Friday, January 10, 2014
2 January 2014: Mt Doom and Wellington
Following our night in Rotorua, our group started with grand aspirations: climb Mt. Ruapehu, or as fans of the Lord of the Ring series more affectionately know it: Mt. Doom. Mt. Ruapehu lies with its two siblings in a series of volcanoes between Rotorua and Wellington. Tongariro National Park lies to the south of New Zealand’s largest lake, the crater lake called Lake Taupo. Our beast of a rental van (Toyota Hiace with 330,000 km on the odometer!) met its first challenge of hills on this expedition and readily failed…not only did we struggle to progress any inclines very quickly, it also dumped copious amounts of antifreeze once we pulled into the Whakapapa Ski Area chairlift site, the location where one can take a chairlift partially the way up Mt. Ruapehu. As Dr. Moran and I sat in the parking lot awaiting our car roadside assistance to arrive (a process lasting two hours!), the students rode the chairlift and then returned, with the hopes that our car would not be towed to the nearest town for repairs. The mountain views from the top were described as ‘breathtaking’ and ‘amazing’ and the ride down from the top was generally characterized as ‘freezing!’. The mountain top was at least 15-20F colder than the town we visited just prior to our ascent, but who could know what it would be like when it’s summer! The landscape of Mt. Ruapehu was just as it appeared in LotR: desolate, forbidding, stony, and, well, desolate! Peter Jackson definitely picked the right place for Mt. Doom cinema!
Aside from the good news that all 10 of our students made it back to the van, our Kiwi mechanic, Dave, informed us that the van must have gotten good-and-heated-up over the drive up Mt. Ruapehu and boiled over the excessive amount of coolant in the reservoir. Whew! We dodged a bullet! We got on the road immediately and made our way to relatively gloomy Wellington later in the afternoon.
The YHA Wellington is located in the heart of Wellington, the capital of New Zealand. In close proximity to the hostel are plenty of restaurants, pubs, and stores, as well as the national museum, Te Papa. As we arrived in town, it was clear our good weather fortune had changed. ‘Windy Welly’ was living-up to its name: the wind was only blowing ~20-30mph…and it had yet to start raining. Most students ran across to the ‘New World’ grocery store across the street from the YHA for food and had a quick meal before retiring for the evening. We needed our energy for the next morning, when we would visit the Karori Sanctuary (a.k.a., Zealandia) for a lesson on the initiatives at the ‘mainland island’ nature reserve, a guided tour of the sanctuary, and our service project (brush removal).
Mt Ruapehu and the Whakapapa Ski Area, with Dr. Moran walking in the foreground (orange coat).
Dr. Moran points out Mt Ruapehu as we wait for the roadside assistance to arrive and assess our van.