Overnight, I was vaguely recall rain pummeling on the windshield of Eric’s car. When I awake this morning from a fitful sleep that is typical for someone sleeping in the passenger seat of a Toyota Yaris (and a two door at that) the ground was dmap, but the clouds moving off further down Icicle Canyon. It would take an hour or so for the rocks to dry out so Eric and I took out time having breakfast in the climbing car-park before venturing out on the day’s adventures.

We thought of going to the Sword, but it is in full shade. The day was a bit chilly,a although the sun was breaking through, so we decided to boulder at Mad Meadows. We’ve passed the area several times on our way to the Playground Point sport climbs and knew the area was pretty much always in full sun.

Outdoor bouldering is a real treat for us, but difficult to transfer to since we spend hours on plastic every week. On real rock there are no color coded hands and footholds! Hence, our grade level tends to sink quite a bit. We began on a V0 called “Alpine Feel”… it falls just short of what i would consider being a high ball problem. It’s a great warmup and the shorter you are (like me) the more technical it becomes. Walk off finish.

Next we went to Hueco Route, located in a overhung “room” behind Alpine Feel. There is an awesome overhung route here with swiss cheese huecos called “Hueco Route” V0. This is one of those pumpy and technical V0’s full of heel and toe hooks. Eric solved it,  and it has become my project. You do not top out on this route. Instead drop down from the final holds.

We moved on to the next room to climb “Barnacles” V1. Steming off the route behind you is considered bad form… but is a welcome relief considering the massive mantle finish. Eric had success here climbing up the right and left of the wall which can almost be considered two separate routes. Walk off finish.

A little ways up the trail are two side by side problems “Wooly Mammoth” V0  (left) and “The Dish” V1 (right). Ironically, the V0 looks harder than it is and the latter looked easier than it is. Walk off finish.

Eric and I joined up with some other boulders for some harder routes. Eric  tried his hand at overhang called “Flounder” V2 that was about 5 degrees short of being a roof just around the corner from Alpine Feel. After a few tries he sent it. Some of the guys suggested he do a gym-like route a couple yards away in an overhang called “Drugstore Cowboy” V3. With a two grown men as spotters, 3 crash pads and shouts of encouragement Eric flashed the problem. He still wants to go back and do it again more gracefully though! Walk off finish.

We didn’t want to leave Leavenworth too much past noon. We know from everence that a wicked about of traffic tends to build on the other side of Stevens Pass if you leave much later. We decided to hit up The Fridge boulder on our way out of the canyon. The Fridge is a massive lone boulder. We had time to both send “The Fridge Slab” V0, a nice friction slab that reminds you that you can stand on very little! There is no walk off on an other these problems. Instead you have to down climb “Cool Down” a V0 problem beside the tree growing out of the boulder.

It was 12:30pm by then… time to go. It’s a good thing we did too, the beginnings of a traffic jam were beginning to materialize in Sultan on the drive home. Oh, and folks were still skiing on Stevens Pass!

Since we’d been away in New Zealand for most of April Eric and I hadn’t been able to go cragging.  Eager to get out on real rock after a winter fo plastic we headed out to Leavenworth. We chose to climb “Aquarius” a 3 pitch 5.7 multi-pitch on February Buttress. The crag itself was easy to locate. It is the second to late climbing area in Tumwater Canyon just before reaching the town of Leavenworth. We parked on the shoulder and easily found the climbers trail that steeply leads up to the foot of the crag. Our book Leavenworth Rock describes  three routes on this wall. Groundhog Day and Ain’t Misbehavin’ are right beside one another… Aquarius was supposed to be several feet to the right.

We found what we thought was the other two routes and walked right until we reached watch we thought matched the the drawing of Aquarius  in the book. Eric and I brought a full set of nuts, DMM cams 0-5; a second DMM 3 cam; pink & red tricam; wildcountry hex 9, 6 &5, 2 double runners and 11 alpine draws… a lot of gear, but it wasn’t an alpine route.

I led the first pitch which was supposed to have bolts on it… i never came across any. This was the first hint that we were not on Aquarius. The rock took my small and medium sized nuts well. In fact that is all it took! The gear was pretty run out, but climbing was not scary… definitely 5.7 though. Lots of mantles and positive holds. Good friction. I came across a set of chain anchors just below a small rope and clipped in. The views of the Tumwater Canyon were speculator. I belayed Eric off the anchor and vowed that next time i would use a redirect. Out 10.2 mm rope put way too much friction in the system.

