West Coast to Wellington

8 01 2010

Boxing day was an early start for the Tongariro Crossing, 19.4km across the volcanic landscape of Mt. Ngauruhoe and Mt Tongariro. The start was packed with fellow trampers, although not quite the 1000 people that do this walk every day in peak season! The going was fairly easy for the first few miles until we started ascending to the saddles of the volcanoes, when it started to get a bit blowy!

By the time we’d scrambled up the scree slopes to the peak of the Red Crater we were having to almost crawl to stop being blown off the edge! We had incredible views thanks to the fine weather, all the way over to the West coast and later North over Lake Taupo. The storms had put us off doing this 2 years ago and we’re glad we hadn’t attempted it as it would be pretty miserable in the wet! A few hours later we’d finished in plenty of time for our shuttle pickup and a well deserved reward of fishfingers, chips and beans, DVD’s, wine and cake at our hostel!

The next day we left National Park and drove West along the ‘forgotten highway’ until we reached Whangamomona, a town so remote they’d declared themselves a Republic in 1989! We had lunch here in the only Hotel and collected another stamp for our passports before returning to New Zealand and the West coast.

The West coast is dominated by the massive Mount Taranaki, a volcano we caught a glimpse of from the heights of the Tongariro Crossing a few hundred miles away. It was now completely invisible however – the local weather is forecast by the following rule: If you can see the Volcano, it’s going to rain. If you can’t see the Volcano, it’s already raining! The latter was true for the next few days so we didn’t spend long around here, briefly checking out New Plymouth which was voted the best city in NZ last year. It was hard for us to see the attraction as everywhere seems miserable when it’s tipping it down, plus most of New Zealand grinds to a halt over Christmas and New Year so there’s nothing open anyway!

Following the Surf Highway around the coast we visited Wanganui, or Whanganui – the inclusion of the ‘h’ being a topic of National debate, and then back inland towards the University town of Palmerston North where we settled for a couple of days over New Year. We managed to keep ourselves awake for New Years Eve, joining the masses in the town square for a concert and the shortest fireworks display we’ve ever seen!

Further south were the towns of the Wairarapa – lots of cafe’s, although finding one open was still a struggle, 2L tubs of ice-cream, a round of golf, the cinema and walks around the Forests kept us busy although the highlight was Stonehenge Aotearoa – a working replica of the Salisbury stone circle in someone’s back garden!

The 90 minute tour was excellent, explaining how the calender works, plus a bit of astrology and astronomy too – apparently most people, including Zoë, have a different star sign to those commonly published in newspapers etc.. something to do with us using 2000 year old star charts and the wobble of the earth!

For the last few days we’ve explored the capital Wellington, touring the impressive Parliament buildings – the whole thing being mounted on shock absorbers due to the fault line running 400m away! They also have the unique system of being able to write to the Government and be guaranteed the opportunity to address the Select committee on any subject – no filtering, screening or censorship and while doing so have absolute freedom of speech with immunity from prosecution etc..! We also took plenty of photos and weren’t accused of being terrorists!

The rest of our time in the city was spent in other museums, botanic gardens and replenishing our personal library in the 2nd hand bookshops. Wellington has also been host for the last 10days to Unicon – the World Unicycle Championships! We managed to catch a bit of the Trials competition by the waterfront which was pretty impressive – try jumping a unicycle from the roof of a shipping container over a 6ft gap onto a fork-lift truck! Zoë was cringing at the lack of safety harnesses!

I’d have liked to witness some of the other events on the program, including unicycle hockey and rugby, the downhill races and yesterday’s cross country marathon! We’re out of time on the North Island however. I’m writing this as we sail over the Cook Strait on the old Pride of Cherbourg ferry to Picton where we spent Christmas a couple of years ago.

We have no plans for the South Island so far – we want to check out the top of the Island for job and house potential but as it’s also a very popular summer holiday destination we may postpone our investigation and head south to avoid the hordes!

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