. 6 weeks in a metal box -- our rented campervan named Hennessey -- going from campground to campground sometimes so often that I frequently had trouble remembering where we were, it still felt just fine.
Now, as we head home, we go not to the thing with the really big mortgage in Oxnard (which is rented out through the summer) but to the next iteration of home for us -- house sitting. For some or all of the summer we'll be in Claremont, next door to where I grew up, in the house where I spent nearly as much time as in my own, lounging around, eating pistachio nuts and avoiding homework, hanging out with my best friend Mary Ann.
But I think the real reason I've never felt homeless as we've journeyed farther and farther away from our actual home, and moved progressively into smaller and smaller spaces is because of my warm and wonderful husband. He has rolled with the sea, settled into the moment, shared every day of this adventure with me, and always been my home.
We're passing just north of the Fiji Islands, according to the inflight route tracker display thing, and I'm wondering what's worse: sitting in a coach seat for 14 hours, or crossing the South Pacific in an unstable plastic tub being propelled by bedsheets for 14 months. I think I prefer the tub. But I do know this: our South Pacific Odyssey -- our Right-or-Left Adventure -- is coming to a close, and a new phase is opening up. It was a giant leap of faith to take this trip, with many personal and financial sacrifices. It was worth every penny, every minute. We've been blessed beyond our expectations, had experiences we never imagined, met solid and wonderful people who will be friends for life, and grew in our marriage in ways we could not predict. We learned about ourselves. We have no idea how or why this all happened as well as it did, but we'll keep the faith and see what comes next. People have repeatedly told us that after a trip like this we'll come back changed. I'm not sure what we've changed into, but hopefully it's a better version of what we were when we left. Maybe more relaxed, more tolerant, less fussy. We'll see as time goes by. Allan has already admitted that his road rage will likely return within 2 minutes in LA traffic, but if that's the worst of it, we'll be doing okay.
As I post this it's Friday the 25th. We're settled into our new, latest home. We're working on receiving and clearing all our shipped goods from Australia, which should arrive today; running around seeing all our immediate family; getting things out of, and putting other things into our storeroom; trying to adjust to driving on the other side of the road; and getting ready for my nephew Scott and his beautiful fiancee Susan's wedding tomorrow. We have over 10,000 sailing miles, 8 countries, and 100's of cool critter sightings under our belts; we're older and maybe wiser and certainly more content. All is well.
Finally, I want to say what an adventure it's been writing this blog. As you may know I call it a "blurb" in honor of my dear friend Carol, who passed away from cancer last year. She dubbed it "blurb" and blurb it remains. Thank you all for your consistent and devoted support, which kept me going. Our favorite thing after a passage (besides doing the laundry) was to get on the Internet and read all the comments our friends left us at the bottom of the blurbs we'd posted while underway; it put smiles on our faces and made us feel connected. Many people said the blurb gave them a chance to live the adventure vicariously though us - to momentarily escape snow, or work tedium, or maybe gain a bit of insight or courage for their own adventures to come. But the truth is, I lived the adventure vicariously through you -- in writing about it, I got to experience it first and then live it again. Sitting at my little laptop in rocking seas, writing, rewriting, getting Allan's input, then logging on to the Single Sideband Radio to send it off to Sailblogs (thanks to the HAM radio buffs of the world) or in some cases searching for land-based ways to post it via the Internet -- it all gave me a goal and a purpose. So thank you for being there and for giving me a reason to write.
Farewell but not goodbye (I may post a few more, who knows),
The former Captain and Admiral of s/v Fly Aweigh
03/15/2011, Opua, North Island, New Zealand
We are now in the final phase of our Trans-Pacific Odyssey, our Right-Instead-of-Left Adventure. We've pared down to the third and smallest version of our stuff -- which started with a reduction from house to boat, then from boat to camper, and now, from camper to guest quarters aboard s/v Paikea Mist.
Our last days in m/v Henny Quarters were good. We snared a fantastic slab of beachfront property in the Top 10 Holiday Resort (they don't even call that one a campground) in Papamoa, near Tauranga on the east coast, and from there we ventured off to the airport for further forays into the Kiwi aviation scene. Friday Allan finally got his ride in a 1940 Tiger Moth; Saturday we flew in a DC-3; Sunday we had an unofficial home stay on a 10-acre ranch; Monday it was back to Auckland, and now we're on the northeast coast in Opua.
