Mt. Doom

I remember being in a meeting in Europe a number of years ago with a group of people from all over the world. I was sitting next to this dude from France. We were chatting at a break and at one point he said to me “It is easy to spot who is American and who is not. The Europeans look relaxed in their faces and tend to smile a lot more. The Americans look exhausted and beat down.” He then proceeded to, quite accurately, point out all the Americans. I had to admit that he was right. It was sobering in its harsh reality.

“Kiwis work to live. Americans live to work.”

— Unknown

The day after fishing, we decided to lounge around in the morning and let the weather warm up. I went out to get some coffee and had to scrape ice off the windshield. Brrrrr. We enjoyed our long blacks while we planned out the day. We decided we would go down to one of the Thermal Parks nearby and check out the geysers and steam vents. The biggest park was closed for renovations, so we chose Orekei Korako Geothermal park instead — about 30 minutes away.

We got to the place and not surprisingly, it wasn’t too busy. We paid our relatively high fee of $45NZ/person and got a ride across the lake on the ferry boat to the boardwalk track that meandered through the various pools, vents, and mud pits. It definitely was not Yellowstone, but it was cool nonetheless. We spent about and 1.5 hours checking stuff out and then headed back to Taupo. It wasn’t a world class thing to do, but it was fun and we enjoyed it.

I had googled around to see if there were any good restaurants in Taupo and found one that had great reviews called Brantry Eatery. We decided we would go try it out that night. It wasn’t far away, so we decided to walk there. It was empty when we showed up so we chatted with the staff. Everyone is always so nice to us and always wishes us luck in our quest to move here. They offer a fixed menu with either a 2 or 3 course meal. We decided to indulge and go for the 3 course paired with a lovely Pinot Noir from central Otago.

Our waitress brought out some bread and a sun dried tomato butter. We both decided to not worry about the gluten and had some. It was lovely! This was boding well for things to come.

For the first course, I ordered curry prawns and Susanne ordered the smoked pork. They were both awesome. Really awesome! Next for our mains, Susanne had duck and I felt obligated to try out the famous New Zealand lamb. The duck was really good, but the lamb was off the charts good. So much so, even Susanne admitted it was really good. The waitress asked how everything was and I just got totally effusive about the lamb. I asked her how they manage to get it so perfect and tender. Turns out it was cooked sous vide for 4 hours and then quickly seared. OMG! It was out of this world.

Another table showed up and was nearby and they were ordering their dinner, when the waitress called over to me to tell the table what I thought of the lamb. I went on and on and on. They ordered the lamb.

The last course we had a creme brulee with a raspberry sorbet and a date cake with a popcorn caramel and ice cream. The creme brulee was awesome. The date cake was ok. But overall it was an amazing meal and way beyond anything we expected. If you are ever in Taupo, please go by and have a meal there.

The next day the weather was supposed to be awesome, so we decided to drive up to Tongariro National Park and hike part of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing which is one of the “Great Walks” in New Zealand. We weren’t sure what the trail conditions were like since it’s getting close to winter, so we had not committed to doing the full 20km one-way which involves hiring a shuttle.

We decided to first drive up to the visitors center and ask the ranger what the conditions were like so that we didn’t end up doing something stupid. We walked in and I asked how to trail conditions were and right away she went “Oh, we don’t recommend beginners to do it, you will need to hire a guide.” What? I’ve only climbed like a 1000 mountains in my life. Beginner? Then she saw Susanne’s jacket from Summit County and said “Oh! you’re from Colorado. Trail is fine.” Turns out she lived in Summit County for a number of years and figured if we were from there we knew how to take care of ourselves. I was still a bit miffed about the assumption that I didn’t know what I was doing, but I guess in the peak season (November – April) they rescue an average of 2 people a week. I am sure they see every form of ill-prepared idiot come through.

Suanne with Ruapehu in the back
Getting ready for ski season

We drove up the road to get a view of the ski area and Mt. Ruapehu. It was staggeringly beautiful day which is extremely rare in these mountains. They were gearing up for ski season, so there was helicopter carrying snow guns up the mountain. The view was amazing. I guess the top of the mountain is closed currently since there has been a lot of seismic activity indicating magma movement. Thankfully it did not erupt while we were standing there.

We started back down the road, initially on the wrong side until Susanne screamed at me to stay left, and headed to the trailhead for the Tongariro Crossing. We got to the trailhead about 10:40 AM, a bit later than I would have liked, but it was cold so it was nice that it had warmed up to about 3 degrees C. The drive in provided some amazing views of Tongariro and Ngauruhoe.

Mt. Doom (Ngauruhoe)

Mt. Ngauruhoe is famous for a couple of reasons: (a) it is one of the most perfectly formed volcanoes in the world and (b) they used it in Lord of the Rings to represent Mt. Doom. By any measure, it is totally cool.

It was chilly when we started up the trail, but the sun was out, there was no wind and we both were just awestruck by the beauty. We got to Soda Springs without any problems and way ahead of schedule and decided to continue on up see if we could make Red Crater. The trail was almost completely clear of snow. The views all the way up were jaw dropping. In the distance we could see Mt. Taranaki quite clearly.

Cool colors

The kiwis are an amazing bunch of people. They love the outdoors and are all super fit. I mean really super fit. And a bit crazy. We saw one woman coming down in her shorts. It was freezing ass and Susanne and I were completely bundled up. The key thing was that she was probably 75 years old. Wowzaa.

Mt. Taranaki

We got up to the cirque and were assessing our situation. It was about 2:00 pm and we weren’t sure how much further to the top. I was thinking about another 45 minutes. That would put us back to car about 4 or 4:30 and the sun sets at 5. Too close for my comfort, plus we had an hour drive back to Taupo on a windy two-lane undivided highway with trucks on it. We both decided that it was time turn around and head back to the car. We would come back and do the whole thing another time, with a shuttle in place so we could walk it one way.

Perfect shorts weather!
The boardwalk

We ate a bit of lunch, put on some more warm clothes and headed down. There were still some people coming up, all Kiwis, and all in shorts. Good god! We stopped and talked to two old codgers heading up…in shorts….both over 70 years old. We looked silly bundled up in all our clothes. Sheesh, I guess we both need to harden up.

I find it interesting to compare the people here to the people in the US in terms of health and well-being. It is not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but you do see a stark contrast between what living a life of lower stress and higher physical activities out in nature can do for someone.

Their lifestyle promotes healthy longevity both physically and mentally. That is why I hope to live here for the rest of my life.

We made it back to the car around 3:20 pm. It turned out to be about a 9 mile hike. Hard but not too hard. We would definitely come back and do the whole thing. What an absolutely amazing day. It was probably one of the top 10 hikes I have done in my life and I have done a lot of hikes (despite being called a beginner, doh).

Our drive back was uneventful and we both basked in the glory of an incredible day in an incredible country. We are both beyond grateful to be here. The sun set just as we got to Taupo. The end to a perfect day

Beautiful Lake Taupo
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