Back at Adelong where the whole adventure started two years earlier. That's NOT Sara in the photo!


This is an extract from one of my stories. It begins in Auckland airport, November 1993, as my girlfriend Sara and I donned our backpacks after spending a year working and saving in Brisbane.

I couldn't believe it had been almost two full years since the last time I stepped through those doors. The backpacker vans were still there, parked in the same place. Some of the hostels had different names now, and the greeters had different faces to last time, but nothing had really changed. I phoned Duncans, the orchardists who Cosmo and I had worked for in '92. Perhaps they were looking for workers again. Ngaire answered, and assured me that there would be work for us as soon as we could get there. I think I heard Martin in the background, saying something about "not Savage and Cosmo." That was Monday. On Tuesday, with six lifts in as many hours, we made it as far as Taupo. By Wednesday afternoon, we had pitched our new two man tent in the familiar grounds of the Taradale Holiday Park, opened a New Zealand bank account, and stocked up with groceries. Thursday, the 18th of November, we started work thinning. We knew what we had to do, and we did it. The next five weeks, we worked hard and long. We thinned apples, we picked sweetcorn, picked and packed stonefruit, pruned and thinned kiwifruit, trimmed seedlings, and shifted irrigation. Physically, the work was demanding, even gruelling, particularly for Sara who wasn't used to it. The weather was alternately cold, wet or very hot; rarely just pleasant. On weekends, we would make a small excursion out of visiting a local winery or doing a bit of hiking in the surrounding areas.

Ross and Ngaire shouted beers after work every Friday, and had us over for the occasional barbecue. One rainy Sunday, they took us for a drive to their beach house south of Hawke's Bay. They really made us feel like so much more than just workers. A few days before Christmas, Ross told us that he and Ngaire would like to lend us their new diesel utility and camper canopy for the Christmas break. I was dumbfounded. He had heard that we were planning to spend Christmas in Urewera National Park, but with the impending rain, and our tent having ripped quite badly, we had almost given up on the idea. Now, we travelled in luxury. We slept in the camper the first night, parked in a bushy little alcove just inside the park. It was a nine kilometre hike up a steep muddy mountain path to Panekiri hut, built on the edge of a sheer cliff overlooking beautiful Lake Waikeramoana.

Duncan's campervan, with Panekiri Bluff in the background. Panekiri hut was at the peak of that bluff.

What better place to get away from it all, we thought, and have a peaceful Christmas by ourselves. Funnily enough, twenty other people in that hut had the same idea. It turned out to be quite a party, complete with Christmas pudding and even champagne.

We trekked back down on Boxing Day, and after exploring the rocky outcrops and caves, we parked the camper the next night by the beach at Wairoa. Searching for a nice beach on the drive back to Napier, we stopped at Waihua and Mohaka; both were black sand beaches covered with driftwood.

Cooking pasta on the beach

We passed right through Napier and continued south to Ocean Beach, parked the ute on the dunes, and spent the next twenty-four hours there; swimming, drinking beer, sleeping, reading, writing letters, and cooking over a campfire.We'd had a great break, but both were sad to see the last day arrive. We washed the ute in Napier, and took in a movie, before parking for the night in a picnic area near the river. We were dreading having to return to our badly torn tent.

However, lady luck smiled on us the next day; Duncans' neighbours, Richard and Jaye, asked us to 'house-sit' for ten days while they are away on holidays. Well, more like they heard about our accommodation predicament, and felt sorry for us. Either way, we had a solid roof over our head for a change. That Sunday, our other neighbour Brian Taylor took us to Cape Kidnappers, towing us along the beach in a homemade trailer behind his four wheeled motorbike. Cape kidnappers is a popular tourist attraction, being home to the largest mainland gannet colony anywhere in the world. A gannet is a type of seabird, didn't you know? Brian wanted to do a spot of paua fishing. We would have been happy just to watch, but he insisted we join him in the water and 'have a go'. Paua fishing involves paddling through thick seaweed and rocks, not an altogether pleasant experience. The large shellfish attach themselves to submerged rocks, so we had to feel around underwater and prise the unfortunate blighters off with a knife. By the time Brian was ready to go, we had eighteen large paua between the three of us. I later found out that there is a bag limit on these shellfish; six paua per person in the water! All the time we thought Brian was just being neighbourly.

Work became more mundane after that, and we started to count down the weeks until our next break. When Richard and Jaye returned from holidays, Duncans set up the camper canopy under a tree in their yard and let us stay there. We began working seven days a week in an effort to save that little extra money. After another month, we sent home over three thousand dollars to pay into the car loan account. We felt that sort of achievement deserved a reward, so we took a week's break to visit my aunt and uncle near Rotorua.

We hitched to Taupo after work on Friday. I remembered a spot along the Waikato River where a hot thermal stream bubbles out of the mountains. It runs down the bank into the cold water, so that you can find your own spot between the hot and the cold.

Relaxing in the hot stream I had discovered two years earlier

We found the same stream, pitched our tents just nearby, and lolled about in the warm water until nine o'clock at night.