Allan's Tiger Moth ride with Andrew, the museum's head dude and all-around great guy, went perfectly. It took a bit of effort to make the Tiger ride happen -- most people want a ride in the Boeing Stearman biplane, which they keep more readily available in the big hangar. The Tiger, on the other hand, is tucked back along the side and doesn't get out much. All the museum volunteers were out helping and observing as she was pulled from the hangar and fueled by hand from a high ladder, a precarious job that requires heaving the fuel jug overhead and carefully pouring fuel into a funnel, trying not to spill or drip into the open cockpit below. ("Andrew owes me a beer for this one" muttered John as he hauled the jug up the ladder.)
Allan was suited up in an olive-colored flight suit that the museum had procured from US military surplus, looking right at home in the very garb he wore for 21 years in the Air National Guard. I got a few photos of them taxiing out, dragging an ever-increasing blob of grass behind the tail skid (really old tail draggers had no tail wheel -- just a curved skid -- which is how they got their name.) Andrew gave Allan a great ride over the coastline and the local area on a spectacular day, meanwhile I drank tea and wandered through the museum's hangar. 40 minutes later they dragged back in, looking wind-blown and happy. The dream of flying a Canadian de Havilland Tiger Moth now realized, Allan hesitantly peeled the flight suit off and we went in search of a few friends we'd made the day before in nearby hangars.
Saturday was the DC-3 ride and, after having coffee with the lovely couple in the camp site next to us on the beach and sharing our shock over the Japan earthquake and tsunami (continuing our vigilance of prayers there) we packed up HQ and headed back to Tauranga airport. Another Andrew was at the helm for that flight, a terrific and very funny guy who we liked immediately. And Kiwis are so friendly, (although Andrew is an Ozzie) that within 10 minutes of meeting us he'd invited us to come spend the night with his family on their 10 acres south of Auckland. More on that later. The DC-3 ride was fun, a quick 20-minute low-flying zoom over the coastline, (we snapped an aerial photo of our neighbors in the camp ground and emailed it to them later.) After the flight we did a bit more visiting, said farewell (but not before being graciously gifted with patches and pins from our museum friends) and drove north to the Coromandel peninsula, a part of the North Island that we've been meaning to explore for the last 2 months and had left to the very end.
But to date it remains unexplored: we stopped short at the Miranda Hot Springs and spent the night at a great camp with a big, lovely natural hot pool. The Miranda Hot Springs is close enough to Auckland that it seems to be the final stop for many campers and motor homes before they are returned to the rental companies, so people are cleaning and off-loading extraneous stuff, including piles of gourmet food - jams, coffee, cookies, canned goods. It would be a good place to stock up on the front end -- just get there before 10 am and watch for the frazzled tourists walking to the communal kitchen with armloads of goodies to give away ...
We made a quick stop at the Miranda Bird Stopover, where migrating Godwits come to feed after their 11,000 mile journey from Alaska, and then it was on to, yes, another airport. Ardmore Airport south of Auckland has yet another cool collection of historic aircraft, and was the designated spot where we were to meet Andrew the DC-3 Captain so we could follow him to his home for the night. Andrew was a bit delayed, so we fell into conversation with a couple who invited us to climb aboard the big Catalina PBY, the huge seaplane that had just returned from a scenic flight. (We missed it by a few hours!) We sat happily in the old boat-plane and chatted with Dee, the world's first (and only?) female PBY Captain. Andrew arrived around 5:30 and we were off through the countryside, following him to his beautiful 10-acres of horse and cow and cat and kid ranch.
We parked HQ down by the barn and had a relaxing evening tossing balls with their 3-year old daughter Lexy and holding 4-month-old Charlie, petting their delightful cat and watching the furry cows -- Scottish Highland Longhairs (or something) grazing in the paddock. Caroline had made a fantastic lasagne, and I had brought some rather abysmal chocolate cookies which we redeemed with blobs of ice cream. Being guests on their little slice of paradise was a real treat, and we feel a bit more bonded with New Zealand having finally had a "home stay."
