Weekend Wanderings: Coromandel In Landscape Mode

Coromandel is a small peninsula on New Zealand’s Northern Island. It’s a popular weekend destination for Aucklanders, especially during the summer months.

We went there in winter!

Coromandel in winter = empty beaches, peaceful walks, silent sunsets, pure tranquility. Have a look!

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Getting Lost: Rarotonga Cross Island Walk

Being avid hiking fans, our Cook Islands trip wouldn’t have been complete without a trekking experience. The most popular hiking track on Rarotonga is the Cross Island Walk, leading from one side of the island to the other.

Despite of the heat, 10 kilometres sounded like a reasonable distance; after all we knew we would spend most of our time in the shadow of the lush forest, and we were going to end up right at the beach, ready to jump straight into the turquoise lagoon if needed.

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On the first kilometre of the island crossing in South-North direction.

On an almost cloudfree morning we therefore took the clockwise bus – yep, only two bus directions exist on Rarotonga; clockwise and anti-clockwise – and asked the bus driver to drop us at the beach where the track for the island crossing starts.

As we decided to cross the island from the South to the North, the official starting point of the hike was at Wigmore’s Waterfall, which we reached after a 15 minutes walk along a small road for cars leading in-land.

Till now, we had deliberately ignored all travel guides mentioning that it would be easier to do the crossing in the North-South direction since the way would be better marked. Can’t be that difficult, we thought; and so we shrugged once more our shoulders as we passed a warning sign that it’s strongly recommended to begin the hike on the other side.

The first kilometre went fine.

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Crazy rock and tree formation along the path. This could almost be out of a movie scene, don’t you agree?

Then we reached a point where many people before us must have gotten confused and formed tracks in all possible directions. Even the stream that we had followed seemed confused and separated into two rills.

We decided to follow one of the “caved paths” and regularly turned around watching out for the little orange triangle marking the track from the North-South direction.

Spotting no triangle after 200 metres we thought we took the wrong junction; but how to be sure? Mr ae.i headed forward in the hope he would find the treasured plastic marker signaling that we were on the right track.

He told me he would be back in 5 minutes. He wasn’t.

I followed his path before I had the brilliant idea to call his name. No feedback.

I followed his path a little longer, but when the track became dodgy I tried calling him again. There he was, yelling he is on his way down.

Yay! Not!!

He must have made a wrong turn. At the end of my tether I started calling him again 4 or 5 times before I realized I had lost him again. I honestly started to panic a bit. And my imagination ran wild.

What if he had slipped and needed help?, I thought just the moment when I heard someone screaming my name from far behind me. Well, how did he do that? He clearly left in the other direction.

It didn’t matter. I was surely relieved when we were finally reunited a couple of minutes later and I made the Mister promise not to explore any path without me anymore (!).

After returning to the point where path and stream seamed to separate in all directions we finally spotted an orange triangle that we hadn’t passed yet. After crossing the stream and climbing a steep slope we were back on track. Only 30 minutes lost.

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Back on track, which became so steep that it would have been tough to climb uphill without a rope. See the little orange triangle on the photo? These markers exlsuively indicate the correct path in North-South direction; there are no markers at all the other way around.

We didn’t lose sight of the track markers for a second time that day, although there would have been more occasions. Not everyone was as lucky that day though; more later.

We reached The Needle – the highest point of the hike (413m) – during  a sunny moment and enjoyed the view over the surrounding green mountains of dense forest down towards the lagoon, reef, Pacific Ocean

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View towards The Needle, the highest point during the island crossing.

While descenting on the Northern side we met a bigger hiking group led by Pa, a local tramping guide who knows these mountains like the back of his hand. There is surely no way getting lost with him.

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Steep descent over big roots and rocks.

After 2.5 kilometres we reached a narrow road, the official starting point of the track when doing the hike in North-South direction. Another 2.5 kilometres along that road – and many taro fields and papaya orchards later – we were back in town, jumping right into… no, not the lagoon… the clockwise bus, bringing us back to our guesthouse and a well deserved nap after our 4 hours adventure.

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Sunbeams made visible by a small (controlled) fire in the woods.

