|After nearly five weeks of being quite (abnormally) stationary in Hawkes Bay and specifically at the Prickle Patch, we found ourselves preparing the van (which we have since named Pearl.. or was it Possum?) for yet another road trip. One might think that living out of a van would result in a messy and disorderly disaster, what with the small size of the thing, but, one should not underestimate the power of Jon Queally's ability to find a neat place for EVERY belonging that we have. I should say, before Jon gets angry at my mentioning his somewhat anal organizing behavior, that I very much appreciate his appreciation for tidiness, and, as a result of his teachings, I have become quite neat myself. (yes mom, its true). So, with our van packed tidy-ly, our bodies a bit stiff from the apple-picking madness, and our souls eager for another adventure, we set out from the Prickle Patch en route to perhaps hike the Mt. Tongariro Crossing. The weather was a bit iffy, as winter has been setting in and dumping snow on the mountains, so we had to accept the fact that the hike we set out to do (one of the Great 9 Walks of New Zealand) may not happen.
We have learned to be flexible in traveling, that is for sure. We also knew that this nation holds such emmense possibilities for outdoor pursuits, and that the five days that we had to fill before heading back to Hawkes Bay to collect our apple picking winnings would certainly be filled with plenty of beautiful scenery and adventure.
Arriving in Taupo and witnessing the blustery wind and cold, we pretty much knew right away that we would not be able to hike the nearby Tongariro Crossing hike, due to weather. Stopping at the visitor's center to get the most up-to-date weather report confirmed that we would have to change our plans, and head north instead. no worries. We had heard the Coromandel Peninsula was gorgeous, and that there were plenty of tramps (hikes) to do there.
As every detail of our little road trip passes vividly through my mind, I realize that there is still too much more to write about to relay to you all those fine little details. Our time in our van, though, is really nice- with nice conversation, and a really overwhelming sense of freedom. We often look over at eachother (Jon still keeping one eye on the road, of course) and without saying anything, we both know just how fortunate we are to be doing this together.
As darkness begins to fall, and we find ourselves at the base of the Peninsula, hungry and not yet sure where we will spend the night, reality sets in (just a bit). Its tough sometimes (especially as its getting darker and colder by the minute) to not know where we are going to sleep for the night, and know that we may drive aimlessly for hours looking for a nice spot. Of course, we could make things easier on ourselves by paying the $25 it costs to stay in a campervan park for the night, but we are stubborn in our beliefs that since our accomodation is on wheels, we can get by for free by just finding a secluded spot along the beach to park the van. Much of the beachfront area where we find ourselves, however, is a reserve, and there is positively no overnight parking or camping.
After getting a bite to eat, we feel energized to drive a bit in the dark and find a place. We end up at a great little day camping area by the lake (can't remember the name), complete with restrooms and water. Score.
We wake up the next morning to a beautiful view of the lake, and to two water-savvy horses having their morning swim, with their owner walking along the banks of the water. It is magical to wake up like this- to such a view, and the fresh air, and the simplicity of it all. We make nasty porridge for breakfast, (Jon is much better about stomaching it than I am) and try and decide what our day might look like. There are a few spots we want to hit on the way up the east side of the peninsula, but other than that, we have no itinerary whatsoever, other than wanting to do an overnight hike if possble.
We have a great day exploring a bit of the coastline, stopping to have a picnic lunch at a really nice beach (which reminds us a lot of the coastline in Northern Cali), and then make a stop at Hot Water Beach. I had every intention on trying out the natural hot spring beach, until we got there and realized that school vacation is not exactly the best time to visit the hot tourist spots. There were swarms of people on the beach, all with shovels, digging there own little springs in the sand. Quite an amazing natural wonder it was, though. Basically its your regular natural hot water spring, but it just happens to be located right on the beach, and at low tide, you are able to dig holes (about a foot or so down, and the hot water seeps up into the holes, so you can then indulge in your own little spring. It would have been quite wonderful minus the 502 people who had beat us there. So, we took a few photos, and said adios to hot water beach.
To avoid further play by play details of our excursions, (what we ate, where we slept, what we wore, what we said) I'll skip right to the main event.