Eric led Pitch 2 over the roof above us, a slab and then over a second, more cruxy roof to another set of chains. Again we were missing the bolts. However, we kept hitting chains which meant we were on some route… However, the description of the only other reported multi-pitch, Groundhog Day, did not match our experience either. Again the route took nuts and a #0 and #3 cam. However, the route was again run out and the cam placements less than ideal.

Finally, I led up the final pitch… lots of fun with good holds, mantles and slabs. This pitch ate took no nuts, only my #0-3 cams! Instead of topping out though, i reached another set of chain well below what was the summit. I belayed Eric up again.

The next pitch was more of a 5.0 climb with a few higher rated moves. Eric lead up until he got to some rappel webbing just short of the top before belaying me up. We then scrambled to the summit which had another higher point behind it… and another behind that. We scrambled on easy rock and through arrowleaf balsmroot until me reached the highest point.

The route required us to rap down as there is no easy walk off. Eric and I decided to see if we could find some of the other crags along the ridge though instead. Traversing across was no easy task and in the end up ended up descending over very steep ground back to the road.

So if anyone knows what route be climbed, let me know!

We awoke to our final day in New Zealand to a half blue and half grey sky. It seemed as though it was raining in the mountains, but as the patches of clouds moved toward the coast they instantly broke up. We went to the office to check out two kayaks. We were provided with life-vests and a little cart to transport our kayaks to the beach across the road. We were told to just leave our cart in the grass beside the beach. No one steals here I think. When we were shown to our room yesterday the glass doors were wide open fully revealing the flat screen TV and blue-ray player. We pulled the cart to the beach and examined the situation. Eric and I had never launched kayaks on a beach with sizable waves or waves of any size for that matter. Shrugging we pulled our boats into the water and waited for a lull.

There was never a true lull, but the waves did seem to shrink at one point. We ran as fast as we could yanking out kayaks behind us. Just before a small wave came we leaped inside and paddled hard. The kayaks broke cleanly through the surf. I wondered why I had bothered wearing clothes over my bathing suit. I was denched and the akyak was the type with drainage hole cut in it anyway. We paddled along the shoreline and discovered the kayak could be used a a boogie board. we rode the waves a bit, never getting on the crest though. Well, at least at first.

Eric eventually caught a wave right at the white foaming tip. The waves broke around him carrying him and his kayak to shore… only separately! Apparently it was great fun. I watched his laughing hysterically as we attempted to retrieve his kayak that seemed to be purposefully evading him. As I watched I failed to realize that the waves were pulling me slowing into the breaking zone… I did notice though when a wave caught me on its crest and dumped me out of my kayak dragging me and my boat to shore as well. IT WAS FUN!

We caught our kayaks and broke back through the waves into the ocean. We rode the waves more before our two hour time limit was up. We carefully caught waves to take up to shore managing to stay up right the entire time…. well almost. At the very end of the surf line on the beach we both suddenly, and for no logical reason it seemed, toppled over!

We returned the kayaks and went back to the beach with boogie boards. The boards were the low quality foam kind with no slick board and no wrist attachment. It was hard to enter the water this way since we couldn’t dive under the waves detached from our boards. I caught a few great rides though. I hadn’t forgotten the technique after having been away from the sport for five years. Eric is a surfer and didn’t quite understand how to time waves on a boogie board. He still caught some though. The clouds were filling in the blue sky making it rather cold on the beach so we didn’t stay long. After returning the boogie boards we headed over to town.

Whitianga is your typical beach town. It was smaller than Mt. Maunganuiand was more of a locals vacation spot. Heaps of folks were there for the Easter holiday. We went to a small cafe off the main strip called Coghill House known for there cinnamon scrolls (we call this cinnamon rolls in the States). We ordered  veggie and Cajun chicken paninis though which were quite tasty. We still had $12 left to spend. Not wanting any more stuff to bring home we ended up buying a small mud cake at New World Supermarket. After polishing that off we visited Tip Top Dairy which is New Zealand’s scoop chain and reasonably priced. I got a double scoop of apricot ice cream for $3.70 and Eric got a (boring) vanilla shake for $3.80. Close enough getting rid of our final change.

We wanted over to the Marina and walked the docks. Then we walked across the jetty which was filled with black oyster catchers who did preferred to run all the way down the jetty until they were forced the fly away at the tip. Just as we were leaving the clouds finally won over the sun and it began to lightly rain.