As mentioned earlier, not everyone got that fortunate that day!

As luck would have it, the same evening we met 3 tourists who started the South-North island crossing two hours after us. After having a chat, we believe they got confused at the very same spot like us a bit earlier that day, but they didn’t remember where they had gotten off track or seen the last orange marker.

So they continued and probably created a new path through the forest which might confuse more people in the future. Oups! Eventually they reached the top of a mountain, but they couldn’t tell which one. All they could tell for sure was they were clearly off track.

Instead of trying to find a way down to finish the crossing they simply walked the same way back. It took them 8 hours – twice as much as what we needed for the complete crossing. Their worried host had called the police in the meantime.

Each year, several hiking groups face the same problem. They need to be guided out of that tree maze by local guides or police men.

Now we – and you – know why it’s strongly recommended to do the Cross Island Walk in a North-South direction.

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Rarotonga island crossing profile from my GPS watch. We needed 4 hours for 10 kilometres, including an involuntary 30 minutes detour through the wilderness.

I honestly find it a pity that this popular track causes so much trouble and requires local search groups when it would be an easy thing to simply add more track markers in the South-North direction.

And here is the thing: If I would ever do that walk again, I would chose South-North over North-South, simply because the Southern side of the mountains is so wet and slippery that it’s easier to find grip climbing uphill than sliding downhill. Remember, the sun moves from East to North to West in the Southern Hemisphere, which makes the Northern side of the Rarotongan mountain chain much drier and perfect for a non-slippery descent.

For a description of the track conditions and quality please read all image captions. Click any photo to see it in big and better quality. Enjoy – and don’t get lost!

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Climbing Mount Taranaki From North Egmont

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Mount Taranaki, North Island, New Zealand

[Note: Please click on the images to see them in big and better quality.]

When we first visited New Plymouth in “The Naki” two years ago I was honestly amazed how many tourists volunteer each day to climb up Mount Taranaki. Back then, a little jealous but also somewhat hopeful I casually mentioned that “One day we’re going to do this too!”.

Turns out this idea got stuck in my head and finally gained upper hand. 10 days ago we conquered the summit (yeah, it’s a bit of a spoiler alert, isn’t it?).

I have to admit that our plan to climb a dormant volcano got me a little excited. After all, we had to overcome 1,600 metres in altitude. That is when a few people I know start to be short of breath. No fingerpointing. Especially not towards me.

To my surprise though we advanced relatively fast; definitely faster than expected. All in all we needed 8 hours for the 13 km round trip with an average gradient of 36 degrees. A nice day trip really! And my intensive running program had just proven its value.

But let’s start from the beginning:

Mr ae.i joined me, and we left the parking lot at North Egmont visitor center (936 m) around 7am with lots of food and 2.5 litres of water apiece in our backpacks. Additionally, we decided to bring sweaters, hats, gloves, waterproof pants and jackets, a GPS watch, camera and flashlight (you never know). The weather forecast was good, though in “The Naki” that doesn’t mean much. The weather can change within moments in that region. That morning, the top of the volcano was shrouded in a cloud, and more clouds seemed to be rolling in.

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The top of Mount Taranaki is often covered in clouds

The first part of the track is a rather winding gravel road which led us through the lush forest of the National Park.

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The start of the Taranaki Summit track

Slowly but surely we noticed how the trees around us started to make space for a few isolated bushes and grasses. That’s when the gravel road merged with an unexpected concrete road (The Puffer), the steepest part just before our first milestone – the Tahurangi Lodge in 1,492 meters above sea level.

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The Puffer, leading towards Tahurangi Lodge (just behind the antenna)

Since we were still feeling fresh we decided to directly continue on the track behind the hut without taking a break. The site got clearly rockier, but well maintained steps let us quickly move forward on the terrain which appeared to be overgrown with moss and little white flowers. That’s how we covered two thirds of the way in only 2 hours.

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Stairs leading up the steep path behind Tahurangi Lodge

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Summer flower species surrounding the Tahurangi Lodge area

However, the last two kilometres to the summit are advanced level really. Nothing grows there anymore.

