On our 2010 trip we drove south from Otorohanga along the west edge of the Tongariro National Park and on to Whanganui. Later on that trip we stayed at Taupo and viewed the mountains, Tongariro, Ngurahoe, and Ruapehu across the lake from the north. A friend and I walked the Tongariro crossing, west to east. My plan this time was to approach the mountains from the south and then drive up the eastern side through the central plateau. That was to begin today by driving along the coast to Whanganui and then north to Okahune.
Last night was cold. We had used the diesel fueled space heater in the van on and off through the evening but even with that we were pleased to finish our game of Anagrams (Majella had brought that along for entertainment) and get under a doona and blanket. Even then it took a while to get warm enough to sleep and we woke periodically feeling cold.
A little before 7:00 am I ventured out of bed to switch on the space heater and the water heater. Majella was planning to shower in the van and it would take time for water to heat. I headed over to the amenities block to shower. The local temperature on the weather app was reported as 3ºC but our van later said it was 1ºC and the frost on the grass and ice on the windscreen suggested that was right. Out of curiosity I checked the morning temperature at Okahune, our planned destination for today, and found it was -1ºC. We would need to do something to improve our chances of staying warm tonight.
In addition to our standard coffee and muesli with yoghurt, Majella produced poached egg on toast for breakfast. With that done we tidied up the van, filled the fresh water tank, and emptied the waste water. Handling all the caps, clamps, hoses, and the rest with my cold hands was a challenge but we got it done and headed out after waiting a few minutes for the engine to warm and defrost the worst of the windscreen. We were on the road before 9:00 am.
The camping ground at Opunake is on the beach so Taranki is not in view though it otherwise dominates the local landscape. It was a brilliantly clear morning so as we topped the hill from the camp site and entered town there was Taranaki glistening in the morning light.
It remained dominant in the landscape much of the way to Whanganui, though it had disappeared behind hills before we arrived there. Somewhere along the road we caught a glimpse of another set of glistening white peaks. That was our first glance for today of the Ruapehu group. It appeared on the horizon periodically as we drove on to Whanganui. At times both Taranaki and the Ruapehu group were in view. We also saw a line of snowy white peaks far off to our right. Our best guess was that those, and others we saw a bit north later, were the peaks that run down past Palmerston North toward Wellington.
Our plan for keeping warm tonight was to buy a small fan heater which we thought was best done In Whanganui. At Britz on Saturday, we had been offered and declined a $10 per day package that included an electric heater. As it turned out Harvey Norman in Whanganui had a fan heater marked down from $49 to $27. We can use that for the next few days and donate it to a worthy cause before we leave the country.
While in Whanganui we paused long enough to fill up with diesel and pick up some more food at a supermarket. On the way out of town we paused by the river to brew up a cup of coffee for a late morning tea. Then we headed north.
Despite having seen Ruapehu earlier and now driving directly toward it, we drove a considerable distance before seeing it again. Along the way we mostly followed the Mangawhero River valley as it wound through steep hills. We passed through sheep country where Majella was dismayed to see some of the young lambs apparently dead in the fields. They had also found the previous night way too cold. The other major activities in the area appeared to be bee keeping (we saw many groups of hives) and logging (we saw many trucks either carrying logs or returning for more). The countryside was lush green but we were surprised to see large clumps of blooming yellow wattle with trees that seemed larger than we might see at home. Evidently our wattle enjoys the NZ climate and manages it better than we do.
As we approached Okahune we had our first full view of the mountains across a field with grazing sheep. It was after 1:00 pm when we arrived in Okahune. We checked in to the camping ground which has excellent facilities and, on advice from the manager, walked along a bush track to town. Majella had her eye on a hotel she had seen on the way into town but it was not open for lunch. We settled for a cafe where Majella had chowder with hot chocolate and I had beef nachos with coffee. On the way back to camp we picked up some items at the supermarket and visited the information centre to see what activities they might suggest for a couple of old folk with a couple of hours to spend and a campervan. The young woman we spoke to advised that it was possible to drive a campervan up to the ski fields and that there were a couple of waterfall walks along the way, one that was likely too long for the time we had but another that was just five minutes. She also advised that The Chocolate Eclair shop was a ‘must’.
We managed to drive to the Turoa ski area and walk sufficiently far in the snow to get a respectable selfie with snow in the background. A bonus of gaining that height was that we had a wonderful view of Taranaki far away to the south west.
As we drove up there was a steady stream of traffic coming down and that continued as we drove down. the car parks above had been well occupied and it would be some time before they emptied of skiers and snowboarders. On the way down we visited Mangawhero Falls. That was a very short walk but well worth it for the view of the falls with snow and icicles and the snowy mountain in the background.
Back in Okahune we visited the Chocolate Eclair shop and then took the 15 minute loop walk that had also been suggested. It branched from the track we had followed to town earlier and followed the stream for a while before going up and down through thick native bush. It was an interesting walk and a good wind down for the day. As we ended the circuit Majella went back to the van while I continued into town to pick up some beer – I was thirsty after a long day of driving and other activity. The supermarket which had been mostly empty when we visited earlier in the day was full with queues at every checkout. There was a reason the restaurants were closed at lunch time but their evening trade would have been strong. By the time I got back to camp the sun was setting and I had to try for photos of the golden glow on the mountain.
When I got back to the van Majella was revelling in the effect of the fan heater. Dinner was a simple affair of toast, ham, cheese, egg, and tomato followed by chocolate eclair. Majella had her special hot brew of ginger beer with lemon and honey, supposedly to ward off the pneumonia she thought she might get in the cold last night. I enjoyed a cold beer. It seems I am wanted for another game of Anagrams so I will probably need a red wine to carry me through.