We had a great time in Wellington, but rushing round between mountains and museums got us a little tired. Heading north, our destination was the centre of the island, where vast lakes, forests, mountains and volcanoes awaited us. Before we arrived there to do some hiking we fancied a relaxed break, which is exactly why we stopped by the beachside town of Napier that lies on the east coast of New Zealand.
Napier isn’t a big place and only takes about half an hour to explore. However it broke up our bus trip nicely and turned out to be particularly beautiful due to its unusual architecture. Napier suffered a catastrophic earthquake in the early 20th century that destroyed the entire town. It was quickly rebuilt, in the style most popular at the time; Art Deco. Therefore strolling around Napier feels like you’ve stumbled into a time warp. Buildings, streets, signs, the beachfront, parks… the whole centre is delightfully 1920’s. Naturally, the town has run with the theme, meaning every business, restaurant and event has a 1920 slant on it. Every February there’s an Art Deco Festival where the whole town dresses up in period clothing and makes a spectacle of itself. It made for an interesting stopover, and the lack of stuff to do gave us the perfect excuse to do nothing.
Our next destination was Lake Taupo, which lies in the centre of the North Island. We were basing ourselves here so we well placed to tackle the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. Often rated as New Zealand’s best one day hike (and one of the best in the world), the 19.4km path takes you up between two volcanoes, through several extinct craters, by steaming vents and brightly coloured lakes full of minerals, and then down through beautiful alpine scenery and finally lush bushland. Unfortunately the day we planned to do it on there were winds exceeding 100km/h at the top of the highest crater. Which is insane. So we had to wait an extra day in the one horse town of Turangi.
Because there was literally nothing to do in Turangi besides eat at Burger King, we struggled to fill the extra day with activities. We did however take a 2 hour walk along the Tongariro River, through quiet forests and by beautiful fields of gently waving wheat.
The next day we got up miserably early to get ready for the shuttle that takes you to the beginning of the trek. At this point I was worried we were a little under prepared, because every other hiker seemed to be decked head to toe in expensive specialist gear – not the gym shorts, runners and H&M hoodie I was wearing. The driver drilled it into us that the walk would take around 7 and a half hours and that the optional side trip to scale the summit of Mt. Ngaurahoe an extra 4 hours. He turned out to be a huge liar (or at least drama queen) because we completed the hike in under 5 and a half hours, and overheard other people saying the summit took them just 1 hour; up and down. Which was infuriating! Because we had to wait over two hours at the end for our shuttle home anyway. We also coped absolutely fine in our trainers and shorts, despite the myriad horrified looks from all the other hikers at the top, when the temperature dropped to 6°C. Ah well, nothing like a good mountain climb to keep you warm 😉
Overall, besides the grossly misleading advice we received regarding timings, the hike wasn’t too challenging and was very rewarding. The weather started off beautiful and clear, but within an hour, thick cloud rolled in obscuring everything from view. So we missed a lot of the most spectacular views which is just typical. But we were lucky really that we weren’t blown off the top, frozen, rained on, or subject to any other miserable fate from the weather. What we did see was stunning, and we felt proud of our achievement – we’d completed the walk fairly quickly. Although we were stunned by the number of flabby out-of-shape people that attempted the walk (and loudly complained about it once they’d finished).
Our legs were a bit sore afterwards and we anticipated being quite incapacitated the next day. All we had planned for that was a travel day to take us to Taupo, the largest town on the lake, and the subject of my next post. ☺