- Rotorua – Redwood Forest
- Redwood Forest – Taupo
Our bus left Rotorua at 9.30, giving us a much needed rest following the heavy night at Lava Bar. Due to the extra night I had chosen in Rotorua we also had to make new bus friends. Well actually, they had already claimed the back seat and seemed fairly cliquey so we stuck with our old friends at the front! Their driver, Elliot, was “sweet as” though and proved to be good entertainment.
We dropped off about half the bus at Te Puia, a geyser park just outside Rotorua. I would have loved to see this but couldn’t justify the money and instead went on the free Redwood Forest walk, getting a nice blister along the way from my “thongs” (too much time spent with my token Aussie bestie, Monique).
The bus had one other stop on the way to Taupo at Huka Falls. Oh my! This waterfall – well, really it’s like a water jet flowing along about a 100m stretch – could fill 11 50m swimming pools in under 10 seconds with its crystal blue waters. The falls are the site of a famous Kiwi murder scene involving a cricket umpire and dominatrix. She got him too high and thought he was dead so tied him up and threw him in the falls, where he was found a few days later once they’d dammed the flow. It’s easy to see why there have been many drownings at the falls as the power of the water is pretty spectacular.
Upon arrival in Taupo, we were excitedly greeted by the girls on the bus before us, and our favourite Irish Seamus (Fergal) and Carlos (Greg). It was so, so great to see them again and hear about how closely acquainted they had all gotten on their previous night out!! The rest of us had booked to complete the Tongariro Crossing – New Zealand’s longest 1-day walk, comprising 20km’s of mountainous and volcanic terrain, sub-zero temperatures, 30km/ph winds and apparently spectacular views. You could summit the 3 volcanoes/mountains too, including Mt.Doom from Lord of the Rings. Unfortunately, the weather was closing in meaning all skydives and crossings were cancelled for the following day. This was our first ‘argument with the weather’.
Instead, Emily and I headed out with the boys on Sail Barbary, a BYOB and unlimited pizza sailing boat for 3 hours on Lake Taupo, New Zealand’s largest lake (50km’s wide and 186m deep). It was a lovely chilled-out, drunken sail, if not a little cold, but gave us a great chance to properly get to know Rory, Tom, Jack and Joe.
Stepping off the boat at 7.30pm, we were all a little more drunk than first thought, especially Hattie, and didn’t want to crash before going out, so we headed up to the “party room” (the boys room) and continued the “sesh”. About 10pm, we went out to Element Bar and excitedly caught up with everyone from our previous bus, with the night proving to be the heaviest one yet. Lots of “pairing off”, shots, dancing and sad farewells to those leaving us in the morning. My saddest farwell was to Greg, who had been my bus seat buddy and said that he missed my endless singing on the bus (Mum, Dad, I do it out here too!).
Seeing as everyone had various partners that night, I crashed up in the boys room so that I wasn’t lonely and slept right though to midday, taking up all the room from Tom! Despite the lie-in, I was still steeming drunk at midday and desperately in need of a shower, some food and coffee!
After re-fuelling, and discovering I left my GoPro in Rotorua, Monique, Emily and I re-joined some of the others at the nearby Spa Thermal Park. This was a tributary that fed the Huka Falls lake, but was super-heated from the volcanic and tectonic activity below the ground. There were various waterfall pools and coves in which you could sit and it was a great way to recover from our hangovers. The whole bus group were there too: Hattie, Morgan, Christina, Ellen, Dan, Dan, Puk, Joe, Jack, Rory, Tom, and us 3.
On the walk home, we decided we were actually fairly dissappointed that we couldn’t do the crossing that day, so us girls and Morgan made the decision to extend our Taupo stay for a night longer, to complete it in the morning (also meaning I could be re-united with my GoPro, brought down by the next bus driver, yay!).
That evening, we ate with the boys, all deciding to have a night to recover from alcohol and also prepare for our 5am start and 20km hike. A very sad goodbye ensued, as it was the first time that we were really losing the chance of catching up with our group further on in the journey. All 3 of us went to bed with quite sombre moods that night, crashing early in prep for the morning and in recovery from the previous night.
