Goodbye to Godzone (NZ) 30 March 2006

Hard to believe, but I am HOME now. And my last two days in “Godzone” were as full as any other. For my last morning in Tongariro National Park, my delightful and very gracious hosts at the Tongariro Crossing Lodge, Sharee and Steve Fawlk, took me into Whakapapa Village where I headed off on a 2.5 hour walk to Taranaki Falls, about 6km. It is in between Mt. Ngaruhoe (Mt. Doom) and Mt. Ruapehu, so the views of the perfectly shaped cone of Mt. Ngaruhoe were wonderful… I kept a close eye on it to see if the summit would peek through the clouds, but except for one small corner, it was not to happen. But the rest of the scenery was still worth it.

There was a photography class on the track, so I was frequently passing by someone with loads of camera equipment – tripod, several cameras and lenses, big reflector dishes, camera bags, etc. – although occasionally there would be someone with only a small digital like mine (or rather, like the one that broke!), so I was sad then, and almost embarrassed to take out my little disposable. I found myself trying to just memorize in my brain the scenes, and resolved to go back and try to draw them with the colored pencils I had brough in the little pencil bag Patricia gave me.

Once scene that is so often repeated that I will *never* forget it is the steps on the tracks – many of them are so deep. I will get a few photos of them up here eventually, but they are built more like mini-retaining walls than steps, and some of them are nearly 30″ high. So they are often tricky for a short person with challenged knees to maneuver. I am eternally grateful to the person who invented trekking poles – my knees would never have been able to survive all this hiking without them.

Anyway, there was a small funny thing about my Taranaki Falls hike. I had seen a photo of a waterfall with a description of this track somewhere, and after about an hour of walking across rolling hills of tussock grass, down into and up out of deep wooded ravines, scrambling over many steps, in and out of deep troughs (debris from volcanic waves?) through a deep goblin-forest, I reached a beautiful little waterfall that had carved out the granite as described, almost like coming out of a pitcher, and I lounged around on the bridge just enjoying the view of the water, the rock carving, and the moss below for about 15 minutes. Then I headed on up the track – back into the tussock grass, and at that point I was walking on the other side of the river from a high escarpment (shelf of lava?). About 5 minutes past the bridge, I saw in the distance another, much higher waterfall spilling over the rocks of the ridge – the *real* Taranaki Falls; it was very cool.

It actually wasn’t far at all, but I had used up my extra time at the other waterfall, so could not stop. (My hosts were picking me up at an appointed hour to catch the train back to Auckland.) The track took me past the waterfall where many of the photographers had begun to set up, the pond at the bottom that looked like a great swimming hole, and then up *more* very steep steps to the top of the ridge, and I was able to then poke around for a few minutes where the water spilled over. Anyway – it was a lovely final hike in NZ, with expansive views of the 3 still-remaining, still-active volcanoes.

The Overlander train ride back to Auckland that afternoon (about 6 hours) was a nice change from the bus. Just out of the train station we went into the Raumiru Spiral, a section of track still considered today to be a spectacular engineering feat. It was built in 1908 by R. W. Holmes, who has been described as “perhaps the greatest location engineer in New Zealand’s history”. See this link for a drawing and description of the Raumiru Spiral.

The scenery was mostly familiar to me, as we had traveled a lot of it on the Habitat R&R to go blackwater rafting. But I loved what I called the “peaky-peaky” little hills folding into each other for miles and miles into the distance, as green as greenstone/jade, and sprinkled with sheep and rocks and trees. Occasionally the hills would be smooth and rounded, like in the Shire.

Thursday morning was spent in some final souvenir shopping, and having a veteran shopping-lover like Jill Stevenson was fun. Her husband Ken is Chairman of Habitat Manukau – I stayed in their home my last night (they are wonderful hosts). Jill took me to all the discount merino wool places. Fine merino wool, by the way, is unbelieveably soft, and like my favorite Smartwool socks, NOT ITCHY! It makes a great summer tee-shirt.

I am glad to be home after 34 days… here are some stats on my trip 🙂

I did:
* 9 days’ work on 2 houses under construction (1 nearly finished for Juanita and her kids, and one foundation started for Tutu and Luis and their kids)

* 6 hikes covering over 51 miles over 8 days (the most was 13 miles in one day)
* 3 plane rides covering 19,140 miles on 7 planes for over 50 hours
* 9 bus rides covering over 1344 miles in about 32 hours
* 5 boat rides (2 cruises, 3 ferries)
* 1 car trip covering 233 miles (with Karen & Phil), and
* 1 train trip covering 217 miles in one afternoon

It was fantastic, and I hope you all get to do something like this!

Kia ora!