Monday, February 28, 2011

Last Dispatches from the Land of the Long White Cloud

His Name is Doom
Tongariro National Park is the oldest park in New Zealand and the fourth oldest in the world. It is also a World Heritage site noted for its spiritual significance to the Maori and its crazy, kickass volcanic features. It is also the home of Mt. Ngauruhoe, aka Mt. Doom from, yes, Lord of the Rings. And it is awesome.

The Tongariro Crossing is an extremely popular day-hike that winds up and up and over and around this rocky, alpine landscape. It is about twelve rugged miles, and most people book a ride on a shuttle and hike it one way. I am broke (and/or cheap, apparently) and hate hiking in cattle drives, so I decided I would rather avoid the crowd, start late, hike up to the top from one side, turn back, and then do the same thing the next day, from the other side. Twice the miles! Twice the elevation gain! None of the cost!

The trek starts off normal enough, winding uphill along a stream through open country, getting more and more apliney and rocky with the elevation. Lichen. Flowers. The big Doom himself looks harmless enough from the start, but looms bigger and more badass the closer you approach. Black pumice rocks litter the ground, a ragged foot's exfoliation fantasy. Then come the craters. The Mars-walk. The moonscape. Clouds of steaming sulphur, blood-red rocks, steep gravel climbs, views down to a chain of emerald alpine lakes. At some point near the top I started cussing because it was just that sweet and foreign and impressive. On the way down, late in the day, I pretty much had the place to myself. It was glorious.

The Great Teen Invasion
Evidence. You see how Big Agnes cringes?
I returned from the hike all dusty-footed and smiley. Then I pulled into the quiet and quaint little campsite where I had set up my tent earlier in the day, and it was as if someone had picked up said tent, and moved her into a circus ring. Infested with heavily-perfumed and popped-collar teenagers. Seriously, there were about 50 of them on a school trip. Those of us campers without membership cards to Teen Nation literally retreated to our cars for the evening. When I checked on Big Agnes, I was horrified to see that a gaggle of giggling girls put their tent up so close it was actually touching her. The nerve! This is extremely poor form in camping etiquette! I realize by now I must sound like a crotchety old lady, shaking my fist at the sky in vain... but seriously. Several other campers packed up their gear and bailed in a huff. I stuck it out, enduring all manner of outhouse-related screeching and teen talk late into the night. The next morning I heard they were staying another few nights, and although I was planning on staying a second night myself, I got the hell out of that hormone war zone while I still could.

The hike up from the other side was lovely, too. Through native forest at the start, then open bush. Over hot springs heavy with the smell of rotting eggs. The atmospheric action higher up kept the peaks veiled in a thick blanket of fog, making the whole landscape that much more eerie. I dunked my head in the cold creek on the way down, sat on a mossy rock eating mandarins, and stared at a waterfall for a good long while, knowing it would probably be one of my last hikes in the country. It was a good day.

Happy Doom's Day!

Sunday, February 27, 2011

La Coromandel, in Pictures

A couple of weeks ago I had the great pleasure of spending several days in the Coromandel region in the northeastern part of the north island. It ended up being one of my favorite spots in New Zealand. . . seamlessly braiding the wild with the pastoral, set against the backdrop of the sea. This is one of the things I like best about this country--the land isn't so finitely divided and parceled off into "farmland" and "wildland" and "humanland"as it often is in the states--rather it is all sort of seamlessly woven together. Many of the tramps I've been on cross over private land. You'll be walking through a long stretch of native forest, then suddenly the sky opens up and you are in a field with cows or sheep warily regarding you. This is something I will really miss.
I camped at the very top of the peninsula,
tucked between rolling pasture, native bush, and the ocean.
Walk this way.
Beginning of the Walkway Hike.
Nikau Palm's pale new buds.
Palm trunk rings look carved, not grown.
Cloudy day, typical view along the Walkway.
Not your typical bovine habitat.
Flax (Phormium) plants are all over New Zealand.
Not at all like northern hemisphere flax, although it is also used as a natural fibre.
Flax weaving (raranga) is a very important traditional Maori art form/utility.
Rocks! Water!
Fuzzy head, sleepy face.
The amazing pohutukawa (Metrosideros excelsa) tree,
all twisty and wizardish, they line the curvy gravel drive up the coast.

Checking out the blue view.
More rocks! More water!
Bent to the earth.
In repose.
One of many delicious swimming holes.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Animals I Have Known, Wild Edition

Check out the schnoz on this Paradise Shelduck
There's a Blue Sheriff in Town...
Pied Shag, aka Not a Penguin from a Distance
Ol' Blue Eyes Longfin, Again
Red-billed Gull, Consumate Crumb Burglar
Miss Mallard Contemplates if Big Agnes is Worth Nibbling

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Signs, Signs, Everywhere There's Signs...

After so much tragedy, I bring you a little humor, to lighten the heart:

Part Two in awesome New Zealand signage...

Yeah, yeah, everyone loves bacon...

If anyone has any ideas why someone thought this was an appropriate
mural for a bathroom wall, I am all ears. The semi-automatic bayonet,
the muff top, the trio of growling, Cerebus-like yap dogs... fascinating.

More like Psycho-time Creeper Cones

If Tears for Fears did construction

How to make that exclamation point look like a club

Cookie Monster's lesser-known crackhead cousin, "Cokey"

And yet they keep trying

After the shocking failure of Norbit II, Eddie Murphy's career takes an even darker turn

Sometimes the value of punctuation is immeasurable
(Sorry, I couldn't resist)
The opposite of encouragement