Sunday, August 22, 2010

Playing in the snow and mud

Almost Antarctica, except for the ski lift cables.

This week I went away for a little break, mostly because after spending so long with the idea of Antarctica I wanted to see at least a little snow made of frozen water instead of wool and cotton. The nearest place to see snow is the mountains in the middle of the North Island of New Zealand, about three hours drive from where I live. I persuaded my buddy Robin, who has a car, to take a few days holiday with me. I didn't have to twist her arm very hard at all.

I thought that once up on the mountain I'd be able to narrow my focus and squint a little and maybe be able to imagine myself in Antarctica. Unfortunately, wherever I looked there was always some bit of greenery, or if not greenery, some building, road or ski lift. But it didn't matter, because there was snow, and some of it was blowing into my face in a very cold wind, and that seemed pretty authentic. Also Robin brought along a blow up sled, and that was very fun!
Three seems to be the optimal number on the Twister sled

After Robin and I took a few hilarious uncontrolled slides down the slope, she wondered how many kids could fit on the sled. Playing on the edge of the sledding slope was a group of children from Ngaruawahia Primary School who didn't have sleds or skis or snowboards. Watching them play on Robin's sled was even more fun that sledding ourselves. After a couple of hours in the snow, in conditions that could be generously described as stormy, we retreated back down to the Chateau for port and hot chocolate by the open fire, eavesdropping on rich people's complaints about the poor skiing conditions.

Taking a stroll to the Falls

But it's a truism that the weather in the mountains is changeable: the snow clad golf course we stomped across on our first day was melted to a green swamp (dotted with snowmen) on the second. And while we were recovering in luxury from the blizzardish morning, the sky suddenly cleared giving us the rare sight of all three mountains cloud-free. Ngarahoe, aka Mount Doom in Lord of the Rings, is such a perfect volcanic cone that I had to take about a million cliched photos of it. I don't know why, since I've chosen Robin's photo of me to illustrate.

The best thing about our little break was the hot pools at the Oasis in Tokaanu. The Oasis is perfectly adequate budget accomodation that I've been visiting for at least a dozen years. Guests get unlimited use of the on-site hot mineral pools and there's nothing like a hot stinky soak to ensure a very good night's sleep. The volcanic mountains and the hot pools are all reminders that the earth's crust is very thin here, and the landscape rather volatile.

On the way home we visited the Craters of the Moon, a geothermal feature consisting mainly of steaming holes in the ground.

My favourite part was a really big crater with shapely Chinese-looking rocks thrusting out of bubbling mud pools and steam vents, covered in lush primordial greenery.


Joan said...

Wonderful photos Meliors. i have been longing to go see the snow too. I am off to Wellington to see the Wearable Arts for the first time and thought I will at least see the snow on the mountain on the way.

charmaine said...

looks like an interesting place.