I spent the spring semester of 2010 studying in New Zealand through the ISEP program. I used this blog to keep an account of my school experience and as a record of the adventures I found. Hopefully it can serve two purposes: to have kept my friends and family informed of my travels and experiences; as well as to serve as a reminder of how important the study abroad experience is, whether it's in New Zealand or not.
28 February 2010
A Journey to Middle Earth and Beyond
As though everyday wasn't like being in Middle Earth, we took a trip up the country to get a little closer. A group of 10 of us (names just for fun: me, Sandy, Jessica, Kristine, Nadja, Zack, Guan, Kelly, Monica, and Max) decided to take a weekend trip up to the Tongariro National Park. We left Friday at five o'clock. After wandering our way to pick up Nadja, we make about four U-turns before we manage to get to the proper road out of town. Dinner is a stop at Subway, which is both disappointing, because I've gone this far just to eat Subway, and a little nice because it reminds me of the OPRA trip to Canada and Maine. Driving through the country turns out to be quite enjoyable. Cows and sheep everywhere you look, but none of them appreciate the landscape they're eating. Turns out many towns in NZ love to put up giant statues of very random things. Such as a giant carrot, a plane, a bull, and a gum boot (known back home as a muck boot or rain boot). Bulls the town is particularly funny because they name all their stores with bull in the name: e.g. Consta-bull. We arrive at the Hostel, Ski Haus, at nearly 10:00 that night. While we had all been looking forward to the advertised "spa pool" or hot tub, while we spend an hour it in, it never gets hot. We eventually give up and go to bed. Mt. Ngauruhoe at sunrise. We wake up at 6:00AM to get an early start on what we expect to be a 6-8 hour hike. We get dropped off in Whakapapa Village (pronounced fakapapa, all wh's are f's here) only to discover that it's the wrong place to start and our two drivers have gone to drop off the one car at the end. It takes us seemingly forever to get to the start of the hike, so rather than hiking by 7:30 or 8AM, we start at about 9:45AM. The beginning of the hike is fairly flat and looks a lot like the Dead Marshes. But quickly, the hike turns harder. It's just about 12:00 when we reach the bottom of Mt. Ngauruhoe/Doom and seven of us decide to hike up, while three people keep on with the hike. The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is expected to be a 6-8 hour hike from one end to the other. Mt. Ngauruhoe is a 3 hour side trip. From the bottom, it doesn't look so bad. We can see people all the way up to the top walking along what look like trails. However, as we climb, it becomes apparent that walking up a volcano is very different than walking up a mountain. About halfway up, we are really rock climbing. For every step we take, we lose about three inches of our stride. As we're climbing the clouds start to creep up the volcano. As they pass over us, we can feel the cool dampness, which comes as a great relief. We finally make it to the top and I take my first look into the crater of a volcano. The way down is a lot easier than the way up, we just get to slide. We're down by 4 and on for the next 4.5 hours of the hike. We cross the flats, which are quite welcome at this point, but up ahead we can see the next uphill we have to climb. While, I'm not that excited to be going up again, when we reach the top, we find out how worth it it was. The next up is quite small and at the crest we can look down to the acid lakes we've been told about. Apparently a helicopter fell in one once and one of the men from it swam to shore, he had health problems for the rest of his life. Our hostel owner tells us this before we leave, to keep us from swimming in them. Just in case the smell when you get there doesn't put you off from swimming anyway. We can see steam coming up from places around the pool. We set up for another group picture. This time attempting not to slide backward into the acid lakes, while getting into position with all the cameras flashing at us to warn us they're about to go off. There's only one more up before we start going downward for what seems like forever. For the next 3 hours we watch the same piece of landscape change angles over and over as we wind back and forth down over the same hill. After marching through desert like landscape for the whole day, the scenery abruptly changes and we enter a jungle. By now it's getting dark, nearing 8:00, but we're only about 2km from the end. The Tongariro Alpine crossing is 19.6km or 11.8 miles long. Mt. Ngauruhoe is over 7,000ft above sea level, but I have yet to figure out how far up we had to climb. The trip was well worth it, if challenging while we were doing it. I feel highly accomplished, if a little sore. It's not everyday you climb up a volcano. Plus now I have a little more LOTR street credit. The nerdiness lives on!!