Thursday, February 09, 2012

Wellington to Mount Maunganui

Our ferry ride this time was grey, and I spent much less time on deck – I even watched a bit of each of the movies being played – Mr. Bean’s Holiday and Charlotte’s Web. The two most expensive movies I have ever watched! I think we are tired of sight-seeing. We went to Hannah’s house (she was home this time!) to find that the family would be out for the evening. They felt badly about it, but really it was nice just to be in a home and sit on couches again, after two weeks of camping.

The next day, Hannah was working until mid-afternoon, so we went into Wellington to do the tourist thing. We only made it to the Te Papa museum, but on the way the streets were filled with people dressed up in all kinds of costumes for The Sevens – a world rugby championship taking place in the city with seven players on each team playing two seven minute halfs. It seemed the thing to do to go as a group all dressed the same way, and some of them were pretty amazing. We didn’t do the thing to do. The museum was very good, though we saw only a quarter of it or so, just the natural science, which very appropriately focused on things like earthquakes and volcanoes. One of my favorites was a small house set up to simulate an earthquake, almost enough to knock you off your feet. During the one in Christchurch, people couldn’t even stand.

We spent the evening catching up with Hannah, then having dinner with the family and watching the rugby. Canada did quite well, getting to the quarter-finals for the cup, and I am curious now as to how far they got. New Zealand, of course, always beats everyone.

We decided the next day to continue north, aiming for the volcanoes in Tongariro National Park. Hannah’s dad had recommended that I consider doing the Tongariro Crossing, which is supposed to be the best one-day “tramp” in New Zealand. Upon arrival, we checked at the info centre and the weather looked like it would improve the next day, and found that the shuttle bus left at 7:30 am. So we went to a small campsite and I got ready to hike while drizzle kept us mostly in the van. The next morning the drizzle was still going, so I decided to not go but wait to see what the weather would do. It also gave us the chance to go to church, which turned out to be a good thing.

There seemed to be only one church having a service that morning, a small Anglican one that slowly gathered a handful of friendly seniors. An elderly lady sat right in front of us, and I remember wondering why she would choose that spot when there were so many others. It was a very Anglican service, and at one point it was the little old lady’s role to read a rather long prayer. But she read it with such passion and conviction it was quite beautiful. One of the passages read was the end of Isaiah 40, about rising up with wings like eagles. I wondered what God was saying to me.

Then there was a time for everyone to get up and say, “Peace be with you” to one another. The little lady in front of us turned around, looked straight at me and said, “The best is yet to come!” I was rather astonished, because it was the very thing God has said to me all through the year, and I think I had forgotten. We talked with her for a while later – 87 years old, a widow for 12, and very much looking forward to heaven. “It is so good to be a believer, isn’t it?” she said.

Thinking about it later, I realized that God was reminding me about the “waiting” part of Isaiah 40 – “those who wait on the Lord.” Waiting is what I am doing right now, but it is not purposeless. Through it, God will renew my strength. It is intended that I not wait impatiently, or become pre-occupied with other things as I wait. It is waiting with anticipation, expectation. I think my anticipation has waned, like when someone says they are going to go off a jump or something and it is taking too long. I think my expectations are reduced, to the point that sometimes I feel I could just retire, or get a job selling insurance like I dreamed recently. God, fill me with anticipation, and may I dream big again!

Well, I am going to try the mountain again tomorrow, hoping that the weather will clear. Bus leaves at 7:00 am. Better get some sleep.

So this is tomorrow, and I have now done something that Sam and Frodo never did – I climbed to the top of Mount Doom. The shuttle dropped me and several others off at 7:30 AM, and I had in mind that if I was going to be sure of catching the last pick-up on the other side of the Tongariro Crossing at 5:00 PM, I would need to be at the Saddle at 9:00 AM and at the top of Mount Ngauruhoe at 10:30 AM, which I wasn’t sure was possible. A good hundred or so people were leaving the parking lot about the same time as me, but the numbers dwindled as each found their pace, and mine was pretty quick.

The first section is deceptively easy – wide trail, boardwalk, just a few rises, with good views of Mount Ruepehu. Then suddenly it climbs steeply up to the saddle between the two volcanoes, Ngauruhoe and Tongariro. It was cold when I started, but I was getting warm by the time I reached the saddle – at 9:00 AM! I noticed that a few people were taking the side-trip up Ngauruhoe, which really is Mount Doom in The Lord of the Rings movie, and I decided to go for it.

For those who have done the hike up Mount Albert-Edward in Strathcona Park, think about that last section up the steep slope to the top, multiply it by five or six, and make it steeper, and that was the climb up Ngauruhoe. No wonder Frodo had such trouble! Not only steep, but very unstable, as this mountain has blown its top several times in the past fifty years or so, and in places it was step up one, slide down two. About halfway up, there is a ridge that is better footing, but now you are dealing with very large rocks that move, so you have to be very careful. Many times you would hear people yelling “Rock!” above you and you watched until you were sure it wasn’t coming your way.

