Monday, 6 August 2007

Ski Trip to Tongariro

Last weekend Loren's work had a ski trip, and even though neither of us have any interest in skiing, we decided to go along, mostly just to get out and see another part of the country. We didn't really know what to expect, but then we didn't really have any expectations beyond a little adventure.

No, it doesn't snow in Wellington. The North Island is relatively warm, but there are a lot of volcanic mountains, particularly in the middle of the island, which reach high enough altitude to get snow in the winter. The particular ski slope we were headed for was in Tongariro National park, a large forest reserve.

We caught a ride with one of Loren's co-workers and his girlfriend. They are a young British couple who moved here nearly a year ago. In fact, over the course of the trip I met very few native New Zealanders - the IT industry recruits overseas quite a lot. Our accommodation was somewhere between a lodge and a B&B - dorm style bedrooms with a large common room with comfy couches and a warm fireplace, where breakfast was provided and the owners would also cook you dinner for a fee.

We got in late (it was a four-hour drive up after work) but we were woken up rather early by the sound of movements in the halls. I could hear the distinct sound of plastic ski pants rubbing together... no one told me skiing was one of those Early Bird sports. As I dragged myself to breakfast, I was sorely tempted to settle into a couch in the common room and skip the slopes all together. I was one-third through the last Harry Potter book, which made this option all the more appealing.

We barely had time to finish our breakfasts when we realized our ride was in danger of departing without us... we decided to hurry up and get going. On our ride to the lodge the night before, we were wondering where the snow was. The little town we were staying in was snow-free and not even all that cold. As we headed towards the slopes, we still weren't seeing any snow and we were starting to get worried. The snow started at the parking lot at the bottom of the slopes. This was snow by virtue of altitude alone; In an otherwise temperate climate, North Islanders flocked to this oasis of a snowy peak. The maintained ski slopes were quite extensive, and the ski park was totally packed. We knew we should be getting in line to buy some ski lessons, but the long line didn't look very appealing at nine in the morning....

We went inside for a coffee instead, and ended up missing the morning lesson, but we didn't much care. We hiked around, played in the snow, found a beautiful little waterfall down behind the parking lot below the snow line, and eventually bought "sightseers" lift passes to take the lift up without skis and tramp around checking out the scenery:

ski lift 2

The second day the ski conditions were bad, so instead we went for a hike through the national park to a lovely waterfall. We found some smaller falls along the way:

small waterfall

The climate and ecology reminded me a lot of Volcanoes National Park in Hawaii - cold, misty, never raining hard, just very humid. And that combination of plenty of water but nutrient-poor volcanic earth leads to certain kinds of vegetation: lots of bright green moss, and grey lichen, all over everything, and ferns in all shapes and sizes. Some woody shrubs and trees, scrappy-looking things with tiny leaves. We actually came across a sort of wetlands area, seeming out of place high on the mountain slope, complete with emergent vegetation and a long wooden walkway so visitors could cross. We headed back home in the early afternoon. No skiing for the two of us, but we still had fun. For the rest of the ski trip photos:

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