Sunday, 10 February 2013

New Zealand : Tongariro National Park & the 'F' Word

'Wh' is pronounced 'F' in Maori which until I discovered this and in addition to me either anglicising every Maori place name or giving it an inexplicable Italian twist meant that no-one understood where I'd visited, nor where I was requesting directions to and when someone asked whether I'd been to "X" I had no idea if I had or not

After this revelation I impulsively decided to cycle to an unnamed ski village some 7km uphill from Whakapapa on Mt Ruapehu (2797m) the highest mountain of New Zealand’s North Island. The word became my mantra as I battled a relentless headwind of ascent in freezing temperatures, sharp fingernails of rain tearing at my exposed face. I shouldn't have been that surprised, this was New Zealand and I was already losing count of the severe weather warnings I'd cycled or camped in

With visibility at 10 metres a car slammed on its brakes in front of me just before my turn off to the high mountain road. In what had now turned into horizontal hail I saw the shape of a lady wrapped in cerise emerging from the door, hurriedly pulling a jacket over her head.

“You ok?” she shouted above the volcanic roar of the wind. “Where are you going? Let me give you a lift, you'll catch your death.” she said peering at the 35kg of my life stuffed in 6 bags strapped to my bicycle.

“Going to..”- I hesitated - “Fuka.. Fak..Fakapapa” I stuttered .

She gave me a strange look. “Where?”

 ”Fak.. National Park Village” I lied and feigning cheer continued “I'm ok, all downhill from here.”

With a nod and the uncertain smile of someone who is not sure if they have just been insulted she returned to the warmth of her car and drove off.

I shivered and looked around. The stunning view of Tongariro National Park was out there somewhere. I'd seen it just 2 days before when complete with ice axe and crampons I'd traversed the Tongariro Alpine Trail, closed half way due to the previous month's eruption of Mt Tongariro. In fact I did it the following day too having been fortunate enough to be invited back as a mountain guide for a group of clients for the day.

Frozen directions to the Summit

 This was Lord of the Rings territory: Mt Doom (Mt Ngauruhoe) dominated the view with its perfect conical shape; the volcanic rock and craters now under a scape of hard ice and snow. This lava plateau wilderness was surrounded by swathes of flax and tussock, alpine herbs and flowers straining to be seen in early spring on the edges of black beech forests.

Some 2 hours of crunching gears uphill later and on the verge of hypothermia I finally saw shelter in the form of ‘Tussock Bar’ as I entered the ski village of Whakapapa. People turned their heads and stared as I entered. “Are you ok?” ventured one. “We passed you” chipped in another “You're mental!”

I nodded in agreement and walked towards the open fire to wait for Tom, the mountain guide, whom I'd convinced to let  me stay in the ski lodge he was custodian of as I'd decided cycling the height of Ben Nevis was quite enough for one day. Having agreed with the barman that I could leave my bike in the bottle store for a day and while waiting for Tom I thawed out by the fire and wrote a few words in my journal.

A few days ago while reading my journal for some tales to tell on my blog I was amused to see my journal entry for that day was simply "Cycled up to Whakapapa. Whaking soaked!"

A huge thanks to David, Tom, Karlee & Josh of Ruapehu for some great memories and the members of the lodge for making me so very welcome

1 comment:

  1. Whaking hell, Jill - you really have guts! And all those years I've been saying the 'wh' - thanks for the elucidation.