It feels like we’ve been on our journey for months now. We’ve seen so many new and interesting things. Often when time feels longer than it is, it’s because people are doing boring or loathsome tasks. For us, that is not the case. I’m pretty sure the sheer volume of adventures makes this feel like it’s been longer than it has been. When I last left you, we had been bouncing back and forth between the east and west coasts of the North Island.
Te Puia: An Explosive Experience
Some of our biggest North Island adventures were still ahead. After visiting the northlands, we set out to explore the central part of the island, which features geothermal activity and volcanoes. A stop in Rotorura gave us a chance to visit Te Puia, a Maori cultural center that also includes geysers, mud pots, and other geothermal activity. They also have an arts and crafts institute, dedicated to teaching and preserving the Maori culture. We started our visit with a beautiful Maori welcoming ceremony and tour of the traditional arts institute. We then ventured on our own to view the geothermal theatrics. We’ve been to Yellowstone, so mud pots and steam vents aren’t new to us. However, Te Puia takes geysers to an entirely different level. Their “Old Faithful” geyser, Pohutu, erupts about every hour. However, she’s quite the overachiever. We watched her erupt for nearly 45 minutes before we said, “Sheesh! Give it a rest, girl!” and moved on.
Tongariro Alpine Crossing
Our adventures in the North Island were coming to a close, but we had two Hobbit Geek related stops to make first. The first one was the epic hike on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, where Frodo threw the Ring of Power into Mt Doom. The Crossing is considered one of the top day hikes in the world in an area with dual World Heritage Site status. It’s 19.4 km (12 miles) across an active volcanic zone. I was blissfully ignorant about what lie before me. It ended up being one of the hardest and most rewarding tasks of my life.
It wasn’t the 12 miles, the volcanos, the altitude gain, or the high winds. I’ve done harder hikes along the John Muir Trail in California. My nemesis is heights. I’ve come a long way over the years, but trails that climb high along a sheer drop off still freak me out. ” To tears” kind of freak out.
We were doing good. Hiking steadily upwards along the flanks of the South Crater towards Mt Doom, the wind started picking up. We still had to climb to the Central Crater, then up to the summit of Red Crater. The winds reached a steady 25-30 MPH while we climbed the narrow ridge. Mark had to walk on the other side of me to keep me from falling during gusts that knocked me over. The trail up the crater hugs the edge. The drop off is precipitous. I am freaking out, but I can’t bail. I can’t. I HAVE to go forward. One step in front of the other, Mark is my encourager. I didn’t stop to catch my breath because I wanted the damn thing over with.
The top! Mark held me close, telling me how proud he was of me. I started crying, relieved that the hard part was over. So, next was the climb down to the gorgeous blue and green pools with views of Mt. Nguaruhoe (Mt. Doom) and Red Crater. Easy peasy, right? We turned the corner to make our descent and I let out a stream of expletives! A LONG, narrow, steep decent on volcanic scree. No trail. Just loose rock on a narrow ledge with certain death on either side, or so I perceived it to be.
It took about 45 minutes, but I made it down because Mark was there. The other hikers passing me were thrilled at all the fun of “sledding” down the rockslide. I was shaking, but not crying (maybe a little on the inside).
We made it down. I relaxed and began to enjoy the otherworldly views. Mark walked around the emerald pools and I met him on the other side. As I hiked, I started crying, again. This time because I was so danged proud of myself.
Heading back out of the crater the trail was once again hanging off the side of the mountain. This time, however, I was unphased. I’ve got this!
Big Fun in Hobbiton
Our last big event on the North Island required much less adrenalin. It was time to visit the Hobbits in the their very own Hobbiton. Peter Jackson and his crew have done an amazing job, combining the mythical Hobbiton with the very real countryside. Hobbit holes are built into the hillsides, complete with round doors and windows, little flower and vegetable gardens, smoke wafting from some chimneys, and laundry hanging out to dry. Some are simple, others more fancy; Bilbo and Frodo’s house is the most impressive, of course. Samwise Gamgee’s is also very enchanting. Since I’m Hobbit-sized myself, I felt right at home. We even enjoyed a pint at the Green Dragon Inn. Even Mark, who apparently doesn’t think Middle Earth exists, was impressed.
Later in the week, we met an entertaining Kiwi gentlemen at one of our campsites on the South Island who shared several stories related to the filming of the movies. He was a retired sheep sheerer whose friend, Lee, had worked as a lead horse wrangler for the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies. Evidently, Lee was also a stand-in as Gandalf in the scene where Gandalf rides in to Hobbiton on a horse-drawn cart. Unfortunately, we have no idea what our new friend’s name is, so we just refer to him as “Lee’s Friend.”
Packing in a wallop of adventures in a short period of time once again made us feel like more time had passed than actually had. In a good way, time had slowed down during each individual adventure, allowing us to take it all in and not rush our experiences. As always, you must..
Go With Me!
Go With Me Kiddos
Go With Me Kiddos will be posted as a separate blog this time. Keep an eye out for some Kiwi facts!
Until Next Time…