Sara and I with Uncle Allan and Aunty es, in Otakiri, inland from the Bay of Plenty

It was good to see Aunty Es and Uncle Alan the next day, although he had recently had a heart attack and she was looking very weary. They showed us around the bay area, and the next day lent us their car to explore Rotorua. Neither of us were impressed with the boiling mud, steam and stench of rotten eggs that puts Rotorua on the tourist map, but we did have fun on the 'luge'. The luge is a concrete track winding its way down a hillside just outside Rotorua. For a few dollars, the intrepid rider can attempt to negotiate the track and its series of banked corners, riding just inches off the ground on a specially made three wheeled platform.

It's hard to look cool riding one of these contraptions!

But silly rides were not our mission. Our holy grail lay in the mountains that had stared at us across the huge lake in Taupo. Tongariro, Nguarahoe and Ruapehu; I remembered them from my first trip, looming in the mist like giant sentinels, guarding a forbidden land. Finally I would walk amongst the mystical snow covered peaks of the Tongariro Crossing. We had begun with no wet weather clothing, so before we left Taupo, we each bought a lightweight oilskin and a pair of waterproof nylon overtrousers. We hitched to the Visitors Centre at Turangi to get any information on the crossing, and to check out the weather forecast. It didn't look promising; a low pressure system dominating, with accompanying cloud and some rain expected over the next few days. But we weren't to be discouraged; besides, there wasn't the time to wait for more agreeable weather. We hitched to the western entrance of the park, and set off in the direction of Whakapapa Village; three days walk through forests, tussock plains, mountain passes and steaming craters.

Our first stop was at Ketetahi hot springs, after a couple of hours solid hiking. It had been drizzling most of the way, and we emerged from the vegetation into a barren landscape. A rocky ravine stretched upslope ahead of us, and a rivulet of thermal water trickled towards us through the clouds of its own steam. We followed the stream a short way until we came across a low wall of rocks that had partially dammed its flow. It had formed a small pool, just comfortable for two people. It was too inviting; we stripped off naked and eased our way into the tepid water. It was pleasant and soothing, and when we adjusted to the temperature, we jumped out and moved a few metres upstream to another pool. Each pool was hotter than the last, as we made our way slightly closer to the source. I could have stayed there all day in the steam and the mist, but we had been warned that hot springs can sap your energy if you overindulge, so we didn't stay too long. Ketetahi hut was just an hour further along the trail. The hut was quite crowded, hikers anxiously waiting for clearer weather. We cooked lunch there and dried out some of our gear, alongside the dozen other sleeping bags hanging from the ceiling around the warmth of the stove. About mid-afternoon, there was a break in the rain, so we continued on towards Mangetepopo Hut.

Before we had rounded the first bend, the rain resumed, heavier than ever. It was three and a half hours to Mangetepopo Hut, and I've read that it's some of the most stunning scenery anywhere in the world. I wouldn't know about that, as we were lucky to be able to see ten steps ahead of ourselves through the relentless downpour.

Trudging through what is supposed to be one of the most spectacular walks in the world

The rain stung us in the face as we trudged up the scree slopes with our full backpacks. The water level slowly rose underfoot as we blindly picked our way across the endless expanse of Grand Crater. According to our map, we walked right by the volcanic cone of Ngaurahoe without seeing it. During a momentary lull in the rain, we pitched camp. Our sleeping bags were clammy, packs and boots were drenched, and we had only enough solid fuel left to boil one cup of tea to share. Through sheer exhaustion, we managed to sleep. We woke before six o'clock, and immediately resumed our walk to the village, once again in rain and thick cloud. Being unable to appreciate our surroundings, there was no reason to pause, so we made good time to Whakapapa. That afternoon, after checking into the campground and drying out all our gear, we finally caught a glimpse of the elusive and beautiful Mt. Ngaurahoe- from the warmth and comfort of the local pub!
Understandably disappointed, we decided to try to salvage the situation by making an assault on Mt. Ruapehu the next day. Ruapehu is the highest peak in the north island, at 2797 metres above sea level. It was a long, tough climb, crunching through snow and clambering over rocks with our heavy packs most of the way. At least this time the weather held out for us. Crater Lake was happily simmering away at fifty-five degrees.

The crater lake of Mt Ruapehu, which erupted violently several months after our climb The sight of that made the whole climb worthwhile, even though the clouds again completely shrouded Nguarahoe. We were both ready to go back to work. The orchard was at the peak of its season now, and Sara and I worked ten hours a day every day for the next month. Ross and Ngaire invited us for dinner quite often now that we were living on the property, even took us waterskiing on the weekend. When we weren't having dinner at Duncans' or nextdoor with Richard and Jaye, we'd likely be with Mark, one of the workers, and his girlfriend Rhonda ,or with Ross and Ngaire's daughter Fiona. Our last Friday finally rolled around. As was the custom when anyone leaves, we shouted beers for the crew; two cartons of VB (cheaper here than at home!) Martin took us to a four wheel drive rally the next day.

Another hopeful, trying to negotiate one of the near impossible obstacles

Then on Monday we said our goodbyes and hitched south. We had three and a half weeks to see as much of New Zealand as we could, on a budget of just over a hundred dollars a week each.

Visit my favourite books page for some recommended reading relating to this trip around New Zealand. Roll your mouse over the cover photo for a brief description. Click for more details, to purchase online at a discounted price from Amazon, or to view other titles. (if you buy a book, or any other product from Amazon, through this link on my site, I get a small commission- even more if you buy the book you clicked on. Go on, buy a book today!)

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