Our first tramping expedition in New Zealand: Hiking the Coromandel Peninsula Pinnacles Trail
We were a bit unsure if our minimal overnight camping gear would allow us to survive (comfortably) the cold night, but the nice gentleman at the visitor's center assured us that the Pinnacles Hut, one of the nicest and largest in New Zealand, would be warm enough, and that we would certainly not die from hypothermia without regular sleeping bags. So, we packed up our sleep sacks, instant noodles, loads of tea, and unfortunately, more porridge for breakfast, and set out on the trail towards the Pinnacles Hut. We had been warned that the hut would be full that night, with roughly seventy people having already made reservations. I should explain, first, a bit about the hut system in New Zealand. They take their outdoor pursuits very seriously here, and we have been amazed at how well kept, clean and well equipped everything has been in regards to camping services. There are loads of backcountry huts throughout the country, which allow you to go on multi-day tramps, perhaps from one hut to another, and have accomodation other than a tent. Most huts are simply log cabins with bunk beds, and a common cooking area. A really nice system, and really unique in that you are able to meet up with other hikers on the trail, and share a meal, or a game of cards at night by candlelight, and usually a woodstove.
In addition to the hut system, we have found that the hiking trails here are just unbelievably well designed and well-groomed. No toe-stubber roots to be found on these trails. I must say it takes a bit of the adventure out of it, as you find yourself walking in the woods with a stone-lined gravel path, but who's complaining? The two of us have a really nice walk- about 4 hours in total to the hut. Upon arriving, we continue to be amazed at how nice everything is- here is this gorgeous house in the middle of nowhere- with a beautiful porch overlooking the hills and forest, and a nice barbeque and woodstove. Heaven. There is just one or two other people there when we arrive, and we find ourselves two bunk beds to save our space, and then lace up our shoes to head off towards the Pinnacles (45 minute walk). Summiting the Pinnacles felt wonderful, and the views were majestic. A great finish to a beautiful day.
Oh, but, the day was not quite finished.
We arrive back at the hut to a bit more noise than when we left. I walk into the bunk room to grab some clothes, and am instantly the recipient of typical 16-year-old boy-hormonal-inspired-remarks. "ooooh- wonder where SHE's sleeping... " followed by intermitent giggles and utterances by the rest of the pimply 16-year-old pack that I am happy to have not heard. Looks like I'll be switching rooms I say to myself, as two of the boys move their stuff (jokingly) over the the bed right next to mine. yikes. Removing all our stuff, and taking it to the other bunk room (each containing 40 beds) I breathe a sigh of relief that we got ourselves out of that hormone hell when we did, and that there was space in the other room, which, by the looks of it, seemed more of a family place. As luck would have it, we decided to go tramping during school vacation, and with us at the hut that night, were 20 youths from a "troubled" (although I hate to use that term.. cause we're all a bit troubled when we're 16, arent's we?) youth group in Aukland. Great.
Well, at least we didn't have to sleep in the same room. So, instead of a peaceful early evening, we found ourselves listening to the latest hip hop and heavy metal via the terribly loud walkman earphones that many of them simly wore around their necks rather than their ears, to be sure that everyone else reading quietly and enjoying nature could hear.
Oh, but it gets better.
As I'm sitting on my new bunk in my new quiet room, the warden (guy that sleeps at the hut and keeps it clean and controlled) comes in with a sheet of paper, sort of mumbling to himself about where he might put the 15 kids from the youth group. He counts several of the empty beds surrounding us, that I had hoped would remain empty... "I think they're here already, I say"- "the youth group- they're in the other room" warden: "Oh, no this is another group."
"these are younger kids" he says. Oh- ok, I think. I like young kids- and they get tired early and sleep. so, no big deal, I think.
This story could get unbearably long. Almost as long as the night I spent not sleeping a single wink.
What could be worse than 15 16-year old boys???
Ten 9-year-old girls.
It was a giant slumber party for them (and I am very happy, indeed, that they had such a good time), but, in all honesty, it was a night from hell. From the screaming, the gymnastics routines, the cheerleading cheers, the singing, the vomiting (yes, there was middle of the night vomiting) to the endless whispering coversations amongst them all about who had a two-story and who had a three- story house, and why Michelle wasn't playing rugby this year, and how Debra couldn't find her hairbrush and WHAT IS SHE GOING TO DO WITHOUT HER HAIRBRUSH??????!!!!
It got so bad, folks, that after nearly 4 hours of desperate attempts to fall asleep amidst all this madness, Jon actually sat up in bed and had an attempt at reprimanding these little girls.
"shhhhhhh" they all whispered to eachother after Jon's remarks (I guess a remark from the "scary man in the corner" will make them be quiet, for a minute or so).
Between the cackles of the girls, and the snoring of all the men, I honestly did not sleep one wink during our first night in a New Zealand hut.
Tip for other travelers: Make sure you know when school vacation is before booking a peaceful jaunt into nature.
We woke up the next morning (well, I was awake, but I rose out of bed ultimately due to frustration) upon the girls' arising at 5:45 am. Had porridge and tea, laced up our boots once again, and descended the Pinnacles. Jon said it best as we got ourselves back to the quiet trail, and we both seemed not to know what to say after leaving the madness behind: "Well that was a brutal and wonderful experience."