Saturday, 23 March 2013

Farewell to Brinny, hello to Mount Taranaki

What a cute cat, though no wonder he drank a lot as I’ve never had such wet licks, you really did feel like you’d had a bath and needed a bath after being ‘Brinny’d’! We collected our second host Stuart from the Wellington bus, took him home, and taken our leave, not that we got far, a lovely camp (and very cheap) and a lovely cat, so at least we had a ‘friend’ our first night away!

From Patea we started on the circuit of Mt Egmont/Taranaki before deciding we really didn’t have time for it today, but tomorrow…. 

New Plymouth seafront
So in preparation we stayed in New Plymouth, at a jolly expensive Top Ten campsite, had a gentle walk along to the award winning bridge we had to visit, before an early night, next to ‘the Crosses’ a lovely couple from the south island who we spent a long time talking to while cooking dinner!

The award winning bridge at New Plymouth with Mount Taranaki (in cloud) behind

Mount Taranaki

Sunrise over Mounts Rhuapea and Tongariro from Mount Taranaki
Up bright and spangly to try and be setting off up the mountain with the sunrise, we were a few minutes late for that, but were still setting off before 0730, it was hard, very hard, I’ll pass to himself now before another big walk gets summarised as “it was hard, we went up, we came down and my knees still hurt!”

So anyway, I’ll try not to get too wordy, but it was a hard walk and very much underestimated by me. I thought it would be similar to the Mueller Hut walk we did in the Mount Cook area, but no, it was harder! It was not so much the angle of ascent, although it was steep, it was more the terrain and the altitude. 
First rays of sun (and a bit of cloud) on Mount Taranaki
The summit was 2516m, which is not very high, but I reckon I had mild altitude sickness! Ridiculous I know, but nevertheless I think it was. The first part of the walk went from the car park at about 1000m, up a 4 wheel drive track to the Tahurangi Lodge at 1500m (we found out later that a lot of people stay the night here, so they can start out early to see sunrise from the summit, although the people we met on their way down who had done this had no view!). This was steep, in places very steep and people say that if you can do that, you’ll get to the top. (It’s not called the Puffer for nothing!)

Just past the hut and transmission mast
From the hut the terrain got very uneven, except for about 500 steps up a wooden staircase to take us up a difficult bluff. I started to feel a bit strange here, moving quite slowly up the stairs, but at the top we started on the worst section, which was just scree, or scoria as it’s called (volcanic gravel), which is three steps up and one down. Tough and a full body workout to maintain balance! As people come down the same way, the steps are a long way apart as downward aiming people slide, creating long steps, To get a grip its necessary to step high to reach some kind of foothold, only to slide down a bit before a grip is obtained. It’s exhausting! 
The view down from the top of the steps. You can just see the hut on the right
This went on for a long time, creating space below us in the shape of a long, steep gravelly hill, disappearing into nowhere! Finally we reached solid rock, but this wasn’t that easy as it was sharp and, in places quite awkward. I was moving very slowly by this time and stopping frequently and feeling pretty displeased with my performance. I began to realise the reason I needed to stop was that my heart was racing  at over 180 bpm, which is a lot faster than is safe. I only needed to take half a dozen steps and up would go my pulse, with heavy breathing needed, before my body said ‘stop’! 
Still a long way to go!
If I waited 3 or 4 minutes it would come down to maybe 120bpm and I would start again, then up it would go again. This then led to a bit of a headache and a general feeling of not being well (that’s what happens when you heart goes at 180bpm for about 3 hours!).

Anyway, we got up bit by bit to the crater, which was quite small and covered in a layer of ice. The final few steps were a bit exposed and on sheet ice, so care was needed, before dropping down to the crater itself. This wasn’t the top, that was a further 10 to 15minutes up scoria and dust powder to the highest point. At this point I was feeling pretty crap (Jackie was absolutely fine!) and I doubted whether I could make it up. 
Finally in the crater. the summit is up to the right
A group of 4 caught us up, they had started at 0830 (one hour after us, but they were in their 20’s!) and proceeded up the final bit, in my view, the wrong way, it looked horrible! We sat and had some lunch and then I felt a bit better. We set off up a different route, a much better route and arrived at the summit a little after the others, but to no view! Mount Taranaki is renowned for depriving its visitors of a view, it’s the first mountain westerlies meet over the Tasman Sea and cloud forming midday after a clear morning is common. Today was no different, but it did break to allow us to see the South Island, but none of the (what they tell us) are the great views around the North Island.

Jackie on the summit, looking like a Kiwi (shorts and gaiters!)
While sitting there I was reflecting on the fact that this is still (technically) an active volcano, although it last erupted in 1755. Although that didn’t seem that long ago, it was before the French Revolution, a time when America was still a British colony and before Europeans knew of the existence of New Zealand. Maybe we were safe today!

After a few photos we headed off down, hoping my headache (Jackie also had a bit of a headache) would pass as we descended. The rock descent was bad enough, but when we reached the scoria it was horrible. It wasn’t the sliding gracefully though gravel I had imagined, too many people had scraped the deep layers off so it was a thin layer of gravel on a hard packed base, meaning it was as hard down as up, and this time it seemed even longer! Knees hurting, head hurting and generally not good. We were pleased to get back to the steps, but these caused more pain to the knees. Finally we got down to the hut, took off some of the cold weather gear, had something to eat, took some headache pills  and rested for a few minutes before the final descent down the 4 wheel drive track.

the amazing colours of the rocks near the summit
This turned out to be just as painful on the knees, but our mind was taken off it when a young man from Hamburg joined us (he had passed us on several occasions during the day) and we chatted for the remainder of the descent.  Finally we got down just after 3:00pm, doing the round trip in 7 ¾ hours (they told us to allow 8-10 hours in the visitor centre, so we did pretty well).

My reflection on the day is I’m glad I did it and, despite the discomfort, I really enjoyed it and would not have missed it for the world. Am I glad I reached the summit!

The glockenspiel in Stratford upon Patea
Well that was yesterday, and my knees still hurt, and we could both feel our thighs every time we got out the van on our drive today, and that’s despite a gentle warm down walk yesterday, to be fair it was probably a bit late to be a warm down, but after supper at the camp in Stratford we decided we really had to go and see NZ’s only glockenspiel,  not only that, but 4 times a day 6 full size animatronic models do, various bits of Romeo and Juliet from the clock tower! It was surreal!

A mechanised Romeo and Juliet accompanied by recorded music and recital


Today’s drive was the “Forgotten World Highway” it was very pretty, and quite interesting, but I think we’d both lost the will by the time we arrived at the end, all we both wanted was a cup of tea and a piece of cake!

Whangamamona Hotel. The town on the Forgotten World Road that declared its independence as a Republic in 1989, after a boundary change dropped it off the map. They elect their own president (the last one was a goat!). Its possible to have your passport stamped here!
The beautiful Forgotten World valley and the forgotten railway! Services stopped here in 1983, but the railway line survives. Its possible to get a special 'buggy' trip along the line now where they stop and point out the sights at $1000 a go! No-one seems to know why trains don't run anymore!

1 comment:

  1. Hi both! Crumbs! Thought you were on holiday - that looked the hardest trip yet, but you must feel a great sense of achievement for having been there done that! happy travels back in the camper! Lots of love xx