Call of the Great Outdoors
How incredibly fortunate for me to have such a wonderful host on the first leg of my journey after leaving Auckland. Janelle is a busy oncologist and mother of two grown daughters from Perth, Australia, who after 35 years in a busy private practice, decided to take a job in New Zealand for a couple of years.
This woman embodies the term “free spirit.” Since coming to New Zealand a year ago, Janelle typically jumps in her car on the weekends and heads to scenic destinations all over New Zealand, most often hiking and then camping overnight. When back in Perth, her passion is four wheeling in the outback in her retrofitted Toyota SUV. Joined by other like-minded friends, they journey together for weeks at a time staying in touch via car radios and established road rules. Not only is she accomplished, independent, generous, and fit, she’s also beautiful to boot in a natural, Cheryl Tiegs sort of way. Janelle overwhelmingly gets my award for “Coolest Person Ever!”
Not wanting to duplicate anything she had already seen, we decided to drive from her home in Tauranga in what’s called The Bay of Plenty, south to Tongariro National Park, about three and a half hours away, to do The Tongariro Alpine Crossing, considered the best one-day hike in New Zealand, 19.4 kilometers and 7-8 hours to complete.
Heading out early Saturday morning, we made our way south to Rotorua, down to Taupo, around one side of the immense Lake Taupo, the largest fresh water lake in Oceania and roughly the size of Singapore. One minute you are driving by rolling hills of greenery and pastures, and the next, the roads narrow–with no shoulder on either side– and sharply curve around deep gorges with huge silver fern. As we drove closer to the Tongariro National Park area, Mt. Ruapehu, the largest active volcano, came into view still covered with snow, flanked by two other volcanoes Ngauruhoe and Tongariro. Volcanoes. There are Active volcanoes here!
I know this landscape has become famous for the filming of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, but I somehow felt I was smack dab in the middle of Jurassic Park, albeit a benign one!
It’s hard to believe that there is skiing during the winter months here in New Zealand, so Janelle stopped to show me the Whakapapa Ski resort where she often comes. Ski places often an otherworldly feel off season, but this place resembles a kind of mining town on steroids. The place is littered with huge black boulders and volcanic rock as far as the eye can see, and it’s hard to imagine there is enough snow in winter months to cover it all!
The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is a spectacular day hike not to be missed. Although not a particularly difficult hike, there are sections of very steep climbing, but these climbing sections consist of staircases of packed earth. As long as you’ve kept up regular squats or stair master, no problem.
Heading for the Saddle section of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing
One of the most beautiful and tricky sections is the steep descent down to the Emerald Lakes area, which is like skiing down an expert trail of very dark ,grey, volcanic sand. Janelle and I kept up a steady pace, stopping occasionally for a quick drink and rest, and managed to finish the trek in about six and a half hours. Tired but happy, we were met by a shuttle that took us back to the car park. After spending another night in the small ski town of Ohakune, we headed back to Tauranga.
On the Strand back in Tauranga
Janelle’s generosity with her free time was above and beyond the call of duty, and I knew it was time for me to: Strike. Out. On My. Own… I had driven enough with her to feel acclimated. But driving up the Coromandel Peninsula–a must see destination–can be treacherous. I was a little fraught with worry.
Janelle assured me I’d be fine, and once I was on the road in my own car, I’d love the freedom of going at my own pace and stopping where ever my heart desired. I had to believe she was right. So after an uneasy night, Janelle dropped me off in town on her way to work the next morning. I rented a car at tourist iSite Center for the next three days and then later got myself back to her place via the local bus. I realized I had no choice but to move forward and was reminded of a quote I’d recently read:
“It makes no sense to worry about things you have no control over because there’s nothing you can do about them, and why worry about things you do control? The activity of worrying keeps you immobilized.”
I have to bypass worry because I can’t be immobilized. I have to push on when it gets tough or uncertain trusting that this is the way.