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Roaring Girl
The adventures of the yacht Roaring Girl wandering the seas.
Saddles and views
11/03/2008

There are four great saddles on this Highway. From just below the Tahore saddle there is a splendid view of Mount Taranaki, sitting 70km away in isolation on his peninsula jutting from the west coast. The story has it that originally Taranaki lived in the middle of the north island, with Ruapahu and the others. The only female volcano was the lovely, bush-clad Pihunga, with whom both Taranaki and Tongariro fell in love. They fought with much lava and fire, and Taranaki lost. He stormed off to the sea, reaching this point before light came and he stopped. Patuha threw out a spur (the range named after her on the south side of the volcano) and here he has stayed ever since.
Current folk-lore has it that if you can't see the mountain it's raining, and if you can see it, it's going to rain. Because the area is surrounded on three sides by water (the Tasman Sea), with this high mountain in the middle, the weather changes rapidly and is very hard to predict. It does rain a lot, and the big volcanic ring plain is a very rich soil. Maori iwi here were famous for their gardens, and it's now a major farming area.
We spent a night at Kaieto's café (well worth a visit) and then pootled on to Stratford, where we free-parked very comfortably under some trees outside the park. Stratford (named after Shakespeare's birthplace, with all its streets called after characters from the plays) is a sweet town. It has NZ's only publicly accessible glockenspiel, with characters who appear every hour to recite scenes from Romeo & Juliet. Sadly, we left the camera in the van so you'll have to imagine that bit.

Places and people
Falls and poles
10/03/2008

Along the Highway, off to the north, is the Maraekowhai reserve, a small stretch of bush running alongside the Ohura river. These falls, with the pitting and wonderful erosion characteristic of this soft mudstone, are hidden in the woods.
We had gone looking for the Maori Niu poles, which turn out only be accessible by water from the Whanganui river. We glimpsed one through the trees but didn't get a photo. The first of these poles, Rongo Nui, was erected when the land wars started, as this area was a stronghold for Hau Hau warriors, and the pole sought to summon war spririts. After the wars ended, the other pole, called Rere Kore was erected to placate them and call peaceful spirits to the area.

Places and people
Forgotten World Highway
Sarah & Pip
10/03/2008

SH43 runs from Taumarunui to Stratford, through the razorback hills of East Taranaki. The tourist people have given it this name, which is not really accurate. Even their leaflet says this is a journey of remembrance. It's a pretty empty area, however, and as soon as you turn off the main road there are very few other people about.
This view is taken from on a side road off the highway. It shows the sharp edges of the upthrust land, created by seabed reaching for the sky about one million years ago. Geologically, this is a very young place, with water still cutting serrated edges in the soft rock.
For the European settlers, this was a very hard place. It was cut off, and the Maori were hostile after the bitter wars of the 1860's. Clearing these slopes of bush and then getting the logs out was hard work. And the bush regenerated quickly, often faster than the sheep or the settlers could get rid of it. The Depression was a major disaster here, driving many settlers off the land altogether.
Now the hills are run with sheep, but you can see the endless battle against erosion, and the impact of an extreme climate (from very hot and very dry, to winter frosts and heavy rain).
There's a lot to see and do along the Highway; we barely scratched the surface. A few days meandering through the area would be rewarding, maybe followed by a week or so on the trip we then made up the back roads north.

Places and people
Vegetation
09/03/2008

Descending down the winding path, the vegetation gradually returns. First lichen, thin smears of a bright ice-green and startling yellow become thick purple velvet that is soft under the fingers. Some of the first upright plants are these pretty white flowers, nestling under rocks or inside the alpine tussock grass. Gradually bog pines and (invasive) heathers emerge, getting bigger as you walk, reaching to your ankles by the time you reach the hut placed about a third of the way down. (This is particularly welcome as the first toilet since Soda Springs. For the last half-hour my bladder occupied more attention than the surroundings.)
From the hut, the path is cut into the bog, and slowly the plants grow until suddenly you realise that they are at head height and you no longer can see the view, nor indeed how far you have to go. Trees appear, and then, from a little rest point, you plunge into the bush, classic temperate rain forest growing lush on the fertile volcanic soil.
This is the last stretch but it is still at least an hour, and for those of us with very sore feet, nearly two. I was glad to find Pip and Puff waiting for me in the car park. Pip gave me a wonderful foot massage!
We drove off to Taumarunui, where there's a nice holiday park with (bliss) hot showers. By the time we got halfway there it was pouring with rain and I was extremely glad to be off the hill.

Places and people
Tongariro twitching?
09/03/2008

The descent takes you close to Ketetahi thermal springs, which, as you can see are pretty busy. I talked to a (mature student) vulcanologist on a study trip as we walked down and he confirmed that these springs have become much more active in the last year. They may be an indicator that Tongariro is becoming more active again. No access is allowed even to scientists so no detailed monitoring is possible.

