I just returned from three weeks in New Zealand. The first week was spent at the ACOLS'05 conference in Rotorua. Rotorua is in a highly geothermally active area. In the middle of the city is a geothermal park featuring boiling mud, springs and steam vents.
Following the conference I headed of to Whakapappa village with my friend Chris Foster, where we intended to climb Mt. Ruapehu (2,797m) in the Tongariro National Park in the central North Island. Mt. Ruapehu is New Zealand's highest volcano, which is still active. When we arrived mid-afternoon, we decided to probe the path we would follow the next day. We drove up to the base of the mountain, where many ski-lifts are located, and headed off. At about 2000m it became dark and the weather suddenly moved in, so we turned back. We rushed down at full speed so as to avoid being caught by darkness and bad weather. However, the darkness beat us causing to make a wrong turn on the descent. We ended up cowering under rocks to escape the rain while we examined our map trying to figure out where we had gone wrong. Thanks to our altimeter and compass we were able to estimate our position and made it back to the car, by which time the cloud cover was so low and the rain so strong that we had a visibility of about 10m. This made for a very slow and tedious drive back to the lodge.
The next day we got up early to make a start on Mt. Ruapehu, which typically takes around 8-9 hours return. The weather was still very bad and the entire mountain was hidden in cloud cover. We approached the Department of Conservation (DOC) office for information on the weather, which was forecast to bring gale-force winds up on the mountain. However, we only had a couple of days so we had to continue today despite the objections from the DOC office. We went on our merry way and sure enough by 2000m were submerged in complete whiteout with visibility around 50m, and sporadically dropping as low as 20m. With no capacity to navigate from visual landmarks we navigated entirely by compass and altimeter. A couple of hours later as we ascended the crater ridge of the mountain the winds really picked up. The wind was sufficiently strong to support us standing freely at about a 45 degree angle. Gusts literally bowled us over. We were fortunate enough to find a small rock outcrop, which gave us sufficient shelter to have a lunch of Moro bars and a few slices of plain white bread. 5 hours after departing we returned to the car park.
Chris departed back home following our couple of days at Ruapehu following which I continued on my own. My first destination was Mt. Taranaki (2518m), another active volcano on the west coast of the North Island. Once again I was faced with miserable weather and once again had to defy DOC recommendations. At about 1500m I entered the cloud cover and as I ascended further my old friend, the raging blizzard, came back to greet me. At 2450m, 50m below the summit, I decided to stop since the summit had a hard ice cap which would have been quite unsafe without any ice gear, not to mention a partner. No loss, 2450m is good enough for me. It's not as though the view would have been any better. At this point I took the following charming self-portrait after which I descended again. At about 1800m I noticed that my sunglasses were missing. I had taken them off for the self-portrait, laid them down on the rock beside me and forgotten to pick them up again. So back up again I went to recover my sunnies. Thankfully I found the same spot again, which was not by any means guaranteed given the visibility, and I safely recovered my trusty sunglasses.
Following my visit to Taranaki, I made my down the west coast to Wellington where I would catch the inter-island ferry to Picton. Wellington is a very nice city indeed - very cultural, a nice beach only minutes from the city centre, and aesthetically very appealing.
My first destination on the South Island was Kaikoura, a small city on the east coast. The mountains behind Kaikoura rise very steeply to alpine altitudes, only kilometres away from the coast. This makes for very spectacular views from even the smaller mountains, such as this one
Kaikoura is also home to a seal colony, the first wild seals I have come across.
Hanmer Springs, Christchurch and Akaroa
After spending a few days bushwalking around Kaikoura, I made my way to Hanmer Springs, another geothermally active area with some very nice bushwalking. Following this I made my way to Christchurch, where I was due to fly out from. I still had a day to spare, so I took a look at Akaroa, the oldest settlement in New Zealand, founded by the French (I think).