The drive back to Auckland was uneventful. Our flight took off bound for Vancouver, BC at 8:00pm on a Boeing 777.. tomorrow when I arrive back in WA at 5.25pm it will still be April 20th!

Today our plans were back on schedule. Eric and I left the big city of Tauranga and drove 90 miles to the famous Coromandel Penisular. The area id know for gorgeous beaches, sea life, sea stacks, rip tides and  the Pinnacles Mountains. Of course we drove through giant fields of sheep and cows on our jounrey there.

Our first stop was Hahei, a tiny beach town several miles of The Pacific Coast Highway. We were going to hike Cathedral Cove. Sign clearly mark the way to the parking area which only had several cars in it this early in the morning (8:45am). The sky was brilliant blue and the sun alright beat down powerful UV. We rubbed on sun lotion…. well Eric pretty much painted on a thick layer. The car park is on top of a hill affording wonderful view of the sea speckled with little islands and sea stacks. We followed the trail on the left leading to Gemstone beach, stingray bay and finally Cathedral Cove.The trail is well maintained and well signed to indicate the turn offs to different beaches. It does gain elevation but it is pretty much negligible to wilderness folks. It only took us about 25 minutes to arrive at the cove despite the signs’ claim of 45 minutes.

Cathedral Cove is so named because of the cathedral-like arch formation carved into the rock or so it is said. In reality a giant tunnel was erodes into a massive rock roll protruding into the ocean. Not many folks were at the beach and we had the tunnel to ourselves. We walked though… at low tides we would have been able to cross over onto the next beach, but pounding surd blocked the exit on the other side of the tunnel. There are a fair amount of signs warning that rockfall in common in the tunnel.

The waves were not as large as the previous day, but the ocean still beckoned. We leaped into the waters playing in the surf. There are large rocks and sea stacks on this small beach and we stayed a safe distance away. As we swam more folks began to arrive… and they kept coming until the tunnel was filled with tourists and the beach covered in beach towels. Come early!Eric and I decided to go back into the tunnel and swim across to the other beach. This had to be carefully timed to avoid the waves bashing you into the rock wall. We made it safely along with some other folks spilling into the neighboring beach. After swimming back and watching folks in a gorgeous setting with their eyes locked to their smartphones, Eric and I decided to check out the other beaches.

Stingray Bay, to my knowledge, has no string rays. There was no one at this small, bouldery beach. Eric and swam here for some time as well. Signs indicated rock fall dangers decorated this beach as well. Gemstone Beach is a snorkeling beach, protected from the wind and has hardly any waves. We did not swim here, but did read the signs about the snorkel trail wishing we had the right gear.The parking lot was overflowing with illegally parked cars when we returned. COME EARLY!

Eric really wanted to go to Hot Water Beach. There is a hot rock beneath the sand which heats the water above it to high tempurtures. At low tides folks gather here with shovels and dig little hot tubes in the saturated sand near the surf. Somehow I had a feeling that this famous beach would be a tourist trap. I was right.

The parking lot wasn’t full, but it was 2 hours before low tide. Signs pointed to Hot Water Beach two blocks away. The area was commercialized with cafes and shops that rented shovels. Warning signs indicated that rip tides were dangerous on this beach and lifeguards that didn’t look at day older than 13 wandered the sand. To access the hot area we crossed a freshwater drainage with fast flowing water in the sand and headed left to a rocky bluff. About a hundred people had already amassed in the area with shovels digging away. There were all condensed in a single area. It reminded me a the NYC subway. Eric and I dug with our hands on the outskirts. The water table was low near the surf… but all the water that gathered in our holes was pretty cold… and the waves here are known to by high so every few minutes a large swell would wash over the entire area sending folks scrambling to repair their pools. Eric and I gave up and took a walk to neighboring Surf Beach. When we returned it was low tide and the crowd had tripled in size. We noticed that some pool near the edge of the crowd were steaming. We dug near there. The water that gathered in our holes was so hot it burned out feet. Satisfied that we’d experienced the hot water at Hot Water Beach we headed out…. the more entertaining part of my visit there was when I watched a guy carry his girlfriend across the drainage on our way to the car because she was still scared to cross 6 inches of flowing water.

