NZ Land Logs 25, Year 2: North Island—New Plymouth and Mt. Taranaki
Date: Thursday, March 15, 2007
Weather Today: Windy, Rainy, and Cool
Location: New Plymouth, New Zealand

Yesterday’s winds were strong and they continued into this morning. The reported winds were 50 to 60 knots which is somewhere between 57.5 and 69 miles an hour. That’s almost hurricane force and people around here act like it is just normal. We checked the newspaper and found that winds like this blow here three or four times a year, just not at this particular time. If there are winds over 50 knots at this time of year they are usually associated with cylones in the South Pacific to the north. These winds came from the south and winds this strong from the south are usually associated with winter storms. The problem is that it is not quite fall yet. Oh, well. I guess the strange weather conditions we had last season are going to continue.

We actually got a good night’s sleep in our little chicken coop last night and got an early start this morning. I didn’t get to see the Otaki Gorge, but life will go on. We are trying, but we can’t see it all. We drove for about an hour and a half and made an internet stop in the town of Wanganui. We first stopped at the Information Center where a very nice woman gave us some ideas for how best to see Mt. Taranaki. We then went to the internet shop and sent yesterday’s log. Alan had them take a look at his computer which will not boot, but after an hour and half of trying, his computer was still refusing to budge. It was almost noon by this time and the clouds were getting heavier and heavier. We were getting intermittent rain and had a sinking feeling in our stomachs that we were not going to see Mt. Taranki on this day. As we drove closer, we could see the base of the mountain, but that base was only climbing into a total cloud cover. We stopped and had lunch in hopes that the clouds would blow away, but no such luck. Still not willing to give in, we decided to drive up to Dawson’s Falls at the base of the mountain and see what we could see from there. The woman at the Information Center in Wanganui had told us that the drive up to Dawson Fall’s at the base of the mountain would take us on a road with overhanging trees forming a canopy. At first we were traveling through farmland, but then the canopy overtook us. It was quite charming. When we got to the end of the road, we found the Dawson Falls Information Center. The young woman inside was very nice, but she gave us the bad news that we probably wouldn’t see this mountain today and probably not even tomorrow morning. We were disappointed, but we do have to remember that we got to see Mt. Cook on a stellar day and those don’t happen often. I guess it just wasn’t in the cards for Mt. Taranaki. We climbed down to see Dawson Falls and then headed for our next destination. Helaine and I had read about the little town of Whangamomona and we wanted to see it. There is actually nothing there but the old Whangamomona Hotel which is now just a pub, but this is a little town of distinction. With a population of only 30, Whangamomona became an independent republic after disagreements with other local councils over who could play on which rugby team back in 1988. There is a ‘border guard’ when you enter the town, but it happens to be an outdoor toilet! Every other year in January over 5,000 New Zealanders descend on this little town to celebrate its independence as New Zealand’s’other nation.’ On the road to Whangamomona we also planned to take a detour to see the Makahu Tunnel. This tunnel, like many others in New Zealand, was dug out with pick and chisel in the early 1900’s and is still used today as a one-lane road tunnel. If our information is correct, this tunnel was also used in parts of The Lord of the Rings. Our Lord of the Rings Guide Book doesn’t mention it, but the woman at the Information Center in Wanganui was definite about this. The other thing she told us was that if we went all the way to Whangamomona, on the return trip we would have great views of Mt. Taranaki if it was clear. We started on our journey and found the Makhu Tunnel. It has been reinforced with concrete, but it is tiny. We drove through and then turned around and continued on the VERY curvy “Forgotten Highway” to Whangamomona. We were 18 kilometres from reaching our destination when time and patience ran out and we turned around to head to New Plymouth for the night. Alan really didn’t want to continue and I was the only die-hard who really wanted to go all the way, we we made a group decision to turn around. Unfortunately, it was still cloudy and we had no great views of Mt. Taranaki on the return trip. Maybe tomorrow morning . . .

We reached New Plymouth, a town on the far West Coast of New Zealand’s North Island, and checked into the Top 10 Campground for the night. Our cottage accommodations are a little nicer than last night. We took time to walk down to the beach before going into town for a great Indian dinner. Tomorrow it is on to Waitomo Caves to see those little glowworms. The trip there has some great scenery and once there we hope to see the caves, go to the Kiwi House in Otorohanga just north of Waitomo Caves to see live kiwis in the native bird park, and possibly watch sheep shearing in Te Kuiti just south of Waitomo Caves. This town just happens to be the “Sheep Shearing Capital of the World.” After that, it is back to Auckland to do some more exploring in that area and then on to the Northland.

070315 Web Pics–Otaki to New Plymouth