A Camping Adventure
The Department of Conservation (DOC) is a very active and well-run government organization in New Zealand. They have a great website where you can book great walks, find out information about hikes in New Zealand, and find campsites. Some of the campsites are free and some of them you have to pay a small fee of usually $6NZD/person. We have been finding that New Zealanders really love spending time in the outdoors (understandably).
Luca found a free campsite in Tongariro National Park on the DOC website for the first night that we stayed in the park. To get to the campsite, we had to drive down this long, winding dirt road (probably about 10 miles) up and down hills with potholes and ruts from the weather. Our little 2-wheel drive 1998 Nisson Sunny did an impressive job and I had a blast swerving the car all over the road to avoid the potholes. We managed to make it with only a few potholes hit and scraped the bottom of the car just a couple of times. The drive was an adventure in itself.
We arrived to the campsite in the middle of nowhere to find that we were the only ones there. At first I didn’t really know what to do with myself. We didn’t have service, no Internet, not a sign of a human or civilization in sight, and only ourselves to keep us entertained. It was a bit jolting. We set up camp, made a gourmet camping dinner of pasta and salad, and I read a book for my entertainment until we went to bed when the sun went down.
Right when the sun went down, the bugs came out and the mosquitos were buzzing around our tent for hours. At one point this huge beetle rammed into our tent and the impact shocked us.
An hour or so after it got dark we heard the wheels of another car coming down the road. I turned to Luca and said, “Well that is a little scary. Why are they arriving so late? I don’t like being alone in the wilderness with only one other party. Should we go introduce ourselves?” Shortly after they arrived, they started driving four-wheelers on the paths next to the campsite. Eventually Luca went to sleep, but I lay wide awake in the tent, terrified. I had convinced myself that they were going to murder us and nobody would ever know because we were in the middle of nowhere.
The bugs kept attacking our tents and you could hear the engine of the four wheelers in the distance. There were so many noises in the night and my mind does funny things when it has to fill in the silence. “Who were these people? Did they have guns?” Eventually I woke Luca up and told him we had to go because I couldn’t sleep and I was shaking from being so scared. He of course thought I was being ridiculous, but agreed to pack up and move somewhere a little more civilized so that we could both sleep peacefully. Just when we were getting out of the tent, the scary monsters on the four-wheelers came back to camp and Luca asked if it would help if he went and talked to them.
In conclusion, the scary monsters were just two dudes about our age who were scoping out places to hunt in the morning. They did have hunting guns, but they were sane. In America the problem with guns is that unfortunately there are people who have guns that just simply should not. They apologized for making so much noise and we all slept happily until the morning.
Whakapapa Ski Area
Pronounced: “Phuck-a-pah-pah” (Yes, giggle a bit because it’s hilarious even when you are not 2 years old). I read about a little adventure at the Whakapapa Ski Area where you could ride up a ski lift and hike from the ski lift. When we arrived we found out that the ski lift ticket was $30NZD/person, or we could hike up the mountain for about an hour and a half and save the $30NZD. $30NZD goes a long way when travelling. You could probably buy food for 3 days, stay in a hostel for 2 nights, or buy a half a tank of gas with $30NZD. We decided to give our bodies a nice work out and hike up the mountain instead of spending the money on a chair lift ride.
When you first start a hike and your body is not warmed up, you feel like you are going to die. But after 15 minutes or so you are good to go. I kept seeing people ride up the chairlift above us who were probably laughing at us. At one point somebody yelled down ” How’s your hike? It’s so relaxing sitting on the chair lift.” But, I went from feeling jealous to feeling like I owned the mountain. It was exhilarating and I was proud of my body. The mountain had no trees on it and was made mostly of volcanic rock. It looked like you were on the moon. Many of the Lord of the Rings scenes from Mordor were shot on the mountain. I kept pretending that Luca and I were Sam and Frodo and I said goofy things like “The ring – It’s so heavy. I can’t go on.”
The top of the mountain had a gorgeous café with beautiful views of the valley below. I treated myself with a cake because I definitely deserved it.
Before leaving Auckland, Banu asked if we would like to join her and her friends for a hike across the Tongariro Crossing. Coincidentally, they were going to be staying in the area at the same exact time we were scheduled to be there. It is odd how things have been fitting so perfectly together on this trip!
We stayed at Beth and Caleb’s place in Taupo. Caleb and Beth are Banu’s friends that kindly lent us the house while they were away. I have never met Beth and Caleb, but I am so grateful to them for letting us stay at their place! It was lovely.
Accompanying Banu, Luca, and I, was Dan from Australia, and Raf and Laura from America. It was fun to go hiking in a group. We think we figured out the solution to world peace on our hike. While climbing the devils staircase, we kept wondering why in the world humans feel a need to climb up mountains. Why don’t they just stay in the comfort of their homes and worry about things like the economy and politics? We came to the conclusion that it is better to do a hike and put your mind to physical tasks, than worry about what the next best way to screw up the planet is. Donald Trump should definitely do more hiking.
Before I left for New Zealand, my little brother, Nicki, told me that Luca should propose (he used the word “oppose”) to me at Mount Doom (where they destroy the ring in Lord of the Rings), that I should say “no,” and then drop the ring in the volcano. I found it highly amusing and had to take a picture for him. While I still have no ring of my own, Raf was kind enough to let me use his.
After the Tongariro Crossing, a great descent began. It is descending the mountain that is always the hardest. Surprisingly, I prefer climbing up than going down. Climbing up is hard on your muscles and lungs, but descending is hard on your joints and feet.
I was disappointed because I thought we were supposed to be picked up by eagles on the way back from dropping the ring off at Mordor.
After the hike, Luca prepared us a delicious meal and I have never slept so well in my life.
White Water Rafting
We went white water rafting at River Valley Lodge, which is located on the Rangitikei River, and is known for having some of the best white water rafting tours in New Zealand, with up to grade 5 rapids. I later found out that it was the same river that the Fellowship of the Ring paddled down to be greeted by the 2 giant statues on either side on the river.
We had a blast! Our guide was phenomenal and the rafting was perfect for an adrenaline junky.