Eric and I drove to of final hostel: YHA Whitianga (pronounced “Fit-e-ang-a”). Washington state has some weird native names, but Mauri pronunciation is even weirder. The beachy blue hostel is right across the road from buffalo beach and features free kayak and boogy board rentals. The private rooms are not stand alone, but in a suite style set up. Two private rooms were off of a fulling appointed living room and kitchen (TV, couches, microwave, dishes… everything). Our suitemates were two surfers from Auckland… we stayed up late chatting with them about our respective countries with non-stop laughter. For the guys there was also non-stop beer (then whiskey).

 

 

 

Guess what? This morning it was raining again and also, thunder clapped loudly over Tauranga. Luckily the thunder died down after breakfast. Eric and I contemplated what to do and decided we’d climb Mount Maunganui (or Mauao as it is also called) in the town of Mount Maunganui. It is an extinct volcano on the tip of the peninsular just across the bridge from Tauranga. If the rain continued we’d go to the climbing gym The Rock House. In full rain gear we headed out the door.

The weather was off. Half the sky was a grey cloud and the other half sun over the harbor when we arrived at the base of the mountain. Eric and I walked the 3.4km circuit around the base of Mauao wondering where the trail up was. Of course we found it just as the circut ended… from the park entrance head around the right side of the circuit for faster access. There trail leads through sheep pasture (yes there are sheep in this park) to a junction where you can choose to climb the lightly graded Oruahine Track or the steeper Waikorire track. We opted for Oruahine… which happened to led us right past some bolted climbing routes! The rock looked solid and the routes awesome… but it was raining yet again.

Note that many folks climb the mountain including some trail runners. This not a trail for solitude. The summit is broad and includes some benches amount with another survey marker. It was too cloudy for views. We headed down the Waikorire track which we thought was better graded even though it is steeper.

Surprisingly, but the time we got to the trail-head and rain was little more than a drizzle. The beach was  filled with surfers along a small peninsular. Eric and I decided to stay outside for the day as long as there was no thunder. We drove back to the hostel, grabbed our bathing-suits, and then headed back to Mount Manunganui. The sun was coming out along with a lovely blue sky. It seemed that every other piece of land in the distance was under a grey raincloud though. The water was pretty warm for the ocean and the swells large! Body surfing was amazing and we played in the waves for over an hour. Then we walked out to the little peninsular which had a small trail to it’s tip. Waves crashed violently over the rocks sending own towers of spray!

After another swim, Eric and I wander around the town. It is a typical beach town. Lots of cafes (most with a 15% surcharge since it was Good Friday) and beach shops. We stopped in Sunny’s Variety store and bought some Hokey Pokey chocolate for $2. We then decided to climb back up the mountain using the Waikorire track this time. We had good views when we summited before heading back to the hostel.

 

When we woke up rain was pouring from the sky once again. I checked the forecast for the following day. We were scheduled to go on a Swimming With Wild Dolphins tour in Tauranga the following day. I wondered if that would still occur in the rain. The forecast revealed not only rain, but also thunder was predicted. Eric went to the office to call the company to see what was going on. As we feared, the dolphin company was canceling the boat (they had emailed Eric, but he hasn’t checked his mail since America). Disheartened we attempted to make plans for some white water rafting south of Tauranga and away from the thunder, but as it turned out all the class 4-5 rapids trips weren’t going out because the rivers were low.

We puttered about and eventually concluded that we’d climb Tauhara Mountain on the edge of Taupo since the rain had receded. The Trail head is at the end of Mountain Rd. A sign indicates that this is Moari Land and to stay on the track. The Track itself begins as a wind dirt road though fenced farmland with…. more sheep. We walked along wondering if you were going the right way. The road kind of ended, but there was what seemed to be a path leading through an open gate and through and empty cow pasture. We trekked up the rolling hills toward the mountain. Views of the Lake abounded as we climber higher. Then the trail narrowed and we headed into the forest.

We were definitely on the trail, but it is not cared for like the National Park Track. It is washed out in some areas, steep at times and very narrow. Sometimes there is a fork in the road, but the two direction will always rejoin. Take the path of least resistance. Rain began to fall again and the wind suddenly picked up amazing speed. Trees creaked and bent in the wind as we traversed across the side of the mountain and finally summited. Clouds had rolled in by then, so the views were absent as the winds slashed at us. There is a geological survey marker on top which helps measures plate tectonic movement. We stayed a bit before heading back down. My GPS battery rain out after we summited but the total track was about 5 miles with a 1800ft ascent.