The next morning we laboriously cleaned out HQ, trying to organize things into those smaller versions of our stuff before we took the bus north to spend a few days with Michael and Gloria. But first, a stop in Auckland, where we returned our metal box-of-a-home for the last 6 weeks (not without a few tears) and had one last night on s/v Curious with Steve and Trish.
And now, once again, we're homeless. Through the kindness of friends we have a roof over our heads, and it's a perfect ending to our fabulous 18-month Odyssey: 5 days aboard beautiful Paikea Mist with our dear friends Michael and Gloria, sailing in the Bay of Islands. Michael is busily finishing off a few projects with Allan's help, and Gloria and I, having put away the last of the groceries, are tapping away on our tiny laptops. Outside, a mix of sun, puffy clouds, and a soft NW breeze are calling for one last sailing trip.
And then: home -- how odd that will be!
We have just posted 3 new photo galleries: More South Island, More More South Island, and Back to North Island. Happy trails!
03/08/2011, Tongariro and Lake Taupo
Yesterday, we achieved bragging rights ... we did The Tongariro Alpine Crossing: a 19.4 kilometer trek (12 miles), with a 2500 foot vertical climb, a 3700 feet descent to the finish, and reputed to be the best one-day walk in New Zealand. And although it's the only one-day walk we've done here in the land of world-class walks and treks and tramps and tracks and hikes, we do believe it was the best. I wouldn't exactly call it a "walk" however -- a trudge at times, a slog at others, and yes, thankfully, a walk for much. But it was a great achievement and we're glad Gloria and Michael encouraged us to do it. They did the crossing a few days earlier and gave us all the details on when, how, where. Gloria and Michael are both athletes and in great shape, whereas Allan and I are better at water sports and less athletic on land, so we were both a bit hesitant to make such a big commitment, fearing the resurgence of old and still-lurking injuries halfway through the long hike, but with a bit of push from them, and some good ol' peer pressure, not to mention a huge amount of curiosity, we (as I knew we would) inevitably signed up.
You see, it's not just that the crossing is the best one-day walk in New Zealand, or that it takes you past two active volcanoes, along 3 gorgeous aqua-colored thermal lakes, above numerous craters, and ultimately through lush jungle-forest. It's not just that it's a fantastic view of the stunning Red Crater, of giant Lake Taupo presiding below in the valley, and across a hundred miles of beautiful mountainous terrain all around. What really inspired us was Mount Doom. Mount Doom, officially known as Mt. Puukekaikiore, lurks menacingly to the right, towering over the first half of the track, smoking quietly, looking really austere and mean. For those of you who are not Lord of the Rings fans, The fires of Mt. Doom are the ultimate goal for Frodo the Hobbit, into which he is to throw the evil Ring of Power. And so, as LOTR fans, and since we're both reading the series while we're here, immersed in the lore and the lure, it seemed imperative that we make this trek, bond for a little while with Sam and Frodo as they make their agonizing march toward their presumed end.
Let's start with all the reasons this was an amazing and unusual event: first of all, we started the hike at 6:15am, while it was still dark. That meant, in order to have a proper hiker's breakfast (granola, fruit, coffee) that we were waking up to an alarm (!!) at 4:45am. Normally, you won't see much happening around our camper until 7am at the earliest, and of late, more like 8am. (We are still on vacation.) Second, we woke to sub-freezing air temps, ice crystals on the window, and a thin layer of ice crusting the rain puddle in the lawn. Being fair-weather folk, we had almost everything we own on our wimpy, tropical sailor-bodies, braced against the frosty air and worse, ready for chill of forecast high winds. I inherited a fear of the cold from my father, so I was so layered until I looked like the Pillsbury Dough boy, and still I was nervous it wasn't enough.
It's not a guided walk; there are numerous companies that will, for a price, drop you off at the start of the walk and pick you up on the other side in the afternoon. At G & M's suggestion, we stayed at the Discovery Lodge campground and took advantage of their transportation service and their knowledgeable advice. They boast that they're the closest to the start and make the earliest drop offs, giving their hikers time to themselves before the rush -- we learned that on a good-weather day, an average of 500, and as many as 1,000 people make the crossing! On the bus at 6am, the driver gave a briefing with the latest weather for the day and tips on how to be most comfortable and make the best of the hike. Yesterday they made a strong point of ensuring that everyone was dressed "in really warm clothes."
