Saturday, January 26, 2013

Free Time

I can't believe how long it's been since I've posted. It's a testament to how much I've been working and not playing I guess. Really, I haven't blogged because I haven't done anything...but things are finally settling down a bit and I'm getting one, sometimes two!, full days off a week.
I've had time to catch a few more epic sunsets from my house.

My flatmates call it "the Wow". When we're hanging out in the living area together we wait for The Wow. Then we rate it and compare it to other sunsets.

Frankly, I think they're a bit spoiled. Lol. Can't blame them, it's far too easy in NZ.

A few weeks ago I drove 10 minutes out of town to a place called Craters of the Moon, another geothermal site. It was a nice little walk but basically it's just steam coming outta the ground. It's pretty cool tho.
Steamy ground at Craters of the Moon

 I can see its steam plume from my deck every morning. It reminds of days when I could see the Lake County geyser plumes from Santa Rosa.
Craters of the Moon
I finally had a morning off, where the weather was nice and I wasn't feeling exhausted from my 50+ hour work weeks. So I drove 15 minutes to Mt Tauhara.
I have been wanting to hike up it since I first arrived in Taupo over a month ago.
View of Mt Tuahara from Craters of the Moon

Mt Tuahara from the start of the hike

The hike was awesome! Fairly easy and very scenic. I took my sweet time and took lots of photos. I felt like I was playing hookey because I finally had some free time to do something fun. The hike starts through some hilly pastureland.
Shouda taken that right atAlbuquerque 

Stepbenches. How the NZ trails are connected through pastureland

Then through some awesome jungle.

Mossy jungleness

It was so nice to take my time and just take it all in. I haven't been out to do anything in so long.
Random jungle bench next to a vista

For the most part, it was easy going. Plus I took lots of breaks for photo ops.

Parts of the trail were very narrow

I wasn't sure what the summit was going to be like. So I was really stoked when I got there and found that I had a 360* view from the top.

I wished I had more time to hang out there, I could've stayed there for hours. It was awesome. After working so much, and not traveling, or getting out and about, it was like "oh yeah.... THIS is why I'm in New Zealand..." Very cool to have that feeling back.
The summit rocks were covers in cool orange/red lichen

View from the summit, looking south onto Lake Taupo and the Tongoriro Mts beyond that

 It was a nice perspective shift that I hadn't even realized I needed. I had to leave before I wanted to, so I could get to my bar job on time. But it's only 15 minutes from my house so I'm sure I'll hike it a few more times while I'm in Taupo.
Pssssst! Help me! Everywhere I go this crazy goofball follows me....haha

The town of Taupo is visible in the bottom right next to the lake

Next week I have 2 whole days off from work. I have a few hikes I hope to do, and I'm pretty sure it's time for me to visit Hobbiton. I can't leave New Zealand without first having a pint at the Green Dragon Tavern.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Tongariro Crossing: fail

I attempted to trek part of the Tongariro crossing today. Tongariro is an active volcano that sits on the south side of lake Taupo and made several appearances in The Lord of the Rings movies as the hobbits travel to Mordor.
Frodo had it soooooo easy. Sure, he was barefoot, and being sabatoged by Gollum, all the while carrying an evil ring that was driving him mad. Still, I think my hike today may have been harder.
But let me start from the beginning....
A friend I met my first week in Auckland, Tim the Brit, is here in Taupo for a few days.
Totally irrelevant side note: it seems I randomly see him all over the place - newmarket, the coromandel, and now here. Funny how that happens with backpackers.
Since today was my only day off this week we decided to try to do the Tongariro crossing, despite the fact that the day was windy and the weather not so great.

Tongariro has ben actively smoking so part of the trail is closed off and inaccessible, but it's still possible to hike more than halfway and see the emerald lakes. Sounded like a great day hike.
So, we were on the road at 5:20am. Boistering ourselves with positive phrases like, "at least it won't be sweltering hot". And "it will probably clear up near the summit!".
Volcanic lava flow and stream

We started the actual hike at 7am and it was quite pretty as we hiked along streams and waterfalls through a narrow valley.