We drove north to Rotorua. Rain bashed our window and the wind took on cyclone strength. We passed Rotorua stopping once at the Visitor center hoping to get ideas for the next few days. No luck. We were definitely happy that we did not have a stay at Rotorua on our itinerary. It is a large town and even larger tourist trap. It is famous for the zorbe and Maori concerts ($165+). We decided to stop at Mamaku Blue Blueberry Farm to taste some wine and berry products. The signs made the shop sound impressive, but it was very sparse. The wine, though made with berries, was not sweet which was a pleasant surprise.

back on Route 36 we drove through farmland as usual until we were stopped by a pickup truck in the middle of the road. The officical informed up that the road was closed because of a slide in the gorge. We would have to turn around and go back to Rotorua, go all the way around the lake and head up Route 33 instead. He urged us to hurry. Apparently they were unprepared for so my rain and wind. Slides and floods were everywhere and many roads were already blocked.

We retraced our steps and finally made it to the coast We followed the Pacific Coast Highway to Tauranga which, to my disappointment, is a rather large city. Our room at YHA Tauranga is huge and spacious… almost like a hotel room. All the other private rooms had almost no floor space. I drove to the supermarket about a mile or two away and picked up some hokey pokey again.Hopefully there will be something to do tomorrow in all this rain.

The rain this morning was worse then yesterday, but leaped out of bed and swiftly left the hostel as soon as we finished breakfast. the rian left up a bit as we drove to  Whakapapa Village. We parked at the VC and walk a little ways up Bruce Road t the Silica Rapids Trailhead. It trail was what we expected from a short day hike. It went through the forest and then through tussock grass meadows as the rain randomly turned on and off. After following the river we came to Silica Rapids. Silica deposits on the rocks here made them turn a cream color. Pretty cool to see… but I really would rather be climbing. The track continued on and let out further down on Bruce Road. We followed the road about 1.5 miles back to the car-park. The total distance was 4.2 miles.

Our next track, Taranaki Falls,  led through tussock grasses and intermittently into trees along a river. The trail passes a “teaser” waterfall, before coming to the massive Taranaki Falls. Beaiful and much more interesting that the Silica Rapids. The Track also features some lovely canyons. It is a loop track of 3.7 miles.

Eric and I then got into our car and drove on SH 47 to the Rotopounamu Lake Trailhead located about 30 minutes away from the village. By now it was rainy steadily so we practically rain up the steep rainforest trail taking only 12 minutes to reach the lake. You can circuit around it, but due to the weather we only walked until we could access the beach area before turning back. It took us about 30 minutes total. A good, short, conditioner.

Eric continued our drive to Lake Taupo, the largest lake below the equator. The mist was clearing and as we drove along the edge of the lake it’s vastness became clear as well as the mountains that surrounded it.

We decided to head over to Wairakei Park in the town of Taupo. The “tourist park” as they call it, is know for its thermal area of hot springs and geysers. However, having since area charged a $35+ to enter we opted out.  I’d worked in Yellowstone and seen these formation before anyway. Instead we went to Huka Honey Hive, a shop specializing in honey from all over NZ and Mead (wine made with honey). They offered a tasting table of about 15 of their honeys (self serve). A staff member also poured samples of their mead and honey liqueurs. We sampled several varieties of alcohol and would suggest the Red Mead and Clover Cream Liqueur. They also have a cafe with honey ice cream and several coffees. Eric ordered “The buzzer”, a traditional flat white served over manuka honey chocolate.Our next stop was the famous Huka Falls just a little further down the road. It was a short walk to overlook were the lovely blue falls roared. A jet boat passed by as we watched. These boats are famous in NZ, but over priced at $95 for an hour tour.

Eric and I made our way into the large town of Taupo to our hostel: THA Taupo. This was the cleanest hostel I have ever been in. It had large decks and views of the lake. It is in the “dry” area of town, but bars and breweries are a short walk away. At night the skies cleared and Eric and I took a walk over to Crafty Trout Brewing Co. Eric purchased a sampler of 4 beers for $15 and we sat on the porch outside. Eric wasn’t too crazy about any of the beers, but he’s into dark brews and IPAs. I can’t comment as I prefer wine. We walked around the lake for about an hour before turning in.