Luckily, the other girl in our room was also completing the crossing that morning so there were no rude awakenings, other than those of our own of course. We had to check out as we had extended our booked nights but after this, made our way on to the coach and out to the mountains. The crazy lady bus driver informed us that it would be a windy, not too cold, and quite physically challenging hike. What we were not prepared for was just how f*cking cold it would be stepping off the bus, 2km below our final altitude height!!
Our first steps were taken at 7.20am on 13th November 2016. With a minimum of 19.4km’s to walk, we kept in as high spirits as we could. After 5km, we were pretty sweaty, laughing at how we had over-packed on layers and why it took people usually over 6hours to complete. 2km’s later we were complaining about how steep the terrain was quickly becoming, struggling across “The Devil’s Staircase” and “Red Crater Ridge”, considering our view was limited to a 10m distance and the drop on either side of the loose, rocky terrain was a steep, several hundred-meter fall. By 10km’s we were positively crying in the cold and wind, at our altitudinal peak. All elements considered, we decided not to summit Mt.Doom or Mt.Tangariro as they were advisable only in good conditions, of which this was certainly not!
At 16km’s, we reached a shelter offering a tiny restbite from the cold and wind. In saying this, we were frozen to the core, wet, and our claw hands had returned, so the relief was short-lived when we didn’t actually warm up at all. Monique had reached the point of convincing herself she was about to die and needed helicopter rescue; Emily had increased her pace to practically a run, and I had fallen completely silent, suffering internally! Drama Queens we may seem, but ask anyone completing the crossing that day or in similar conditions where the cloud does not clear, ice forms over your legs, raging winds and rain pelt your face like needles whilst you expose yourself to all demonic forms of weather across a volcanic ridge, and the crazy bus lady tells you that you won’t need gloves!
The last 3km’s were slow, long, and hard on the knees as it was all a descent. However, we were finally below the clouds, warming up and finally seeing some of the spectacular views promised on this trek. Due to the feeling of near-death, we powered through the crossing in 5hrs40mins and had never been so relieved to see dry grass, a little ray of sunshine and a rickety old bus in our lives. In hindsight, the crossing was fantastic. A real physical and mental challenge, testing strength, determination and resilience. All it took was a little above-zero conditions for us to realise so!
Morgan and some of the others did summit Mt.Doom, reaching -5 degree temperatures at the top. The clouds had begun to burn off by their descent so that the views we should have had were more visible. Something a little like this:
Once we’d got back to the hostel, showered and warmed up, we rewarded our efforts with coffee and cake at a local cafe and awaited Morgan’s return anxiously (he was 4 hours behind us and we thought we’d lost him for good – again, think I’m joking but you honestly think death is an option up there, and Morgan confirmed this when he returned in an equally cranky attitude).
Recuperating downstairs with tea, the four of us decided that we did not want yet another day of the cold and rain on this trip, and needed to save some money. Therefore, we rung Kiwi Experience to cancel our bus to River Valley, and booked the inter-city bus straight to Wellington, where we could catch up with our other friends (another reason we were so moody, as we were all on a real low from leaving people we’d gotten so close with). With this imrproving our spirits, we rewarded our day’s efforts once more with McDonald’s and an early night.
The next morning we found out that a 7.4 magnitude earthquake had struck just North of Christchurch overnight, with tremors and aftershocks reaching Wellington, where our original bus were staying and had all been evacuated. Some of the other hostel guests said they felt tremors in Taupo which had unnerved them, but us 4 sleepy heads slept through the entire thing!
After checking out, reassuring Mum, Becky and Charles that I was safe and fate had had it that I stay back a couple of days, we returned to the same cafe for tea and coffee before our midday bus and at 12.30pm, boarded the second of our green bus experiences in New Zealand.
Now two weeks in to ‘life from a bag’, and so far, I believe in fate, undoubtedly value friendship and know that I can survive the cold, no matter how much I think that I can’t!