Road Trip to Tongariro National Park

now back at Tauranga Bridge Marina, North Island

37° 40' 12" S, 176° 10' 42" E

Spending the South Pacific cyclone season in New Zealand

Namani's berth here in Tauranga makes for an ideal starting point for visiting the North Island's central plateau - specifically Tongariro National Park which includes three active volcanoes in a breathtakingly beautiful landscape. Not to mention that quite a few "Lord of the Rings" scenes were filmed around there...

Hence we rented a car and drove off on Saturday morning. We made a few stops along the way (Rotorua, Taupo and - not to forget - Te Puke, "Kiwifruit Capital of the World", where Nana had worked as a farm hand during the 1980s) and arrived in Whakapapa Village inside Tongariro National Park in the late afternoon. We had beautiful views of all three volcanic peaks (Mt Tongariro, Mt Ngauruhoe, and Mt Ruapehu) along the way. As an added bonus we were able to meet our friends from the boat Victoria who were spending a few days in the park on their southbound camping trip (plus Sue, John, Katie and William who also have their boat "Alouette" currently in Tauranga and had also picked this weekend for a trip inland).

We had originally planned to hike the first half of the "Tongariro Alpine Crossing" track on Sunday. However, we learned for the Victorias that the access road was closed to private cars and the only way in (other than walking to the starting point and thereby doubling the distance of the hike) was to take a shuttle bus for NZ$ 35 per person. While the shuttle bus seems like a great idea in general, the price tag looked a bit prohibitive to us and we decided to walk up to the Tama Lakes instead (the picture above was taken at the lower lake). At 18km round-trip about the same distance as the Alpine Crossing and the views were reported to be just as nice.

Tongariro Road Trip

We set off on Sunday morning and the views would indeed have been identical as we were walking in thick fog that hung over the entire plateau. A nice hike nevertheless, during which the surroundings quickly changed from dense woods to barren rock and with a few nice encounters along the way. With New Zealanders, the introductory small talk typically takes a refreshingly different tack than we were used to from other places. When we mention during the conversation that we sailed here from Europe on a small boat, the typical reaction from the Kiwis here is: "Oh, wonderful. We did a circumnavigation ourselves XX years ago". It seems that to retain their citizenship beyond the age of 50, New Zealanders must have crossed at least one major ocean under sail. What a country!

We were lucky and the fog lifted a bit when we got to the lakes but we were not able to see the volcanic peaks. We read up a bit on them in the Visitors' Centre on our way out today. Some of the exhibits there illustrate very vividly how dynamic the "solid ground" beneath our feet can be and how drift of tectonic plates continues to reshape the surface of our planet. It made us think again that in the temperate latitudes of Central Europe you grow up with a very deceptive world view of "static stability" whereas the majority of the world's population (not only the 4m Kiwis...) lives in places where instability and dynamic change of our environment is much more readily apparent. The poster below hung in the ski-lodge we stayed in. Imagine a sign about evacuation routes in case of an volcanic eruption in a skiing-area in the Alps...

Volcanic Hazards

In any case - we're back in Tauranga on Namani now, ready to tackle the remainder of our "boat to-do list"...

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