 

Tongariro Alpine Crossing is rated as the top Day Hike in NZ. It is 19.4km. It ascends 765m and descends 1126m crossing through the heart of Tongariro National Park and its active volcanoes. In fact Mt. Tongariro erupted August 2012 after century of silence.  The scenery as supposed to be amazing… but it didn’t seem promising when we awoke. Rain was pouring outside as we cooked breakfast. It petered to a lighter shower as we drove down SH 47 at 5:15am. We were using a shuttle service run by Discovery Lodge  ($35pp round trip) since the crossing is a car to car hike. The hostel offered a shuttle ($30pp round trip), but it left at 7:00am with two buses bringing up to 70 people to the trail head. Eric and I went with Discovery because they leave at 6am getting the 22 seat busload to the Mangatepopo starting point at by 6:30 or earlier. They do not have one set pick up time at the other end of the trail, but make pickups at the trail head every hour beginning at noon and ending at 5:30pm.

We passed Discovery Lodge turn off  several times even with my GPS and turned down SH 48 at one point confused. Eric went into the Chateau Tongaririo Hotel where a gentleman explained that the turnoff for Discovery was very dark, but right after the airfield we’d passed. We sped back and found the turn off… indeed it was dark and we would have never seen it without the beta.

The bus was just beginning to board as we pulled up. Breathing a sign of relief we grabbed our gear and headed over. The driver inquired about our gear. Tongariro is not a simple day walk… it is a major undertaking. The walk was changed from Tongariro Crossing to Tongaririo ALPINE Crossing to make the track seem more extreme since so many folks were dying on it. This most shuttle services do there best to ensure that their clients are prepared for the elements. There were only six of us on the bus. The driver told us that the shuttle had not gone out in 4 days because of the weather conditions. He thought that there was a 10% chance we would see anything at all. He predicted that most of the hike would be in heavy mist and rain. Two folks decided to come back another day and left the bus. We and a German couple remained determined to do the walk after traveling across the world to be here. So off we went.

We arrived at Mangatepopo Car-park at about 6:30am.Immediately you are informed of the dangers of the trail with notices and a volcano warning light system. Basically if the light is green the trail is open. If the light is red then the trail is closed and the volcano is about to erupt. The light was green and we began walking.

The weather seemed to be clearing up. clouds were parting on the west (but the winds came from the east and it looked bad in that direction). Mangatepopo valley is a lovely place surrounded by volcanic hills, pumice piles, rough grasses, streams and wildflowers. On a clear day we would have seen the three volcanoes (Tongairio, Ngauruhoe and Ruepehu), but the swirling mist made them barely an outline on the horizon. We passed the Mangatepopo Hut and some bathrooms at the end of the Valley before we began to climb.

As we climbed the trail weaving through massive volcanic rocks the sun illuminated the valley below. Sulpuer was thick in the air as we neared the volcanoes. Dark clouds still enveloped us though threatening possible rain. This combined with the sun created a rainbow over the valley. We paused several time to admire it before dipped over the crest of the pass where were greeted by a sudden change.

Suddenly we were on a cold, damp ridge surrounded by mist. It was not a white out and the poles that mark the trail were very visible. However, any promise of the sky clearing vanished. The trail led us across South Crater, a flat sandy basin. The Trail then climbs out of the crater an across a long rocky ridge. We passed the turn off to climb Ngauruhoe and later Mount Tongariro. We had hoped to climb Tongairiro even in the mist just to summit. However,  howling wind and cold rain made the slog seem like a great way to made a bad situation worse so we pressed on. We followed the ridge as it steadily gained elevation. At one point we passed a sign by another red/green light system that read “Trail Closed” in large letters. As we drew closer we could read the smaller print reading “…if light is red. ” It was green so up we went to the top of Red Crater, the highest point of the Crossing.

Normally we would have splendid views of the mountains here, but all we saw was swirling white and the faint  turquoise image of the Emerald Lakes just below. We descended steeply to the lakes so starkly blue it was amazing they were real. We then followed the track though a flat area of  tussock grass. We passed several other lakes according to my maps, but we couldn’t see them. Switchbacks then lead us at what seemed like a painfully slow pace to the Ketetahi shelter. The German couple were there along with two other gentlemen. We stopped and hung out sloping wet clothes from the line and ate for the first time that day. We traveling way ahead of schedule. Rain will encourage you to move!

It was 6k more to the Ketetahi car-park. The trail switch backed over more tussock before we arrived at the treeline and exited the volcanic hazard area. The last 3k of trail wove through a dense rainforest and the sun seemed to peak through the clouds at moments. We reached the car-park at about noon… it took us 5.25 hours to do the track. the DOC estimates it takes 5.5-8 hours.