It got tough at the top (2287 meters or 7500 feet) with less oxygen and ridges that were not really the top at all. But suddenly there it was – a rim of about 3 meters wide, circling a crater about 200 meters across and at least that deep, with snow at the bottom. It was red and black and very scorched, and steam rose from the ground in various places. There are signs at the start of the trail telling you what to do if it starts erupting. I think there is little that one could do if they were standing where I was. I spent about an hour at the top, taking lots of photos and walking all the way around the rim. Pretty spectacular. For perspective, the tiny dots on the far rim are people.

The trip down was more hazardous that the one up, as it consisted of plunging straight down the very steep scree, like walking down the longest escalator you have ever seen. Usually it was quite manageable, because your feet sank so deep in the rocky soil, but occasionally the bones of the mountain were suddenly near the surface, and if you were moving too fast you found yourself sliding rapidly, as if on marbles on steep pavement. But I got to the bottom safely, found a place to sit and had my lunch (after emptying my boots of half the mountain).

I have to say, that was the best part of the Tongariro Crossing. The rest was cool though, with big, wide craters to walk through, vivid green lakes and vents of steam all over. I put my hand on the ground once, and it was hot. But the walk out was long, down a fairly easy slope but the trail meandered back and forth without losing much elevation so it took a long while. Just before 3:00 PM I reached a shelter that our driver said was two hours from the parking lot and that a sign said was 1.5 hours. I decided suddenly that I really wanted to catch the 4:00 PM shuttle, so off I went! And a few others with me. We reached the shuttle right at 4:00 PM, and it left a few minutes after we got there. Not that I saw nothing on the way down – good views of Lake Taupo and area, and a huge vent of steam where there are some hot springs.

I decided I really needed a shower, so we sprung for our most expensive campground so far ($38, or about $30 Canadian) and it was a wonderful one. We both had a shower that evening and another in the morning just because we could. Sarah had spent the day checking out the exhibits about volcanoes at the visitor centre and doing the walks she was able to manage. That evening we drove up Ruepehu (the tallest one at 2797 meters or 9200 feet, but not as cone-shaped) and watched the sun setting on Ngauruhoe and the surrounding area. Very tired feet, but a very good day.

We had some general idea of going to Lake Taupo and possibly on to Rotarua the next day. Lake Taupo is very beautiful, and made me wish we had a boat. We stopped on the shores for a while, which are lined with pebbles and rocks of pumice! It was kinda fun to throw rocks in the water and watch them float away from you. We enjoyed the view all morning, and then decided to head for a campground near Rotarua and see what thermal activity we could find on the way, as this is the Thermal Highway. That part was a bit disappointing, as all of the places have pretty steep entrance fees. So we saw what we could for free and went to the campsite, a nice one by a lake. It filled up quickly after we got there, and many vans came in and had to leave again. Wonderful to sit by the lake in the sun and just enjoy it. Wonderful not to drive any further. We are at 6400 km and still have a way to go!

That night I had an interesting dream. We plan to go to the International House of Prayer soon in Taraunga, and I dreamt that we were there, and a man was at the front leading a discussion. He asked someone to give him a word that they were given by God, so they could discuss it, and a young girl gave the word, “Leader.” It was very vivid, but as dreams go, suddenly I was the one at the front, and I took the word “leader” and began teaching for about twenty minutes from the Bible, focusing on calling others to become disciples of Christ. I woke up and remembered the dream clearly, and realized that this is what I want to do. Maybe not in Tauranga, but somewhere. I want to have the freedom to teach young adults in a setting like that. Interesting, because the day before I had asked God again what I am to be anticipating.

Next day we took things pretty easy, with a walk in an unusual city park in Rotarua – pools of boiling water steaming up in various spots, a massive museum building straight from the 30’s, bowling and croquet greens everywhere, and the constant smell of rotten eggs from all the thermal activity. Then we carried on to the coast and arrived at our campsite at noon, which proved to be next to a gorgeous surf beach on the east coast, where we sat and watched the waves (looking directly toward Canada) and the plume of smoke pouring out of White Island offshore, and walked and read all afternoon, plus the better part of the evening. I can’t figure out DOC sites though. The one last night didn’t even have running water and it was $16.20. This one was $12.00 and it had a hot shower! Go figure.

Today, we were up at 6:15 AM and away by 7:00, hoping to reach the IHOP in Tauranga by 8:00 AM. Nope, not for pancakes – the International House of Prayer. Danny had told us about it, and we arrived right at 8:00, not knowing what to expect. For the first two hours, a fellow who was one of Danny’s teachers at YWAM led in worship, which in this case meant that he sang and played guitar, very skillfully, and wove together songs of worship along with teaching and some instrumental, for two hours without stopping. It was amazing how God spoke to us both in that time, reaffirming words he has said before and taking us further.

Then a worship team took his place and led in intercessory prayer through mostly music and some spoken participation by others. Most of the prayer had to do with New Zealand and revival, and especially the Tauranga area, but there was also prayer for healing and other things, and it was good just to devote time to our own intercession. We spent the afternoon on the beach at Mount Maunganui – very famous NZ spot – and decided to stay and go back to IHOP tomorrow morning as well.

I feel anticipation growing as to what God has next for us. Wait on him with us. And enjoy the sunset over Tauranga Harbour.

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