New Zealand sits on the same Pacific "Ring of Fire" that fuels Mt. St. Helen's, Hawaii's active volcanoes, and Mt. Fuji. There are a number of active volcanoes on both islands, including Mt. Taranaki (see "A Taranaki Ramble" for more on this).
We travelled in late March to Tongariro National Park on the North Island to join Kiwi friends Phil Twyford and Jo Easingwood, and their teenaged son Harry, to traverse the "Tongariro Crossing," a tramp past two of the region's volcanoes. We were joined by their friends Basil and Yvonne, and their two teen-aged kids Liam and Eliza.
We flew from Wellington to Lake Taupo on a clear and cool Friday. Lake Taupo, NZ's biggest, is the water-filled crater from the largest modern-age volcanic eruption ever, back in around 700 CE. New Zealand has no written or even oral history from that time. But geologists have studied the eruption extensively and contemporary accounts from China and India reference a darkening of the skies consistent with a gigantic volcanic eruption.
The eruption obliterated everything within miles. It utterly destroyed the volcanic cone that might have been on the site, leaving behind an immense crater that filled with water over the centuries to form a huge lake.
Today Taupo is the Lake Tahoe of the North Island. The town of Taupo is full of vacation cottages, motels, resorts and so on. The whole lake is ringed with small resort areas and the lake itself is busy in summer with water skiers, boaters, fisherpeople, and others. Including pararsailing, jet-skiing and other more noxious water activities. It's one of NZ's premier trout fisheries, requiring a separate license.
Unfortunately, the hard summer storms made a proper mess of the lake and its rivers, cutting down the otherwise world-class trout fishery. The floods brought tons of debris down the rivers, and re-carved the riverbed and banks so long-established trout habitats were completely rearranged. NZ Fish and Wildlife estimates it won't get back to "normal" until sometime next year. Too bad for a would-be trout-er like me!
We spent the rest of Friday in the town. We watched part of the national Scottish pipe and drum competition while there. Different teams from around NZ came in complete Scottish regalia with bagpipes and drums. Vendors were set up in tents ringing the ground selling kilts and other assorted Scotch-iania.
We spent Friday night in Turangi, at a classic older fishing lodge on the shores of the lake. The small housekeeping rooms were clean, well furnished rustic. They sported the musty fragrance of well-used, minimally maintained fishing and vacation cottages the world over. Jodie couldn't wait to get outside again! Other guests were huddled on the pier trying to recover an expensive pair of sunglasses lost to some rough-housing; one local resident who happened to be on the scene returned with her scuba gear and was busy looking on the lake bottom.
Though the glasses were never found, we ended up spending the rest of the evening with the diver, Catherine, and her good friend Diane. We sat at a picnic table watching the dusk gather over the lake while drinking a great NZ wine. We had dinner at the restaurant there. Run by two Irish immigrants, it was a surprise find -- really good food prepared by a real chef.
But mostly we continued to drink the good NZ wine with Diane and Catherine. As we've found with many Kiwis, it was very easy to become very comfortable very quickly. Within a few minutes of our meeting, for instance, Diane offered us the use of her cottage for the next few days, as she had to return to Auckland. As the evening progressed, we learned that Diane is suffering from likely terminal cancer. We were humbled by her continuing good spirits, her optimistic outlook and unwillingness to let her illness control her life. It made us once again appreciate all the blessings we enjoy in our lives, with good health and good fortune.
Hours later, as drunk as we've been since arriving, we stumbled back to our room. Phil knocked on our door around 11 pm on arriving from Auckland; I staggered out to somewhat unintelligibly greet him and Harry. From the looks on their faces, I didn't conceal my condition very well. Only a few hours later we stumbled up, packed our packs and gathered in the chilly morning to meet Basil, Yvonne and their kids and get on our way for the tramp.