We left Matamata that Saturday afternoon and headed southwest towards New Plymouth. Every year the New Plymouth Church of Christ hosts the Easter Camp, and speakers come from across the world. I had learned previously that my old preacher from the church I grew up in Midland, Mike Vestal, was going to be one of the speakers. It was pretty neat that I would be seeing my preacher from West Texas across the globe in New Zealand! I remembered again the slideshows he would present to the congregation after taking mission trips throughout the years to NZ, and the reports we would hear back from Rod Kyle, the missionary from New Plymouth that our church supported.
The drive was long to New Plymouth, but we enjoyed every minute it and I never wanted to take for granted the scenery. I remember one moment when my heart just welled up with joy as we were listening to Josh Groban, “So She Dances” and being surrounded by green hills and valleys, and sheep, and golden sunlight dancing all around us. And, I was sitting there beside my husband. I felt so grateful and blessed for these amazing moments. Thank you, God.
We rounded a bend of slow, windy roads and both exclaimed, “Woah!” when we saw a mountain that looked like Mount Fuji…towering miles and miles into the sky. We were far away, but its grandiose height was captured despite our distance…behold, Mount Taranaki. The coast spread out before us again, a relieving sight as we’d been landlocked the past few days, and white, billowy clouds hovered underneath the top of the volcano.
Josh and I reached New Plymouth in the evening, and found ourselves a decent hotel to rest our weary, car-driven bodies. I was excited to be some place new…always craving different sights.
The next morning, Easter Sunday, we drove to the campus where they were holding the Easter Camp. It did not feel like Easter, not one bit. It almost felt like we were in a different world in that small city. I was glad to see preacher Mike, again, and for him to get to meet my husband. We talked for a few minutes and caught up with life’s happenings. I got to see my friend Adeline, as she and Carl had come up for the weekend for it, so that was good. We listened to a great sermon from Mike, and I was happy to hear a familiar preaching style that I had listened to for years growing up; he’s a really good preacher and I like that I am easily able to take notes. Josh and I stayed for class as well, which Mike likes to call on people to read, so my hubby had to stand up and read a few verses on the spot. Mike said that he knew that this young man had to be a good guy, because he is married to one of the sweetest girls I know. I thought that was nice. It was great to get to see preacher Mike again.
Josh and I left after it was over and were trying to figure out our plans, whether or not to hit the road or stay a couple days here. We went and ate lunch; I ate my first Turkish kebab, which I inhaled, as we sat on the boardwalk by the beach. We wanted desperately to climb Mt. Taranaki, to summit that huge mountain, or volcano, whatever it was. In fact, it was filmed to represent Mt. Fuji, and Tom Cruise was quite famous with the locals in this area when he filmed The Last Samurai a few years ago. We had talked to another couple from church that said that they had summited it, but that it was hard---it took them like 4 to 6 hours. We felt like we were in a race against time, and not sure really what we were thinking, but after going to the I-site and learning more and getting some brochures, we headed towards Mt. Taranaki. It was already mid-day so there was no way we could have made it to the top, I guess we were just wanting to get a good look at it and maybe even walk a little ways on a shorter trail. I could not believe how tall it was! We kept driving through the trees and would see it appear, but we’re noticing the gas light on our car and I was like “this is pointless, what are we doing? We can’t do anything now anyways,” and, “We are about to run out of gas, why didn’t you get gas?” Haha. So we turned back around and decided that, since we were competitive and ready for a challenge, that we would stay another night, get up early in the morning, and summit. I didn’t have any hiking boots, which I was quite worried about, but we said we would buy a pair early in the morning.
We got a different hotel this night, and readied ourselves with brochures and talk of our hike the next day. I felt pretty scared about it, actually, and pretty sure I dreamt about us climbing. That was no small mountain, were we really fit enough to climb? We read all the warnings and the significant loss of life of people attempting to climb it, but the weather forecast for the next day was sunny.
We did not wake up early. And when we did wake up, Josh convinced me pretty easily that we shouldn’t do it. Maybe later on during our time in NZ we would come back up here, when we were more prepared and possibly more fit. I was a little disappointed, and wondering what we were going to do now, I had been ready for a physical challenge, and was not ready to go back to Wellington. We had been talking all along about, if we had time and still felt up to it, to go to Tongariro National Park and do the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. So, we decided that would be the best thing to do, and easier. Yipee! I was so excited!
I felt more than ready; both of us did, to leave New Plymouth mid-day on Monday, April 9th. We had noticed the disconnect feeling by then in that city, and realized how much we did not care for New Plymouth at all. On to new places again!
We took the Forgotten World Highway, a “shortcut”, but not really after all, as it made our trip extra long, and I’d never seen such slow speed markers and so many curve road signs…it was fun at first as we really were in a forgotten world with few houses, just farmland and hills and sheep and trees and horses, but after awhile, I didn’t like the feeling of not seeing cars. It warned of there being no gas for 150 kilometers, so glad we stocked up beforehand, because that was certainly no lie. I would have liked to have stayed in a farm-stay accommodation out there somewhere, it was quite peaceful. There was even a long stretch of road beneath the mountains that was unpaved and unmarked, just gravel and you really had to share the road carefully when a car did appear around the sharp bend.
Both of us sighed when we finally got off the Forgotten World Highway, and joined more cars. We were stoked when we saw the mountain ranges or Mt. Ngauruhoe, Tongariro, and Mt. Ruapehu, the first two mountains of which were part of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. Tomorrow, we would be climbing those mountains! On our way to Auckland, we had passed down this stretch of road and by this National Park, but it had been cloudy and rainy during that part of the day, so we hadn’t seen these mountains until now.
As we approached the National Park Village, we groaned when we saw a line of cars and the police stopping everyone. Josh hadn’t done the warrant of fitness yet on our car, which is like the inspection (you have to pay to get it done every six months), and I had told him to do this, but we didn’t have the money he said, he would do it after our trip. Well that came back to bite us, and so we got a ridiculously expensive ticket from the lady cop. It was embarrassing when we were sitting on the side of the road and everybody was passing us and staring. Another ticket. More money.
That was a damper, but then we drove around and looked for us a place to stay after we stopped at the transport shop, called Adventure HQ, that we had called along our trip down to book a seat on the van to the Crossing in the morning. In my brochures I had been looking at accommodation and had seen this one place on the Internet previously when looking in this area, so we stayed at Discovery Lodge, which had outstanding views of the mountains in front of us. We had a wonderful meal at a rustic, mountain-lodge restaurant, and it was so beautiful watching the sunset creating an orange and red and purple hue on the mountains. Mt. Ruapehu, which we wouldn’t be hiking that one, had a few patches of snow covering the top. National Park Village was pretty quiet at the time, and it was a quaint little ski village as, in winter, the mountains are covered in snows and skis and snowboards. We went to the only open grocery mart and stocked up on food for our hike, then went to bed early and dreamt of the adventures we’d be having the next day.