What a town…what a treat! Feeling centred is one of my favourite way to be so finding myself smack bang in the centre of the North Island on the brink of completing major life goal #79, well, I have to say, it felt pretty good.
Turangi is particularly famous for trout fishing, but having read the brochure and explored the region I can honestly say this town has much more than just trout to recommend it. For a start there’s the idyllic location: to the north, Lake Taupo lures fishermen, sailors, swimmers and picnickers in their droves; to the east you’ll find the bubbling wonders of Tokaanu’s thermal springs where spluttering mud pools and crispy sinter basins pamper Mother Nature with a mineral face mask; to the west there’s the extensive reach of the Kaimanawa Forest Park and to the south…ah, the source of major life dream #79…I’ll get to that a little later.
The range of nearby wilderness activities are also deeply in Turangi’s favour. There’s white water rafting and kayaking through the ancient beech forests and the monumental gorges of the Tongariro River or the more sedate family option of scenic kayaking or rafting on the gentle Tokaanu Stream.
Fishermen wishing to wile away a few days will jump at the chance to do a spot of fly fishing on the Tongariro River as well as harling, spinning and trolling on Lake Taupo.
Mountain biking tracks include the 42nd Traverse (considered one of the best in the country) which is an all day ride along old logging tracks in the Tongariro Forest Conservation Area. This track has its priorities sorted with testing uphills, several river crossings, sweeping volcanic views and a downhill finish to the pub.
Walks from town are many and your only problem will be choosing which ones to do. The Pillars of Hercules and Tree Trunk Gorge tramps in the Kaimanawa Forest Park (15 minutes from town) not only have great names but also come highly recommended. In the end I was drawn to the Rotopounamu Track (2hr). This wonderful track is hidden deep in the beech forest and circumnavigates the crystal clear Rotopounamu or ‘Greenstone Lake’. It has excellent access and despite it being the Easter weekend, my partner and I only saw one other group: a young family paddling in the lake exchanging pleasantries with the ducks. It was a place that oozed peace and serenity.
Now for the elephant in the room (or should I say the elephant in this article) and the source of life dream #79. To the south of Turangi is one of the New Zealand’s most stupendous areas of natural beauty. Yes, of course you already know about it. It’s Tongariro National Park.
I can vividly recall my first glimpse of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. It was during rush hour in London as I was crammed in someone’s armpit on the Tube. Wishing I was anywhere but there I looked up and saw this incredible image of scarlet pouting volcanoes, emerald lakes and three little words: 100% Pure NZ. One day, I said to myself as the train stopped abruptly and I was hurled across the carriage, I’m going to walk that track.
Fast forward a few years and here I am on the Crossing. It’s about 7.30am and the mist is impenetrable but I’m ever the optimist. ‘The cloud will clear’ is my mantra and I repeat it over and over. She can be a fickle one that Mother Nature (even after a relaxing mineral face mask) but I trust she’ll still deliver. Sure enough, after an hour of tramping in the dizzying white, tantalising glimpses of scenery began to show through.
It’s Easter Sunday and as the day wears on I get curious flashbacks to another favourite volcanic experience: climbing Mt Fuji, Japan. Not only is the landscape similar and I can feel the same crunch of scoria beneath my feet (a bit like walking on cornflakes) but here I am, in the wilderness shoulder to shoulder with thousands of fellow trampers.
There was nothing for it but to enjoy the camaraderie and eavesdrop on conversations as they walked past. My favourite was a girl in hot pants and flimsy tennis shoes carrying nothing more than a pink shopping bag. “I can’t wait to get back,” she said to her mate as they slid down the Red Crater, “I was planning to dye my hair today.” I wonder how they missed the huge signs that warn of treacherous alpine conditions in the blink of an eye.
Despite the hoards of people and the unpromising start to the day we have a marvellous time. We get some great views and even enjoy an Easter egg hunt at the Emerald Lakes (although how I got that far without cracking the Kinder Surprises I’ll never know). And, as we plod happily down the mountain, I’m thrilled to put a glorious mental tick in the box of major life dream #79.
“Now,” I smile and ask myself. “What’s next?”
– Penny Jones
Where to stay: Extreme Backpackers ph: (07) 386 8949, email: email@example.com
Getting to the Tongariro Alpine Crossing: Tongariro Crossing Shuttlebus: Turangi Coachlines: 07 386 0284/ 027 253 2284; firstname.lastname@example.org