The stairs end in the steep scoria slopes, a gravel and scree terrain that rarely offers a flat surface to take a break. At this point I wished I would have had a walking stick with me. Not only would it have provided more stability during the ascent, it would have certainly been beneficial while pausing and taking a look around. Even though I usually don’t mind dizzy heights, that wish crossed my mind while I was standing on slippery pebbles staring a few hundred metres down the slope.

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The track up Taranaki leads right across that kind of scree

At our feet, or rather at the foot of the volcano, clouds had been rolling in during our ascent and blocked the view from the sun. Maybe you can imagine what a small first highlight it was for us when the sun made its way through the cloud layer and freed the view over the scoria slopes back towards the Tahurangi Lodge.

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Never look back – except you expect this kind of beauty

Once we left the scoria slope behind us, The Lizard was already awaiting us – a rocky ridge which I mostly explored on all fours, even if it was only for climbing. The steps seemed to be getting higher and higher after 3 hours of walking.

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The Lizard – looking up

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The Lizard – looking down

While we spent most of our “Lizard quality time” surrounded by clouds the mountain summit actually appeared almost cloud-free.

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The Lizard – still on track

However, the temperatures now left a lot to be desired. At -10 degrees (°C) it was probably also no coincidence that we stumbled upon the first frozen rocks a few metres below the mountain peak. Even a thick layer of snow was left in the crater area.

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Icy crater area on top of Mt Taranaki

Time to unpack a few extra layers of clothes. After all we didn’t climb that far to turn around like  a pair of fraidy cats.

The final slope before the finish was covered by scree again –  the two steps forward one step back style scree if you know what I mean. But the view over the volcanic crater and clouds landscape below us compensated for all of that.

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View towards the Mt Taranaki crater rim

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Panorama view from Mt Taranaki

I was truly fascinated by the most beautiful icicle formations that seemed to surround every single rock in that area, and didn’t even shy away to conquer the poles marking the track. They clearly signaled that the wind up here blows often from the same direction.

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Icicle formations on Taranaki – view towards the Shark’s Tooth

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Small icicle formations surrounded each single rock on Taranaki

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The last hiking pole marking the track to the summit covered in ice

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Beautiful “ice crystal landscape” on top of Mt Taranaki

The minute we finished the first half of the way (6.5 km till the Taranaki Summit; 2,518 m) after 4 hours of climbing we knew that the view was worth every single metre – and also every single calorie burned. It is hard to believe how great a picnic in freezing temperatures can actually be.

However, after a breather and the obligatory photo stops in all directions, the cold finally got to us. As much as we would have liked to stay longer we felt like we needed to keep moving and started the descent to warmer realms.

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Chilly temperatures prevail on Mt Taranaki Summit

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Me on the very top of Mt Taranaki

Now it got really tough.

Usually I rock when walking downhill: I’m not afraid of heights, I don’t fear to speed up, and I don’t suffer from knee problems. At Taranaki I experienced all of this together. Unbelievable what a strenuous effort the descent was. I would have almost prefered to walk upwards twice (that means a lot if you know me a bit).

The wish for the “magic walking stick” shortly crossed my mind again. But well, instead I had to accept that I was landing on my backside every now and then just to keep sliding another 3 more metres or so.

The steps at the end of the scoria slope appeared as a blessing. And the gravel path back to the parking lot almost didn’t count anymore as we were filled with pride and on cloud number 9.

13 km in 8 hours. According to Venture Taranaki a great job. Even the comment that there are crazy mountain runners completing the distance in 2 hours couldn’t ruin my great mood.

A final word about our preparations: We decided about a year ago to give Taranaki a Go. In addition to physical fitness the head played an important role because without motivation you won’t get far.

The idea to defeat The Lonely Mountain from The Hobbit did certainly do its contribution ;)

A very worthwhile blog post on the same climb (there are different paths to the summit) has been published on Windy Hilltops: Tramping in New Zealand (including interesting Taranaki facts). This was one of the field reports that made us believe we can reach our goal.

Back in Auckland, we are proud as Punch and full of great memories of “The Naki”.

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Our GPS profile from the Mount Taranaki Summit climb (check this page for an animated version)

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