Blue Ducks and Black Clouds

My apologies if it’s hard to judge the points in time these updates actually pertain to — lately I’ve just been waiting until the days I have wi-fi to publish a ramshackle combination of posts I’ve written in advance and spur-of-the-moment entries. Today I’ve sprung for 24 hours worth of unlimited wi-fi at my hostel, so you might say I’m feeling saucy.

After leaving Rotorua a few days ago (was it yesterday? Two days ago? I’m really not sure. Traveling on a tour bus is sort of like being in a Vegas casino: you know you’re having fun, but you can’t remember the last time you saw a clock or a calendar) I headed to Lake Taupo. I continue to pronounce Taupo the way any college-educated American girl would pronounce it, which is to say, as if it were the name of a frat. (“Hey, guys, are you heading to after-hours at the Tau Po house? I hear they have a keg of Natty Ice!”) But actually, the Kiwis pronounce it Toe-paw.

When I arrived in Toe-paw, it was overcast and hazy enough to make me wonder why exactly I’d come. Not being in the mood for the lake’s main draws — water sports (too dreary out) or skydiving (too violently against my every natural instinct) — I opted for a run around the lake. But I’m not using the word “around” here in the same way as I’d say “I ran around the Jackie O. reservoir tonight.” This is because Lake Taupo is roughly the size of Pluto. Here’s a small portion of it, seen from above:

By the time I was done (read: exhausted), it was late enough to sit on the shore with my feet in the water and watch the sunset while hoping these guys would strike just the right pose for a picture.

Yesterday morning it was back on the bus for another “one-of-a-kind” stop off the beaten path I’m occasionally starting to miss. After what happened in Maketu, I was pretty skeptical about Stray’s “famous” trip to Blue Duck Lodge, but this place was actually pretty incredible. First off, it’s up on a mountain in the the absolute sticks. You may have to pass Mount Freakin’ Doom to get there. I know this because I heard our driver say the words “Mount” and “Doom” around approximately the same time I saw this out the window:

My confidence in this mountain’s celebrity is significantly lessened by the fact that, in my sudden zeal for under-preparedness, I managed to watch only one Lord of the Rings movie before taking off for New Zealand. If it’s not Mount Doom, I think it might just be a fairly famous ski destination. Anyone?

After passing Mount Maybe Doom, it was another hour of an uphill drive to Blue Duck Lodge, where we got a lecture on the conservation of the area’s namesake critter. Here is what I basically got from the lecture:

The blue duck is adorable and cuddly. Lambs are also cute and snuggle-worthy, but wild pigs and goats are not. Goats are pests, and wild pigs will kill and eat those snuggly little lambs, preventing them from carrying out their true life’s purpose of being killed so that humans can eat them. So if you see a wild pig or a goat, it’s your moral obligation to kill it.

Maybe that’s my vegetarian’s over-simplified take-away lesson, but I passed on the optional activity of paying $70 to go out on a goat-hunting safari with a rifle and a Hefty bag.

Instead I went on a hike around the enormous property, which turned out to be an otherworldly mix of tropical rainforest ferns and sheep-grazed rolling hills.

This morning we had an early wake-up call to re-board the bus and head down the mountain (where we got a flat tire and were stranded for two hours) and off to Tongariro National Park, home of the greatest “one-day walk” in New Zealand, and possibly the world: the Tongariro Crossing.  If you ask anyone who’s actually done this hike, you’re likely to get one of two answers: it was either A) 6.5 hours of pure ecstasy trekking across the kind of landscape you’d expect to see if NASA discovered water on Mars, or B) the most miserable, physically exhausting, and disappointing experience of one’s life. There is no in between. And the only thing separating the two is the day’s weather forecast: arrive on a clear day and you’ll end the day feeling blessed by the gods. Arrive on a cloudy, misty, wet blanket of a day, and you’ll curse each low-visibility step you take.

Today I took the shuttle bus all the way up to the base of Mt. Tongariro, fleeced and rain jacketed up with a backpack full of trail mix and peanut butter sandwiches. And then I had the driver take me right back to the hotel so I could book another night and try the hike again tomorrow. I guess I don’t have to tell you what the weather was like up there today.

So, on that note: wish me better luck tomorrow!


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