TONGARIRO NATIONAL PARK, NEW ZEALAND — Today was another driving day. Seven and a half hours from the Coromandel peninsula to Tongariro National Park in the center of the north island.
After discovering that some of our food “went missing” after a cleanup of the fridges, we had an improvised breakfast of yoghurt and toast, then proceeded to start the long drive. After filling up in Hikuai, we had a choice to drive via Kopu and then west of the mountains, or take the more scenic, coastal highway 25 via Whangamata and Waihi. Much like the signs on Halloween haunted anything say: We chose poorly.
The road was a spectacular drive, but the word “winding” does not even begin to describe it: Constant curves, up and down over passes, into valleys, speed limits of 30km/h. By the time we got to Waihi two hours later, we were ready for a walk. So naturally, we stopped at a German bakery and had sandwiches and “Erdbeerschnitten,” then walked through town. In the visitor center, we saw a map and hiking trails in the Karanahake gorge, which we would pass on our way.
We got to Karanahake a short time later and went on a walk along the river that parallels the highway through the gorge. In addition to walking trails, there also were rail-trails for bicycling, and we ended up on one at the point where it enters a 1km long tunnel underneath the main highway. This tunnel would have brought us to town and back our car. Instead we backtracked and I walked part of the Crown Tramway Track, a trail that follows another river through a gorge.
The cliff walls on this trail were pocketed by mine shafts, as this used to be a busy gold mining area until 1926. Some mines extended into a network of several kilometers, most notably the Crown Mine, whose entrance the trail passed on the opposite side of the river.
Although we saw some gorgeous scenery and I, at least, really enjoyed the drive, it was time to make up some time, so we stuck to major highways for the rest of the trip and even avoided a shorter, although what looked like a more winding road. Our route took us through Paeroa, Tauanui, Tirau, Taupo and Turangi. By the time we hit Turangi, it was already shortly after 7pm, so we filled up the car, grabbed dinner from the deli in a grocery store and headed on.
We arrived at our accommodation, the Chateau Tongariro around sunset. By now, after 5 days of camping, our car looked like a teenager’s room: Clothing and other stuff strewn around the car, so we gathered up enough clothing to go on our hike the next day and headed in. The real bed felt like a real luxury to us, coming from five days of camping.