The river bed and rocks were dark orange from the volcanic algae. There was a constant mist hanging over the hill tops.

Next leg of the hike, was a trip up the devils staircase, a pretty steep climb where I wheezed my way 450 meters up and over really cool lava fields.

About this time, we started to see several people coming back down the trail. These people had decided to turn around and not complete the trek. As we reached the top of Devils staircase, I could see why so many people were coming back down. The weather had definitely taken a turn for the worst!
As we reached the beginning of South Crater we came across gusting winds and mist that had other hikers hunkering behind boulders for shelter.
We decided to keep going and got sandblasted in the crater.
South Crater - take a gander at the panoramic view- what a clear day! Haha

Next part of the journey, Red Crater Ridge. A 200 meter climb on a ridge with a deadly fall on either side. At this point people were stuck. The wind had gone from pushy gusts to 45 mph gales. The terrain left very little wriggle room for a misstep. I continued another 150 ft or so....
Then the wind blew me and I lost my balance, as I reached out to grab onto a rock..... Nothing happened. I was so numb with cold that my arms and hands had become useless. When I tried to reach out with them I was rewarded with nothing but extreme pins and needles pain.
We were only 20 minutes from the summit... But I knew I had reached my physical limits. To do anything but turnaround would be foolhardy. I wished Tim luck, told him to carry on without me, (actually I shouted into his ear to be heard over the wind) and started making my descent.
Getting off the ridge was sketchy. It involved intermittently grabbing onto boulders and hunkering down, then making a mad dash for the next "shelter" whenever the wind "lulled".
On my way, I picked up a stray hiker who had turned around while the rest of her party continued. The situation was so dangerous, I didn't want her going down by herself.
The next 2 hours were probably the most miserable of my life. I was once again sandblasted through the crater, the mist turned into a downpour and soaked me completely.
South Crater aka Sand storm crater

 I've never been so cold in my life. My body went from hot pain, to numbness. Back again several times. I was in a bit of a rush, and downhill has never been my forte...
I ate mountain.
I tripped hard. My hands were tucked into my armpits for warmth and completely useless anyways. I barely got my arm out before I took a bite outta rock.
I heard my teeth hit the rock. It sounded like 2 coffee cups clinking together.
I was so numb. I felt nothing. I didn't know if I was hurt.  It took a lot of effort to get my arms to pick me up from the ground. Fearing the worst, I opened my mouth and waited for blood/teeth chunks. I drooled some blood, felt my intact teeth and was super grateful! Lucky me, my lips had cushioned the impact.

I finished the descent a little dirtier, bloodier and definitely less dignity. Heh heh.
When Tim returned he told me he thought he had made it to the summit, but he couldn't see anything. The wind was so bad he had to crawl across the ridge on his hands and knees so he wasn't blown over  the edge by the wind.  It might not be the hike we had in mind, but I was really grateful for the epic opportunity. Nothing like brutal misery to remind you of the simple physicality of your existence. I definitely felt hyper aware of my experience- no sleep walking through that unforgettable adventure!

I plan on returning, in better weather and owning the Tongariro crossing!

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Happy New Year

I miss my family and friends and am wishing I could go to the annual crab feed!
Technically, New Year's Day was yesterday. But I worked 16.5 hours, I was too busy to acknowledge it!
....wait for it....
It's a brand spanking new 2013!

Even though I was working, I was able to watch some of the fireworks over lake Taupo.
Lucky me, they were going off in front of my works patio.

The view from both my jobs is spectacular!

And the people I work with at my evening job are incredibly nice and super fun! So I still had a great NYE, despite being on the clock with my nose to the grindstone.

I only have 8.5 more months here and I'm overwhelmed with happiness and excitement for all the opportunities in my future NZ travels.
Being able to travel, explore, meet new people- it's all amazing. But it also increases my gratitude for the very special family and friends I have waiting for me when I get home. You guys are all irreplaceable! I am so lucky to have so much!
Happy New Year everyone!