Places and people
Vistas
09/03/2008

From the Blue Lake, after the last crater, it is nearly all downhill. This shows Lake Rotoiti, from the top of the long slope down the northern edge of the volcano. On a clear day, you really must be able to see for ever!

Places and people
Mordor
09/03/2008

It is well known that Peter Jackson used parts of Tongariro for the barren environment that Frodo and Sam cross on their way to Mount Doom (modelled by Ngaurahoe, I believe). This crater, one of the smaller ones, shows just how bleak and empty this landscape becomes.

Places and people
Emerald Lakes
09/03/2008

Below the red crater sit the three Emerald Lakes, which are this beautiful colour. As you can see, there are fumaroles on the far side, pushing smoke and sulphur out. Between the wind on the ash and this smoke, it was quite hard on the throat and eyes at times.

Places and people
Ash slide
09/03/2008

The far side of the crater then descends steeply, and the slope is covered in thick ash, along with small fragments of volcanic rock. The easiest way to walk down is to dig your heels in deep at each step; it took me half the slope to get a grip on this technique.
This photo, from the bottom looking up, doesn't really show how steep it is. If you slip (which I did), you just slide a way on your bottom. So long as you stay on the ridge, it's not too bad actually; the ash is lovely and warm after the cold climb. But it creates a small rockslide for the people below which isn't so good.
And there are lots of people! There must have been over 1000 people on the crossing that day, and that's far from unusual. Tourists are bussed in and chucked out into this harsh terrain, and collected the other end. One lass I talked to (a young Swede) didn't even realise she was walking on an active volcano. I was probably one of the slowest walkers that day (a combination of unfitness and a perennial desire to look around, stroke bits of lichen, contemplate the rocks, take pictures and so on.) But I was properly equipped; I saw people in that icy cloud in glittery plimsolls and beach shorts. Not happy people, I have to say.
This track costs a fortune to maintain. Theoretically the bus companies give part of their fee (typically $30) to DOC for this cost, but nothing requires them to do so, or charges the individual tramper. We both think that NZ needs to think of a way of charging tourists, particularly rich world visitors, for their use and abuse of the country's environment.

Places and people
Red crater
09/03/2008

This is obviously named after the stunning colours of the rock from the minerals coughed up through the huge chimney vent.
The lip of the crater gets very narrow as it climbs a few more meters, to 1886m, the highest point of the crossing. This was probably the most alarming part of the whole walk, because it was very windy at this point. I crouched and waddled the 100m or so in an ungainly way, which felt more stable than a striding walk!

Places and people
Ngaurohoe veiled
09/03/2008

At the top, I ate a sandwich and waited a while. Even so, this was the best I saw of Ngaurohoe, and I never saw Tongariro peak at all! Through the clouds I could see glimpses of the plains below spreading east.
From here there's a flattish plain which narrows as it passes the next crater.

Places and people
Sarah's volcano climb
Sarah
09/03/2008

Sarah decided to tackle the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. This is billed as the best one-day hike in NZ, an 18.5km (about 11 mile) walk up one side of Tongariro and down the other. It's said to be challenging, and this day it really was. Starting at 0630, the bus dropped me (and a few others from the campsite, who rapidly left me behind) off at the road end below Ngaurapoe. This is perhaps 1100m high. The first 100 minutes are pretty easy: a gentle climb through low bush developing into alpine bog. Much of the bog has a boardwalk across it, protecting the fragile plants. It was cloudy as we started, cleared for a short while, and then the clouds rolled back up the valley with a vengeance. Ruapehu shrugged off his duvet, rolled one eye at the sun and then pulled it back over his head. I didn't see him again all day.
From Soda Springs the climb begins. A long haul called variously the Devil's or the Giant's Staircase clambers up the first saddle. It is technically a walk, but there's a lot of scrambling involved. For me, it was very, very slow! But I got there in the end.
At the top of the staircase, there's a side track to the top of Ngaurahoe; it was very foggy at this point, and I felt I was getting exercise enough. So I set off across the South Crater. This stretch is as flat as a pancake and as devoid of life as any desert; by now I was high above the treeline, and only lichens were present. Mind you, it was so foggy there could have been forests out there and I wouldn't have known.
On the far side, begins the last bit of climb. This goes up bare rocks, made slippery by the clouds. Gradually the path narrows and narrows; as the cloud got thinner, I could catch glimpses of precipitous drops to both sides. Some parts of the path are slender walkways along the edges of the rocks. There are no ropes to hang on to, and it's not a place for people with vertigo. The wind was icy, cutting through layers of clothing; it seemed most unfair to be smothered with cloud but knifed by wind.
At the top is the signpost for the summit peak of Tongariro, and the pic is proof I made it!

Places and people

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