Adrift in Taupo for the summer, I was wondering what adventures I could take my kids on, when I read in the Taupo Times about the Department of Conservation’s Mahi Aroha summer programme. Jackpot! The only problem now was to whittle the awesome activities down to just a select few. I choose six varied trips that met my families holiday needs, as well as kept my budget intact.
As a native of Taupo, I was surprised I did not know of this hidden treasure at the southern end of the lake. A short paddle from Motuopa wharf, you squeeze through a leafy overhang to find yourself in the sheltered and picturesque Waimarino Wetlands. My oldest son Damien and I quickly came to grips with the flat bottomed kayaks that had a penchant for 360 spins, to enjoy the solace of the reedy wet haven. It was fantastic to learn about the area’s historical importance to local iwi, and to witness the wonderful work DOC and Project Tongariro have begun to remove the grey willow, which threatens to choke the wetlands and spread it’s exotic impact into nearby Kaimanawa and Tongariro National Park. A couple of the rarer birds were pointed out to us by our guide as we paddled our way through the wetlands narrow channels, but otherwise the feathery locals kept a healthy distance from the kayaking intruders.
What better way to finish a day than by taking a beautiful sunset tramp at Tongariro National Park. Marco, my 10 year old, was eager to show off the sprightliness of his young legs as he tore ahead through the narrow track sandwiched between shoulder high manuka, bounding from bank to bank in order to avoid collecting mud on his shoes, then showed us all up as he nimbly ascended the final scoria slope to the summit, and first to spot the native falcon, Karearea, circled overhead with his keen eyes. In what seemed like no time at all we arrived at the top of Tongariro’s lowest crater dome, Pukeonaki, if only a little behind the young fellow.
We ate our supper on the high point, overlooking the mangatapopo valley basin and the wiggle of silver that indicated the Tongariro Crossing trail, and waited for the orange orb in the west to set. Stunning.
However the adventure had only just begun. As darkness descended, the loop return trail proved hard to find. Luckily Marco, named after the famous explorer, went straight to work, bashing through the scratchy bush to find the track and lead us all back to the correct trail. With head torches strapped to our heads, and with Marco leading the way, shouting out warning of holes, slips and dips, we safely were back at our cars.
Bridge to Nowhere, Whanganui National Park
Over the years I heard the story many times of how my father almost died on the Bridge to Nowhere mountain bike trail. My father fell off the edge of one of the many cliff faces along the Whanganui, grabbing wildly at the foliage as he fell, and luckily, one little shrub held his life as his legs dangled above nothing but air. I was told how, as the last mountain biker in his party, he was lucky the rider ahead of him stopped and heard his cries of help. But the adventure continued as the weather was bad, his nerve was shot and the sun was dipping. Tied from riding all day from Tongariro, they rode on as fast as they dared, knowing that if they missed the last water taxi off the river, they would surely succumb to exposure.
As a child, this story ignited my thirst for adventure, and the Bridge to Nowhere has been on my bucket list for as long as I can remember. So when I saw it on the Mahi Aroha programme I jumped at the opportunity. My adventure wasn’t nearly as dramatic as my fathers, but I was not disappointed. Dramatic scenery, wire bridge crossings, stunning bush, bluffs and drop offs, good company, interesting history, and a well informed guide.
My precious and pampered niece from Sydney was visiting for the holidays. Very deviously, I carefully unwrapped my brother from her dainty little finger and whisked her away to National Park. My intention was to ‘toughen the little princess up’, and what better way than to take her into the murky depths of the Okupata Caves.
Once adequately deceived with the idea of a “pretty glow worm cave” my first challenge was to convince Lara to remove all her pink garb and into an ‘ugly blue’ polar fleece and trackies. Then my cunning plan was almost undone as Jimmy, our caving guide, briefed the intrepid cavers, boldly highlighted all the awesome stuff we’d be doing once in the cave. This included squeezing through tight holes, crawling up to our armpits in under ground rivers, clambering up water falls and finding cave weta,. Quite frankly after that announcement it’s a miracle Lara still agreed to go in.
Afraid of heights, and gripping my hand Lara descended steeply into the cave system. Cooing and shaking like a fearful dove all the way, she ‘posted’ herself through holes, crawled through tight spaces, got wet and muddy. Lara was mighty proud of herself for being so brave, and couldn’t wait to tell her Daddy all about it when she got home. This just goes to show how tough kids can be if you just give them a little nudge towards their boundaries.
Marco on the other hand was in his element, and topped off his caving adventure by throwing himself fully dressed into the cool Okupata River. Ahhh!
Before returning the young Australian princess home, Marco and I thought the night creatures trip looked interesting. First we got an informative talk on the habits and habitats of the night creatures local to Tongariro National Park which included the long and short tailed bats, kiwi, hundreds of types of moths, giant snails, morepork and various furry predators. Marco and Lara enjoyed getting close with the stuffed stoats and weasels, and the giant boxes of displayed moths.
All too soon it was time to head into the dark of Tongariro forest. Surprisingly Lara bowl out of the car ready for the next adventure, only to come screaming back in a pink blur to lock herself in the car. The problem, ———, the specially trained kiwi finding dog at her terrified heels. Coaxed out of the car, and reassured the child eating animal had been feed, muzzled and was harmless, Lara whimpering, tentatively patted the dogs floppy golden ear and we were finally off, head torches on.
“I don’t want to be an adventurer” stated the voice accompanying the hand clutching my own as we pushed our way though head high cutty grass down an old tram cutting. Marco on the other hand was helping lead the foray, giving the DOC Rangers a full run down on everything he knew about wild animals. Unfortunately, apart from the odd Morepork, the animals remained pretty quiet for us despite the rangers best attempt at getting return calls to their recorded kiwi calls. What we did find however was an assortment of spiders, weta and millipedes. “You call that a spider?” says an incredulous small Australian, “we had a huntsman this big in our house!” Obviously hard to please some! We turned our lamps off and continued in the dark until our night vision kicked in. By this stage the Australian had let go of my hand, the full moon dabbled the surrounding bush with light, and the girl was giggling as Toi Toi tickled her face. Stories of great bravery bubbled forth when reunited with her unbelieving father. Not too bad for a reluctant adventurer.
Admittedly it was the lure of a helicopter ride that sold me on this trip. What a fantastic experience for Marco and he sure wasn’t disappointed if the ear to ear grin from his pole position in the helicopter was telling. The Waipakahi River valley is stunning, and pure heaven for an avid rock collector like Marco. Weighted down with an ever increasing collection of rocks, we waded through rivers and tussock down the valley, making friends with the other hikers as we went. As the day wore on the temperature heated up, and the iridescent green-blue river became ever more enticing. In the end, who could resist, as our merry band of trampers young and old, stripped to their briefs and plunged in.
Thank you so much Department of Conservation! Our appreciation and gratitude for what you do for us that love the outdoors, and this country, can not be stated enough! Also, a special thank you to Jimmy, who lead three of our trips. For not only his expertise, but for the obvious love for his job and what he does, that was infectious and important for my son to see.