Bring on the Camping

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

We woke up bright and early… or at least I did. I set my alarm for an hour too early again. Which meant just before 5AM instead of 6AM. Since I hit the proverbial hay at 1, it was a little early, but we had a big hike ahead of us, so that kept me moving. We left in nice weather for Tongario National Park, where we were to hike in the shadow of Mount Doom from Lord of the Rings. Well, to really make it feel authentic, the weather got nasty as soon as we came to the edge of Mordor. I got a little confused between the Misty Mountains and Mordor, in other words. The mist was pretty light but we all threw on our waterproof stuff and set off.

The landscape was very sparse, feeling like the Canadian Shield or the northernmost portions of Norway, and we passed the swamp of the dead and lots of desolate volcanic fields, surrounded by, I can only assume, lush green mountains, waterfalls, and hoola girls. All of which were hidden by the mist, which grew heavier and blew harder as we ascended. I spent most of the hike with Anthony, who’s a pretty cool and friendly guy. We were near the back as I was still attempting to get some photos of the misty hike, which was basically being done in black and white – the lava and the mist. We soon found ourselves near the front and then he was gone, off in the lead on his own and trekking like an old pro.

The weather continued degrading, and my supposedly waterproof rain jacket was soaked through and through. My waterproof pants were mercifully holding up, but at the rate that the moisture was increasing, that couldn’t last long, It was a very steep climb and there were a lot of small breaks, and more than one person feeling bad for poor Frodo and Sam as we began to feel more and more tiny and hobbitlike on this vast volcano; shadowy figures on craggy slopes in cloaks on a mission. Except that we gave up and turned back because some of the group was tired and cold, and all of us were wet. To be fair, there wasn’t much use in pressing on as the visibility was continuing to drop and it was sometimes a struggle just to find the next marker. Scrambling down the rocks was even more treacherous, and all of us took a little volcanic mud home as a souvenir, either in our shoes, on our pants, or on our hands. Never content for a small serving, I took all of the above.

We took the van back towards the campsite and enjoyed a brief bit of sun en route before ending up in Mangaweka, our misty campsite. By now, we were really sick of the rain and wet, so setting up a tent in our drenched clothes in the rain was not exactly a picnic. But we got it done and decided that the solution to this wetness was to get really wet. So we walked down to the river and took a swim.

First, I should mention that only half the people were supposed to bring tents and then we were all to share. But, given the ratio of five guys to, well, a lot of girls, this was somewhat awkward. Moreso then it should’ve been – they wanted the tent to themselves and who can blame them, but it left a few of us in the cold for a while. We did finally get spots though, and I slept in Katie’s tent while Anthony, the other guy stuck in this situation with me, wound up with Kristin. Anyway, the campsite is actually pretty nice. It’s in a sandstone canyon, with big cliffs surrounding it and a very quick and fast moving rapids at the base. This is what we were swimming in. We’d walk in carefully until we fell and then let the current take us through the rapids. Not exactly safe, but lots of fun. The rocks would usually hit your feet and sometimes the current would just carry you right up and over the rock and you’d be back in it again. This, coupled with some kiwi-flavoured wine, was exactly the state that Anthony was in as he decided to go down the bigger rapids at the end. The others, Brad and Meridith (and later Chris), didn’t have that excuse.

Anthony and Brad took the rapids and wound up right against the cliff wall. They tried to climb up but Brad lost his footing and slid unceremoniously down into the water to try again, while Anthony made it up a fair distance and then had to turn back. They crossed the river to the other side, walked up a ways, and tried to cross, but got swept back down to try again. Finally, they made it across and joined the camp. Then we had a bit of dinner, and cracked open our bottles of wine. It seems that wine has become the drink of choice for the group, and I’d like to take credit for it. Though in truth, I’m not sure why. I guess we’re all trying to sample fairs from this side of the world.

Brad showed his camping skills by getting our fire going and we had quite a campfire party if I may say. Lauren and Chelsea joined Anthony as the most ‘active’ at the party, dancing like crazy and probably burning more calories than they drank giggling and laughing. Katie was not far behind, especially when they went up to a neighbouring camp and drank some moonshine (which was quite tasty, actually). Dustin drank for the first time on this trip and had enough to merit a late night resurgence next to poor Kristin’s tent. It was a good time and a good bonding experience for everyone. And we forgot about the rain.

The next morning we woke up, had some oatmeal (and more than one cooking mishap), and went kayaking and rafting on the same rapids we’d been body surfing through the day prior. While it was fun to kayak, you can imagine that the river itself was a little dull. It was beautiful and scenic, but nothing like the rafting we’d done only a few days prior. I still enjoyed it of course (how could I not?), and we had a good float. Then, back to the camp to pack up our stuff and off to Wellington, which I understand is our last stop on the north island. Already. It feels like it’s been two weeks and two days all at once. Neither of which is correct, but there you have it.

As far as the group goes, I’ve come to appreciate that almost none of them are the stereotypical Americans we all know and loathe, and I feel bad because they’re all good people and undeserving of their sometimes cool reception and are also very accepting and understanding of it. Even self-mocking. They might as well be Canadians! Oh, and en route to Wellington, we passed yet another converted plane. What the New Zealand fascination is with converting planes and posting them on poles as advertising is beyond me. I still have yet to discover that cross constellation that can only be seen from the southern hemisphere, I haven’t encountered a spiraling toilet to observe the Coriolis effect at work, and I’ve seen little in the way of dangerous fauna or animalia. I guess there are other stereotypes that aren’t fair too.

Mangaweka Photos

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