NZ Road Trip Part 5: Wellington and Tongariro

Returning to Christchurch was eerie. The city was quiet and cloudy. We did not spend very long there, however, as we had a ferry to catch from Picton. We used a transfer car to get up to Picton, which ended up costing us just 1 NZD, which is a great deal. We drove the five ours along Highway 1 from Christchurch to Picton, which is still undergoing intense reconstruction after the earthquakes damaged it. The highway is extremely impressive, squeezed in between the ocean and the cliffs. We even saw two baby fur seals checking everything out from the side of the road. Nature made those animals exceptionally cute, I must say.

In Picton, we took refuge at the top 10 Holiday park. There I had a bit of a breakdown because…

As an aside, I’ve gotten the fantastic news of being accepted by all the graduate programs to which I applied last September. Ohio State University awarded me a University Fellowship, which is a crazy honor and huge opportunity. The fellowship covers my tuition and fees for my first year and pays me a stipend. So. It’s a huge deal. I am absolutely flabbergasted that I’ve been given such a gift. I’ll be studying landscape architecture in the Fall then, and moving to Ohio in the summer. Prior to applying for graduate school I honestly would never have thought that I would someday live (even for just a little while) in Ohio.

But I have friends, climbing friends in fact, who live in Columbus anyway, and some of the author’s I hold very near and dear to my heart lived in or wrote about Ohio and Kentucky in their books (see Walk Two Moons and Prodigal Summer). So maybe in some way this is Fate giving me a little push. I don’t know. All I know is that I’ve been given a huge opportunity and I’d be a fool not to at least try and see how it goes!

I had a realization that I haven’t been to school since the last time I was in school (oh really?) and the last time I was in school I wasn’t really enjoying myself. I was doing well only because I’ve lived my whole life with an extreme propensity to do well for the sake of doing well because not doing well directly correlated with being unworthy. I’ve worked a lot in the last six years to unlearn this habituation mindset and it’s going to be a challenge to return to the academic world without this mindset. At least, that’s what I’m afraid of. I want graduate school to be a challenge, of course. But I also want it to be fun! I want to feel really gratified by my work there! I want to feel good about the people I’m with! I want to enjoy and feel fulfilled because there is literally no other reason to do such a thing. My self-awareness on this matter gives me hope that I will be able to do differently when the time comes.

Back to Picton, though. After my realization, emotional storming, and resolution, we got on the ferry to Wellington. The weather was bloody perfect, and the tide was high. Dolphins fished merrily on the shoreline across the sound and I only got a little nauseous inside the giant ferry. Small boats give me no problems. Buses, cars, and giant boats make me sick as a dog.

Upon arrival to Wellington, we picked up a much needed, larger than our previous car, Subaru Forrester. We killed time before heading to our friend Wendy’s place in Upper Hutt by climbing Kaukau peak, which overlooks Wellington city.

The next day, my dad was getting a chest cold, and we all felt like we just needed to chill. So I got a much needed haircut and a smoothie and felt fantastic.

We headed out of Wellington on our third day on the North Island headed to Tongariro National Park.

Now, I had no idea what to expect of the geography of the North Island (heretofore referred to as: NI). You know the scenes of Hobbiton and the Shire in Lord of the Rings? That was filmed in the NI, in a place called Matamata. I kind of had assumed that the whole NI looked like the Shire. And like “The Price of Milk.”

But I kept seeing the volcano national park right under Lake Tuapo, which I knew to be an area of thermal activity. So I figured they had to be pretty neat. I was not prepared for just how truly mountainous and alpine-y the park would be. I learned of a great walk called the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. 19 kilometers of fantastic intra-crater volcano walking complete with volcano eruption risk, tourists, and clouds. What is it with volcanoes and their propensity to collect clouds?

Not knowing about the walk before going there, I was only able to do the first 7 km of on side of the short thru-hike. Which was plenty cool for me. Even though it was cloudy each morning, we had fantastic sunsets each night, camping out on DOC land. The chest cold, however, had spread to my mom at that point and both my parents were hacking up their lungs and feeling absolutely lousy. As much as I wished to stay in Tongariro and dig into the volcanic landscape, we needed to find a warm and dry place indoors where the parent units could rest. Taupo also had hot springs…so I figured it couldn’t be too bad.

More on Taupo and Rotorua next.





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