After an exhausting 2 days at Abel Tasman, we drove back to Picton for the ferry to Wellington. We did manage a repeat visit to Fergie’s Fish and Chips before boarding. We planned for an overnight stay at a central Wellington hotel. We managed a quick Escape Room (Temple Room at Escape Mate) before heading to the center of North Island. Another Bepko Victory!
We had a relatively short drive to Tongariro National Park area, around 4 hours. We stayed two nights at a farm stay, FernLeaf which is in Owhangu. Stephen and I had some incredible experiences at home and farm stays during our first NZ trip and we wanted to E&S to have the experience. Carolyn and Melvin were such gracious hosts. We opted to have a dinner at the house the first night and then quickly signed up for another dinner since it was so delicious.
We headed to Tongariro National Park for a couple of hikes the following day. This park is the oldest of the NZ’s national parks. The park has three active volcanos in the center- Ruapehu, Ngauruhoe (AKA Mt Doom), and Tongariro. There are several sacred Maori sites within the park. In fact, the land was gifted by Te Heuheu Tukino IV, chief of the Ngati Tuwharetoa, to the people NZ in 1887 on the condition that the lands would be protected. The area is best known for hiking in the summer and skiing in the winter. We were tempted to undertake the Tongariro Alpine Crossing (called the best day hike in NZ and some argue in the world) but ultimately decided we were underequipped and short on time. Here are 2 lists of top hikes: 12 Best Day Hikes, 10 Best Day Hikes. As with many of the larger parks, there is also another multi-day track in this park- Tongariro Northern Circuit. Instead we selected a couple of shorter hikes in the park. We first hiked Waitonga Falls Track (the parks highest waterfall at 39m). The flora in the park is both a diverse population of alpine plants and forests (mountain beech and podocarp). The hike was very well maintained and easy to follow. We had views of Mt Ruapehu throughout the morning.
We then drove up to the Whakapapa ski area to view a filming location of LOTR. We took a short 10 minute walk from the ski area to an area of jagged, volcanic rock where Emyn Muil was filmed. It took very little imagination to visualize Mordor. Mostly, you had to imagine doom in the sky instead of the warm sunshine! I have been to many ski slopes and ski mountains but never one that is completely devoid of trees!
We finished the day with a relatively short hike to Tawai Falls (a much smaller waterfall), this particular stream was used in LOTR filming (Gollum catching the fish while Faramir watches). It was an easy 20 minute hike on a well-maintained path with stairs to make it easy walking.
Our lovely hosts had given us directions to a local glowworm grotto near Kakahi Village and we wanted to drive to the location during the day instead of being lost in the complete darkness at night. A passageway was cut through limestone many years ago for a train (which never occurred) and the tall limestone walls make a perfect grotto. If you didn’t know about this hidden gem, you would never discover it. It was a strip of secluded road about 100m in length with towering walls either side. It is a completely deserted and isolated area at night. It was a bit unnerving driving down a one-lane road at night (with no lighting except your car). There is a tree that marks an area from parking and you then walk on foot down the road. Then, the lights start. The glowworms are completely in a natural habitat. We walked the exact area during the day and didn’t notice a single worm. At night, you were surrounded by starlight and glowworm light! It was a magnificent sight to witness. We have seen nature’s best along this journey, but the Kakahi Glowworms will top my list for a longtime. We were so amazed and stunned by the beauty of this natural environment that we decided to not tour Waitomo Caves (famous for glowworms).
We learned a little about sheep farming before leaving the farm. The sheep farm has been in operation for over 100 years. Melvin has become a pioneer amongst stud breeding. Through careful observation and careful pedigree documentation, the farm is able to determine which studs produce healthier sheep. He uses only the best studs for each lamb season. The selection of healthier sheep leads to decreased use of antibiotics and worm drenching. Healthier sheep translate to higher quality and quantity of wool. I was amazed with how this particular farm is devoted to raising healthier sheep without antibiotics and minimal parasitic treatment. His stud rams are bought by other sheep farmers throughout New Zealand.
We stopped for a quick hike in the Ohinetonga Scenic Reserved (Owhango, NZ) before heading to Hamilton. Owhango is a small village which has become known for having streets starting with “O”. It had rained the previous days and we battled with high humidity and mud during the hike. There were some boardwalks so we weren’t hiking through mud the entire time! The hike was a loop starting in the carpark passing by the river, a lagoon, and then into forest. It was not a family favorite hike but we rewarded the kids with a stop at Nevalea Alpaca Farm for some petting and feeding.
Hamilton was another overnight stay for us. We visited the Hamilton Gardens the following morning. There were several mini-gardens within the larger garden- Tudor, Indian Char Bagh, Italian Renaissance, Japanese, Chinese, Maori. One of our favorites was the kitchen garden and sustainable backyard garden. It was interesting to see examples of gardens that we had seen in other cities.
We then headed to another home stay in Cambridge (Glenelg B&B operated by Ken and Shirley) for two nights. It was a hot summer day by the time we arrived, so we headed to a local lake (Lake Karapiro) for a quick cool-off. Lake Karapiro is an artificial reservoir lake on Waikato River. It was formed by damming the river for the megawatt hydroelectric power station. The lake is one of the best in NZ for rowing and we saw several rowing teams practicing. There is a story about a frisbee in the water and deep murky waters with an eel sighting- but that is for another day.
The next day was Hobbiton…..and that is another post!