Since there were only 4 clients the shuttle was no coming every hour. Earlier we had agree for a 1:30 and 4:30 pickup with the option to call if we arrived earlier. The German couple made the call and the bus arrived at 12:45. Damp abd ragged we boarded the bus for the 60k ride back. We asked the driver for suggestions of what to the over the next few days since rainw as forecasted and we wouldn’t be able to climb Ngauruhoe and Ruepehu as we planned. He suggested some short trails and also helped up with the rest of of travel plans on the North Island.

Since it was still early Eric and I went to the Whakapapa Visitor Centre. Rangers in New Zealand were shorts and a polo shirt, hardly as formal as NPS Rangers in the States. Then we walked a bit on the nearby Taranaki Falls trail to stretch our legs. We got lucky. The clouds suddenly parted revealing Mt. Ngauruhoe full. I had never seen an un-glaciated volcano before…and we looked at it for 5 minutes before it was once again swallowed by the clouds.

Back at the hostel we cooked dinner and noticed that some other guests had left dirty dishes and wine bottles all over one table. Also unacceptable. We decided to head up to Lake Taupo the following morning as the bus driver had suggested and booked the next hostel. We can hardly wait to leave YHA National Park.

12 miles

2889 ft ascent/ 4071 descent

Risk lights by the trailhead

Risk lights by the trailhead

Tongariro Alpine Crossing

Tongariro Alpine Crossing

volcanic rocks in Mangatepopo Valley

volcanic rocks in Mangatepopo Valley

Mangatepopo Valley

Mangatepopo Valley

Rainbow over Mangatepopo Valley

Rainbow over Mangatepopo Valley

Eric at South Crater

Eric at South Crater

walking on the ridge upt to Red Crater

walking on the ridge upt to Red Crater

Me on South Crater

Me on South Crater

Eric descends from Red Crater to Emerald Lakes

Eric descends from Red Crater to Emerald Lakes

Emerald Lakes

Emerald Lakes

tussock ramble

tussock ramble

Rainforest near the end of the track

Rainforest near the end of the track

The Crossing map

The Crossing map

 

 

Eric and I heard the the Waitomo Caves was a “must do” in NZ. Several months ago we booked the 9am  “Black Abyss” tour run by Legendary Blackwater Rafting Co. It is the most expensive tour at $225 (10% off if you book online) and the original cave tour. It also happened to be the best tourist activity we have ever done in our lives! More than worth the money and highly recommended!

The company is located just across the street from the hostel. After checking in and filling out some forms we waited on the porch for our guides. There were 8 folks in the group total all in their twenties and all adventurous (1 Canadian, 4 americans & 3 Brits). The group did help make the trip awesome as our guides later informed us. Sometimes there is a group that is just a dud.

Chris and Kannen, our guides, led us all the the back of the building and outfitted us with wetsuits, harnesses, boots, helmets, lights, biners and racks (a specialized caving rappel device). Changing rooms were provided and our clothes and belongings were locked away in a cabinet by the guides. Then we all headed over to the shuttle and drove to Ruakuri Cave.

It was clear the Chris was the most sarcastic person possibly in New Zealand and Kannen had no lack of humor. They were also skilled teachers. Four ropes were set up on a hill beside the cave entrance. Here, they taight all of us how to use the rack to abseil into the cave. Some folks have never rappeled before by the way (fireman belay given). After only 15 minutes of instruct they deemed us ready (this would never be allowed in America.

Chris went down first, then I followed. The rack was difficult to use. It seemed to either have too little friction, but I made it down the 35 meter hole in the ground into the darkness of the cave. When we also got to the bottom we were led deeper into the cave. Kannen disappeared at some point and Chris told us to turn all light out. He left his on and attached each of us to a zip line called flying fox. We were sent down in the black with glow worm illuminating our way. Kannen waited at the bottom.

At the bottom of the zipline our harnesses were removed. We were told to sit by the river. Hot chocolate and large cave cookies were handed out. While we munched the men regaled us with jokes and cave stories. But we didn’t sit long. Black inner tubes were by the river. Chris told up to get a tube and hold it over out butt. Then he showed us how to leap into the river off a 5-6 foot ledge (also not allowed in the States). We each leaped into the 10-14 degree Celsius water. Ropes were attached along the river edge to the rock. We pulled ourselves along these ropes admiring the beauty of the cave. Then Chris told us to form a conga line and turn out our lights. I was inform from of the line so he took my foot and drags us all through the pitch black cave (his light was off too). The glow worms were amazing… and the water cold!