We intentionally paced ourselves rather slowly, Allan being especially sensitive to a few nagging injuries I've had in the last few years, so the rest of the bus-load of hikers took off, leaving us alone on the track which was fine with us. It was totally silent except the increasing howl of the wind, and we marveled at the beautiful sulfur and mud ice crystals crunching under our feet. Throughout the entire walk, which ultimately took 8 hours, we saw no animals, heard no birds, and for the first half of the walk, saw very little vegetation. The terrain was austere, yet it was gorgeous. Hints of the sun, as it rose nearer the ridge in front of us, created a gleaming corona of light around the rough volcanic rocks. Behind us in the valley, the morning light turned the fields an ethereal yellow-green with a sharp line of shadow cast by the mountains. Somewhere around 8am the helicopters started making their sightseeing trips overhead, following the winding path of the trail and seeming to mock us in our tenuous climb. One of the helicopters was transporting a small film crew to the flat area of the South Crater, where they are making an i Touch application that hikers can use for the crossing.
We reached the highest point in 3 hours, and as we came over the ridge, we saw the most magnificent and breath-taking sight: the Red Crater -- brilliant red, rust, gold, and brown lining steep, rutted walls. It made the entire climb to that point worthwhile. The ground steamed in white sulfur clouds, and felt warm to the touch, the heat of the Earth warming the mountain all the way to where we stood at 1886 meters (6,188 feet) above sea level.
From there it was a mostly easy walk down, starting with a fun walk-slide down the steep ridge from the crater in soft, warm dirt to the first of the three Emerald Lakes, each a slightly different yet unreal hue of blue-green, clear and striking in the rough landscape. The entire area is steeped in Maori tradition and of great importance in Maori culture, as described in this DOC brochure:
"Tongariro National Park is New Zealand's oldest national park
and a World Heritage area ... forming the nucleus of the Tongariro National
Park. The park's dual World Heritage status recognises its important
Maori cultural associations as well as its outstanding volcanic
features. The mountains are ... the matua (parent of the land) and the focus of their mana (pride). The spiritual and cultural values are part of the landscape."
It was a sobering privilege to walk beneath those still-active volcanoes, in the beautiful, Mars-like terrain, amongst the rich history and cultural importance of the area. The last stop along the well-maintained track is the Ketetahi Hut, where everyone rested, splayed out on the deck in the warm sun, peeling off layers of clothing and diving into peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, apples, granola bars, and always lots and lots of water. We rested there for about 30 minutes then set off on the last march of the day, having successfully tossed the ring into the fires of Mt. Doom, given each other the high five, rested up, and were now ready for the final trek back to Hobbiton. Oh, wait, that wasn't us. No, we were the ones who suffered mightily through that last 6 km, the flattest and certainly easiest part of the whole day, through cool green moss-laden trees alongside a beautiful little stream. For us it was 2 hours of shoes are too tight - back hurts - gotta pee -- shoulders ache from the pack -- when will it end, when will it end?? And finally it did end, at a busy parking lot crammed with cars and buses, the lawn littered with dusty, tired but satisfied hikers waiting for their particular form of pickup back to the start of their trek.
We ached, but we felt fantastic. We were glad none of those old injuries and sprains came up to haunt us, glad we didn't twist any ankles or sprain any wrists, but we wanted a hot tub. Badly. As luck would have it, the lake Taupo area is steeped, quite literally, in thermal pools. So we snagged a campsite here in the Taupo DeBretts Spa Resort (and campground) with the Taupo Thermal Park right next door. 3 natural mineral pools, which are drained and refilled from the ground each day, welcome the achy hiker with a cool, a warm, and a hot pool -- huge, clean, and in a delightful tropical setting. They even have a giant slide. Since I didn't get my giant slide ride in Waingaro, way back at the beginning of our Kiwi adventures due to the flooding of the water park, we decided to take another day and hang out today. More therapeutic soaking, a chance to blurb and download photos, do laundry, take a jaunt around town, stock up on groceries for the last 6 days of our camping adventure, and take a winding, twisting ride down the giant slide!