Saddles and views
11 March 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.