The Gumboot Capital of The World to the Shearing Capital of The World
via the Desert Road. That was the plan. Except we didn’t get as far as Te Kuiti.
We got a bit distracted. And what distracted us was the iconic volcanoes, Ruapehu and Ngauruhoe; the two of them flaunting themselves in the sun for all to see, right along the Desert Road. The mountains had their glad rags out and they were demanding our attention.
Every 10 Ks or so, I declared, “Stop here,” so that I could produce my iPhone and try for an iconic snapshot. Afterall I’d announced to my sister on Facebook, earlier in the morning, there was a new art form – phonography. I took more than one hundred photos today. Don’t worry. I’m not about to inflict them all on you. Our internet access is limited. I’ll only put up the best three, or best four, five, or seven – I promise.
My poor husband was probably saved from the longest and slowest trip along the Desert Road ever, by a Mother’s Day phone call from one of our sons. We told him what we were up to. He told us about a rest area half-way between Waiouru and Turangi, just past the army land, on the left heading north. “It’s worth checking out,” he said. “Great views,” he said.
We found it. It’s the turn-off to the Tukino ski-fields. They are not the most popular ski fields on the mountain. Not at all. The road is nothing more than a dirt track. But our son is correct (he often is), the view is amazing, spectacular, memorable and any other superlatives you can think of.
John and I agree this is the place for lunch. Volcanoes, wide open space, blue skies, views to thank the Good Lord above for, and no horses. What could possibly go wrong?
John spreads the rug, produces the baguettes. I’m busy putting my iPhone camera to good use. He pours a cup of tea. I sit, eventually, bite into the baguette; it’s camembert, bacon and relish, nowhere near as good as yesterday’s sammies. But you can’t have everything.
We study Ruapehu.
“Haven’t you been to the top of that?” John asks.
“Yep,” I tell him. “Right to the top.” This was actually before my glory days – I would have been no more than fourteen.
“You’ve seen the crater?” he says.
“Yep,” I say.
“How big is it?”
“Not thaat big,” I tell him.
“Where is it, exactly?”
I point vaguely towards the top of the mountain. “Over there.”
I explain it is, in fact ,relatively small.
We turn our attention towards Ngauruhoe.
John tells me he has been to the top. (I have heard this story before but I don’t say anything. Today is Mother’s Day; by now both our boys have telephoned and I’m feeling kindly disposed.)
I sound suitably impressed, I think, as I say, “That’d be a demanding climb.”
John tells me all about how it isn’t the getting up which is demanding, so much as the getting down. Apparently it’s one long shingle slide. One spent hoping those following along behind haven’t dislodged a boulder or two!
I’m getting to the end of my disappointing baguette and I’m about to tell him the story I’ve probably told him before. About how, on my first visit to this National Park, there was a huge explosion, like a bomb and an earthquake. It was Ngauruhoe was erupting. I do have a photo but not with me. I might post it when we get home. I don’t get as far as reminding John this mountain is Peter Jackson’s Mount Doom.
I take my last bite of baguette and I hear a rumbling. Surely not, I think, Ngauruhoe can’t be erupting again.
In fact, the noise sounds as if it’s coming from over my shoulder.
Trusty phone camera to hand I turn and I click, click, and click again.
It’s the army. What are they doing here?
We’re inquisitive types so we pack up our lunch things and go for a bit of a wander.
We don’t get far. On the other side of the clump of tussock there are four large army trucks.
This young man leaps out of his truck and comes over. He’s a sentry. A sentry? When I ask for a photo he takes a moment to straighten his collar.
Check out the sign! He tells us it’s his job to make sure we don’t go wandering into the “dems”. That’s army lingo for demolitions or explosions.
But we’re on a public road, right? And we’d like to go exploring. This soldier is a good sort. In addition to posing for the photo he says it’s okay but we must not veer off the road. We promise we won’t.
(I resist the temptation to remind him to phone his Mum for Mother’s Day – there’s a gun, or several, in that truck!)
Any thoughts of wandering off the road – ah, track – are quickly dispelled when we see this.
At this point I’m feeling a lot less brave. I relax a bit once we pass the sign marking the boundary into Tongaririo National Park. We keep going, up and up. And when we get there I can only say the view (and any risk) is worth it.
Yes, that track is legally a road.
On the way down we stop again. As I take this photo,
and the ten others exactly like it that are now deleted, we hear explosions. They sound like gunfire ricocheting around the mountains. After that, I tell you, we were extra careful to keep to the road even if it was nothing more than a few tyre tacks in the dirt.
From the jaunty wave the soldiers gave us on our return I’m guessing they didn’t need the medic truck . Thank-goodness.
Tonight, we’ve got as far as Taumarunui. Tomorrow the plan is to visit the Waitomo caves. I’m thinking we should avoid lunch time. What do you think?