After leaving our tubes we walk and swarm though the next sections of the cave known as the Drunken Tunnel and a tight squeeze hole called the “Re-Birth Canal”. Along the way the guides provided us with hot tea and chocolate. In that cold the company recognized the importance of eating and drinking… plus the tour is 5 hours.

The final, and best part of the tour was climbing up two waterfalls. I should add here that the falls were not frozen. but full liquid. Not ice tools required.. and no ropes. The guides stood beneath us as we each took our turn navigating the running water and rock wall. Definitely not allowed in America.  A long tunnel then led us back into daylight.

We were shuttled back to the Center where were were rewarded with a shower, hot bagels and tomato soup (including in price). Freaking amazing tour as I mentioned before. Note, no cameras are allowed in the cave. The guides have a waterproof camera and take photos along the way. The photos are sold on a USB drive for $30 and not not the best quality (see below). I only included the best ones below. However, I thought it was worth it since we had such a great time.

We drove to National Park after finishing our lunch and checked into YHA National Park Hostel. This is where things began to go downhill. The weather is looking grim for the Tongaririo Crossing in the morning. Chances are there will be no views with the cloud cover and rain. The hostel is also horrible. Eric and I stayed here because it was the cheapest place in town (but not very cheap for a hostel. There is a climbing gym in the hostel which seems awesome until you discover that your room’s doorway is in the climbing gym. Thus, folks not staying in the hostel are around causing security concerns and the music is blasting all night. The kitchen had flies everywhere and was filthy. There were only 3 spoons and two sharp knifes in a hostel that accommodated about 100 folks. The towls meant to dry the dishes were so filthy we questioned whether be were making freshly cleaned dishes dirty again. There was no code for the front door after hours either. I know this this is a hostel…. but this is A Hi-Hostel YHA certified hostel. How they got this certification I have no idea. Eric has been to hostels in South America with better conditions. This is not the fault of the staff… the problem is that there are only two folks running  the entire hostel expected to clean everything, take care of the climbing gym and work the front desk. Every other hostel I’ve been to have a separate staff of about 10 people just to clean.

I suggest spending money on a hotel camping  or sleeping in your car. You’ll be much better off.

 

Today did not feature any exciting outdoor adventures. It was more of a travel day, transitioning for the South Island to the North Island. However, we did have some new experiences.

We took the first flight from Queenstown to Auckland, arriving in NZ’s largest City around noon. We located GO Rentals several blocks away from the terminal (this is why they are also the cheapest car rental). As it turned out we got a Toyota Yaris… just like Eric’s car back in America. However, there were a few minor differences and one major difference:

Minor: automatic windows, four door, automatic locks

Major: steering wheel on the right side of the car

The steering wheel on the right side of the car also meant that the windshield wiper and blinker/light switches were on opposite sides as well. Luckily the petals were the same. We loaded up the car and then Eric drove a few laps around the parking lot before driving to the supermarket a few blocks away. Turning required lots of though after years of many sharp rights and wide lefts, we had to think deeply to ensure making sharp lefts and wide right turns. But we survived the short journey to Count Down…an affordable supermarket in NZ (as affordable as NZ gets anyway).

After groceries, Eric drove us onto the highway toward Waitomo. Here we learned of the fun tendency to drift over to the left side of the road. Eric also had a habit of turning the wipers on every time we needed to change lanes. Passing on the right was also fun and well as seeing exits on the left. It was an 80 mile fun filled drive through fields and fields of sheep and cows. Nothing but farms after be left Auckland.

In fact, YHA Waitomo Hostel was on a farm! We checked into a shared 4 bed room and ventured out to meet the animals. There were 4 piglets and squealed with delight when we came over to pet them. Larger male and female pigs (mommy and daddy?). Came to the fence as well. When we began petting them the piglets started squeaking very loudly. So Eric peted the babied while I petted the adults. Daddy pig rolled over to have his tummy rubbed! Also in the pasture was a red deer (common to have domesticed deer in NZ) and a goat, but they were not very friendly.

We took a 10 minute walk down the road to Waitomo Village and them came back to the hostel for dinner. I must comment that this was a lovely, low key hostel. Clean, country-like… and the nicest I’ve ever been in.