I had wondered, “How did this idea of Oceania being ‘down under’ come about?” From recently visiting Antarctica I know that that continent is really down under. I thought, “Maybe my lack of understanding of the earth’s axis would explain it?” No, Antarctica is still down under all the land on earth. What I learned is that this nickname is a holdover from earlier centuries, when mapmakers knew nothing of the lands south of Asia. In fact Europeans did not start to settle in New Zealand until the beginning of the 1800’s…
Loren and I began this week by going to The Tree Church which I happened upon online. The website does not do it justice though, in that in addition to the amazing combination of a natural and wrought sacred structure, the larger grounds include peaceful gardens, ponds, a labyrinth… We learned that the talented designer/owner has plans to someday build a more magnificent garden setting. I hope he will.
We then went to Maungatautari – Sanctuary Mountain, where extensive fencing keeps imported predators out, for the native flora and fauna to thrive. We took two walks, though were disappointed in the second. It was different from the Northern Enclosure which said “Allow 35 minutes, 1.1km – Medium fitness,” and we took less than 35 minutes on a thoroughly delightful track. The Over the Mountain enclosure fooled us by signage pointing in either direction to begin an hour to the peak, appearing to be a loop. It was a grueling, uphill trudge through denser-growth forest for over an hour. Before we made it to the summit we were told that there would be no view, and, that the track on the other side was in disrepair. We turned around, with our plans for a second enjoyable 1-2 hour hike dashed. The lesson learned is how important it is to do better research in advance.
From here we drove for about four hours to our lodging in Tongariro National Park. On the way there we played with the idea of postponing our full day hike to rest up, and especially as the clouds looked threatening. But, when we arrived it was too late to rearrange plans, so we prepared ourselves for an early departure for the long day hike.
We spent the next day on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, feeling so grateful that we had fabulous weather all day! A young woman working at the lodge since November later said she had never seen a day with sunshine throughout to the afternoon. We saw Mount Tongariro, Mount Ruapehu and Mount Ngauruhoe, the otherworldly Red Crater, and, the stunning Emerald Lakes up close. Quoting one of our lodge owners, we can say that we survived walking over “two active volcanos.” As well, we saw incredibly unique volcanic and geothermal terrain. Instead of the advertised tramp of 19.4km in 5-1/2 to 7-1/2 hours though, it took the two of us 9. But we made it! With an evening soak in our motel’s hot tub, we were ready for our next day’s commitment to a half day of mountain biking…
We wondered if our bike outing on Old Coach Road would be canceled due to weather. It was lucky for us again in that it only mildly drizzled at the start and end of our ride, then absolutely poured after we were back safe and dry in our motel room. We were especially grateful to not be among the group that we were on the Tongariro Crossing that day. That evening we celebrated at the nice restaurant suggested by our other lodge owner, and we wore our souvenir T-shirts that were part of the Crossing package.
Then we enjoyed a down day. Clouds and rain once again helped us realize our fortune of Crossing in clear weather, while we did laundry and other catchup. I had not stopped thinking of my humming the tune of Smile to our water taxi driver last week, so looked up the lyrics. I found the references to clouds and sunshine coincidental:
From Smile – Music by Charles Chaplin, Lyrics by John Turner and Geoffrey Parsons:
…When there are clouds in the sky
You’ll get by
If you smile through your fear and sorrow
Smile and maybe tomorrow
You’ll see the sun come shining through
Continuing in this vein, I came across a quote that I had noted some many years ago, and from where I have no idea. But, it touched me then, and does again now, especially as we are traveling through the Maori iwi (tribe) lands:
Turn your face to the sun and the shadows fall behind you. Maori Proverb
Driving from Tongariro towards Wellington at the south end of the North Island, we took a winding road called The Forgotten World Highway. We stopped a couple of times on the long day – first for a soft drink at historic Whangamomona hotel in the capital city of the Whangamomona Republic – said Fang-ah-momo-na. We voluntarily received passport stamps but cannot claim having visited another “country.” We also drove through two different one lane tunnels, and, had lunch by the little used 1936 “Bridge to Somewhere.”
I mentioned the coastal/land formations last week, now I must mention a few inland highlights. There are ridges and hollows everywhere in the New Zealand countryside! I used to think that cliffs were only found on the coast. Now I know that they can also be found inland. Of course I have seen them inland but did not call them cliffs. Some of the ones just alongside the roads are as tall and straight as high rise buildings. Also, we have driven by so much land that has been set aside as Scenic Reserves that perhaps one could spend a lifetime visiting all of them, or at least needing more than the limited time that we have in New Zealand. And, we had seen some sheep but mostly cattle so far, now on this drive we saw as many or more sheep as we did in the hills of Ireland and Scotland.
We then spent two nice nights in Masterton on the way to Wellington. This area is also called Wairarapa. Our AirBnB was hosted by a lovely family with three friendly young boys and a fun-loving dog. Here we spent nearly a full day at Pukaha Mount Bruce, a preservation center where we saw their one all-white kiwi bird in a bird house setting that imitated nighttime inside the enclosure. We took in talks about a few other unique creatures – the Takahe bird, the Tuatara – a similar reptile to a lizard or gecko but more ancient, and, saw a Long-Fin Eel feeding. Then we went about an hour and a half on their Loop Walk through Forest Restoration Project lands. It was especially nice to finish the walk in a shorter amount of time than their advertised two hours.
That evening Loren and I had a date night to see Loving Vincent at a new theater in town. Maybe you already saw it but it was just released here. Incredibly spectacular with a good story line, and, everything in it painted in Van Gogh’s unique style. We would both see it again and can highly recommend it.
Now we are in Wellington, settled in to an apartment which we will be in for about the next month. It is in walking distance to the local Bikram Yoga studio, and we plan to visit the Unitarian congregation who meet in Wellington about once a month.
Until next week, Happy Valentine’s Day!