22 October 2019
Things are falling apart. Today we were due to take a boat trip on Lake Taupo, to see some Maori rock carvings that are inaccessible by land. However, it was blowing a gale and the skipper decided it would be too risky – or perhaps more accurately, way too unpleasant – to sail, so he cancelled the excursion. That’s three boat trips out of four that we’ve lost to the weather since arriving in New Zealand. I’m starting to think the gods have taken a dislike to us.
Speaking of things falling apart, my shoes have disintegrated. I bought them just a few months before leaving the UK, but within a day or two of arriving here they were virtually unwearable. Luckily Taupo has some decent retail outlets, so instead of visiting the Maori carvings we tour the town’s shoe shops. Thankfully I manage to get a new and comfortable pair of walking shoes without much difficulty, but that’s $137 I’ll never see again.
Newly shod, it’s time for me to take the wheel again and set off towards Tongariro National Park. On the way we stop off briefly at South Taupo Wetland in the hope of seeing some interesting local birds while we eat our lunch. Unfortunately the birds mostly keep their distance, but we do at least enjoy the view across Lake Taupo towards a distant volcano.
As we drive on the weather starts to close in ominously. We park up briefly at the Makatote Viaduct which, when it was built between 1906 and 1909 for New Zealand Railways, was the tallest bridge in New Zealand.
Our brief photo stop over, we continue on towards Tongariro National Park, which is famous for its spectacular volcanoes. We drop in at the visitor centre at Whakapapa (confusingly, and somewhat alarmingly pronounced something like Fukka-puppa) before carrying on up the steep, winding mountain road, through dark and gloomy forest, until it opens up at a car park.
As we look around us the top of the volcanoes are shrouded in low cloud, while the slopes are snow-covered. A bitter wind blows and sleety rain is falling, so we decide it’s time to beat a hasty retreat to a lower and more agreeable altitude.
With the weather becoming ever more threatening we conclude there is no further prospect of spotting volcanoes, so we head off to the little town of Ohakune for dinner. This area is the self-proclaimed carrot capital of New Zealand, and the town boasts a children’s playground – called Carrot World, or something similar, I suspect – celebrating the orange root and its various veggie cousins.
Dotted around the playground are large fibre glass characterisations of several vegetables, including a disturbingly phallic parsnip. In retrospect this is all a bit odd, given how much kids the world over hate vegetables. Or maybe New Zealand kids do eat all their veggies, which could explain why they grow up to be such fearsome rugby players?
But the most dramatic feature of the playground is a huge (and I mean monstrously huge) carrot on the roadside, announcing to every passing motorist that this town has truly taken the orange root to its heart. Mrs P’s camera has barely been used all day, so she gets it out and snaps away merrily.
But, on reflection, if the best thing we can say about today is that we saw a big bridge and big carrot, then I must regretfully conclude that it has not gone well for us. Things are indeed falling apart, and we can only hope for better fortune tomorrow.