"I've never been this wet for this long in my entire life..."
20.01.2011 - 24.01.2011
Feeling the driving urge to get out of Auckland, my travel partner Jen and I met up with a couple of other couchsurfers, Gregoire from Paris and Linda from Los Angeles, and carpooled south towards Rotorua. First stop was in Waitomo, most likely best known for its glowworms. The glowworms are the larval stage of a mosquito-like fly, they build small cocoons and hang threads down in hopes of catching dinner. After sunset the forest and the caves light up with thousands of small white lights - hungry little larvae. Turns out the ones that are hungriest glow the brightest and this attracts more curious but doomed bugs, which get caught in the sticky threads and are promptly consumed by the glowworms. This is the only life stage in which they eat so they have to get while the getting's good. Linda had a tour booked already and I had a half price voucher for a black water rafting trip through a cave full of the glowworms. Gregoire and Jen joined me on the trip, which was actually floating serenely on innertubes through the cave, with a couple of big drops and slides. It was fun but I'm thankful I didn't pay full price, to be quite honest.
Gregoire, Jen and I, preparing for the worst.
The four of us left Waitomo and drove east to Rotorua, one of the most geothermally active spots in New Zealand. Jen and I split up from the others who had different plans, wandered around a park in town with boiling mud and steaming lakes and all that good stuff, and began organizing for our trip to Lake Waikaremoana.
Boiling mud lake south of Rotorua.
The Lake Waikaremoana tramp is one of eight Great Walks in New Zealand - generally three or more days in some of the most beautiful areas of the country. This one is a four day tramp around an amazing lake in the Te Urewera National Park. We rented a car, filled out our menu and took off for the tramp. We left a day early with plans to free camp along the way, but first we made a stop at some truly amazing hot springs. We had asked around and three different locals recommended this place to us - they called it Hot and Cold. They all had somewhat different instructions on getting there but we found it, parked the car, and went for a dip. There was a nice not-too-deep swimming hole with two creeks flowing into it - one hot and one cold. I spent some time talking to two Belgians named Nils and Nila who taught me to juggle and even gave me professional juggling balls (yes, professional juggling balls) after I promised to practice. Needless to say I will be the greatest.
We drove out into the National Forest and then on to National Park land to the east and eventually found a nice place to camp - it was off the road and back on top of a ridge by an old tumbledown shed of some sort. We made camp, made spaghetti, looked at the stars for a while and crashed out only to be woken up in the middle of the night when a horse walked through our camp and whinnied at us. But we survived - it fled in terror when it saw my huge muscles.
Sunset over Te Urewera National Park, pre-horse invasion.
The next morning we drove the rest of the way to Lake Waikaremoana. It started raining when we got to the lake, which was a bit of a surprised since we hadn't looked at a weather forecast. No big deal, we thought, and proceeded to get climbing. The rain didn't let up for another six days... The first day was 9km uphill to the Panekiri Hut atop Panekiri Bluff. Supposedly there are amazing views of the lake here but all we saw was the rain cloud that surrounded us. There were six other trampers at the hut when we got there and we all shared the drying rack over the wood stove but nothing ever really got dry. Not for another four days. Day two we hiked 11km to a campsite near Korokoro Falls where we set up under the shelter to keep out of the rain. Unfortunately this meant we were hanging out with the rats who inhabited the space and they did bite a couple of small holes in Jen's rain jacket. Moving on, day three we tried to hike out to Korokoro Falls but it had been raining so hard for so long that we were't comfortable fording the river at one point where the trail crossed, so we turned back and finished up the days hike of about 12km to Waiharuru hut. We were supposed to stay at the campsite there but decided to sneak into the hut since it was raining harder than ever. We were proud of this plan, and looking forward to the hut so we could dry our clothes over the stove but the tragic comedy continued as it was broken and we just stayed cold and we Now this was actually some of the hardest rain I've ever seen, even after living in Olympia and Portland for eight years. It was really coming down and by day four we were ready to get the hell out of there. Supposedly we had four hours of hiking ahead of us but we did it in three. Where the path wasn't running water it was standing water, ankle deep and cold, and my boots never stood a chance. We crossed a number of creeks that were flooding over the path, some running fast and rather deep, and even one raging creek that was topping the bridge we had to cross. I started having trouble with my knee during the tramp this day, pain whenever I would walk downhill, and I'm still dealing with it. A physical therapist friend of mine took a look at it and recommended rest and some exercises I could do to help but I'm bummed because it the pain meant I had to put off hiking the Tongariro Crossing until another time.
This, ladies and gentlemen, is called foreshadowing.
Rumor has it the lake looks beautiful from here...
Why yes, that IS a camouflage poncho I'm wearing!
Our ill-fated attempt at drying clothes.
Night two, making hot food and again trying to dry our clothes before the rats ate them.
Finally, Lake Waikaremoana comes into view!
Flooding river... FLUUUURRD!!
So we finished up the hike and got picked up by a couple of Maori women from the local Tuhoi tribe - the only tribe to never have given up their sovereignty. One told us that if she won the lottery she would get a boob job because she had eleven kids and then move her truck and her animals out to live in the bush. Not sure where the lottery comes in to play with moving out to the bush, but who am I to judge? What would I do if I won the lottery? It can't be any less indulgent. So they dropped us off at the car and we drove the long way out of Te Urewera because the road we came in on was washed out and covered in rocks after all the rain. Down to Wairoa, over to Napier, and up towards Rotorua. Unfortunately in Eskdale I put diesel in the petrol tank and we had to wait a long time for AA (only two A's in New Zealand) to show up and drain the tank. We were sitting in the car in the rain until a woman named Sue who lived in a flat in a garage on the property came over and invited us in to hang out with her and her neighbor Dick while we waited. We obliged and she gave us coffee and cocoa and biscuits slathered with butter. She showed us lots of pictures of her dogs and the sweaters she makes for them and called her friend down the street who let us stay in her campervan for the night. After AA drained the tank and we were set to leave she sent us off with a homegrown onion for our spaghetti dinner and coffee and eggs from her chickens for breakfast. This is Kiwi hospitality, right here. In the morning it was slow going most of the way back to Rotorua because the five days of rain had caused a few landslides and floods over the highway, but we got the car back and caught a cheap bus down to Taupo to begin the next adventure.
Wondering to myself how I got into this situation.