We hit the road the next morning with grey skies overhead and the plan was to head to the Tongariro National Park. On the way out of town we visited the Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland and then had lunch near Lake Taupo. However, as the day wore on the weather got stormier and a phone call to the national park campsite confirmed that conditions were expected to be bad there overnight and for the next few days. So out came the Loney Planet Book and after a look at the map we decided to head towards Mount Taranaki near New Plymouth. After a quick phone call we had booked ourselves into an Eco Inn and were on our way.
(it’s always good to be colour co-ordinated with your surroundings)
The drive was a stunning 350km of fantastic roads through rolling hillsides, gorges and beautiful forests. We even saw wild mountain goats. However the weather remained shoddy all the way and we started to think we were dragging it around with us! When we eventually arrived at the Eco Inn we couldn’t see the mountain through the clouds, but according to the map it was close.
The Eco Inn was unique to say the least. The whole place was eco friendly, with river water coming from all taps but one, which spewed out rain water for drinking. The electricity was provided by solar or hydro and they had an outdoor floating bath on a pond and organic veggies we could buy. We felt very green, aside from the 350km drive we had just undertaken!
We can’t decide if we are just very social people or (more likely) if everybody who travels loves a chat because wherever we go we spend too much time chatting and not enough time thinking about where we go next. Within 5 minutes we were engaged in a lengthy conversation with a French couple about SE Asia and New Zealand. We were amused to discover that they have been travelling 18 months and though they intended to return home for a short while soon they planned to then set off once again. Their stories were impressive.
The next day we awoke to sunshine and it was time to tackle Mount Taranaki. Payback time for us both for all those coconut curries and yummy ice creams consumed in Thailand. We took some advice from the Visitor Centre and decided upon a 3 – 4 hour loop to a transmission tower about 1500 metres above sea level. The climb was hard going but we made it to the tower in around 1h 40m and from there we began the traverse around the mountain. This was challenging at times but superb fun and the views were absolutely amazing.
(the view from the Eco Inn)
(there’s still a long road ahead…)
(…but the views make the climb worthwhile)
We then began the descent proper and completed the loop in just under 4 hours. As we neared the end the familiar face of Austrian Ernest from the Eco Inn appeared. He told us he had reached the summit and we both admired his bravery and mountaineering gear…sneakers, shorts and a golf shirt coupled with the least suitable looking rucksack. His feat was impressive though Mark had spotted earlier that 3 of the last 4 people to die on the mountain had died due to inappropriate gear! We told him this later as we chatted over dinner. Our walk was less impressive but we still managed 600 metres of climbing and burned a few calories along the way.
We loved the cosy, quirky Eco Inn and would recommend it to anybody in the area.