Canberra, ACT. Turner from the Tate.

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Braving the Canberra Cold for Art As it was minus five degrees in Canberra there was no hurry to visit the National Gallery of Australia. Much more pleasant to let the morning crowds go first and have pumpkin quiche for … Continue reading

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Mt Tongariro, N.Z. The Joys of Rocks, Rubble & the Rest *****5 stars

And All the Way Down Again

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Our brain is a curious thing. We think of all sorts of things as we walk along and even break into song at times but on the return journey our perspective is always completely different. A sense of elation and relief is tempered by discovering the many marvels we bypassed while focusing on that uphill climb, tricky section of track or active volcano. Fortunately, we were able to take our time and sing many more songs from our extensive repertoire, unlike the poor souls who had a deadline in the shape of a bus to catch at the bottom. California is a very long way from Tongariro but it still seemed appropriate to sing ‘California Dreaming’ as we cooled ourselves and ate our mini muffins by the stream at Soda Springs and sang I went for a walk….. 

 On a Sunny Day

Imagine our delight in finally reaching the carpark (and toilets!) to find our driver from Walking Legends awaiting us with drinks and a most welcome picnic! Quite a crowd of envious onlookers as we tucked into our feast. Back in Whakapapa village we headed for the closest stream and a chance to soak our feet in the comfort of its crystal clear waters. Bliss, but rather cold.

Perhaps a rest and another tune or two before dinner. Any requests?

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Mt Tongariro, N.Z. Rising to the Challenge *****5 stars.

The Only Way is Up.

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As always, an early start is best for the Tongariro Alpine Crossing on New Zealand’s North Island. Here’s a website with info and a Map. Signposts indicate distances and times and help to track your progress. Are we there yet? We covered the first three and a half stages and returned the same way as the track was still partly closed at the time.

Mangatepopo Car Park to Soda Springs       Grade: Easy, allow 1 to 1.5 hours

This first section is fairly flat with boardwalks over the wet areas which enable you to gather some pace and keep warm until the sun gets higher.

Soda Springs to South Crater        Grade: Difficult, allow 4o mins to 1 hour.

The Devil’s staircase is steep but on such a lovely clear day there’s plenty of opportunity to rest and catch a glimpse of Mt Taranaki in the distance. It seems to float above the earth on a cloud.  Just couldn’t quite catch the magic of Taranaki with my camera so I later hoped to find a picture along our travels. The landscapes of  Diana Adams usually capture the sense of these places well but nothing was quite what I had envisaged.

South Crater to Red Crater      Grade: Moderate to Difficult, allow 1 hour.

Quite  a relief to cross the flat South Crater but there’s still the risk of loose rocks although the most difficult ascent was still ahead of us, up to the Red Crater. The rocks and scoria were loose and it took time and concentration to remain vertical so there aren’t any photos of this section. Our guide from Walking Legends was a great help in traversing the most difficult loose sections.

Red Crater to Blue Lake     Grade Moderate, allow 30 mins.

Such a relief to get to the top, catch your breath and marvel at the Red Crater and the valleys below. Still more loose rocks and with a few more slips and slides we managed to reach a rocky outcrop with the marvellous Emerald Lakes below and rest our bones, briefly.

After a quick lunch and a rest perched at a safe distance from the edge, it was time to descend back through all the rubble. I did not venture down to the Emerald Lake as it was too loose for me and even harder work to get back up! Regardless, it was a  glorious day and quite spectacular!

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Mt Tongariro, N.Z. Sharing Life’s Joys and Challenges****5 stars

Anything’s Possible.

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Never climbed an active volcano before. It’s a good idea to take a friend just in case it erupts. Walking with a local guide is also an excellent idea. Even though, the weather is glorious and picture perfect you just never know… There’s definitely no cafe or scones anywhere around here but fortunately there is one toilet stop, so you must be grateful for modern ingenuity and conveniences.

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Heading off on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing so it’s an early start with a pick up from Chateau Tongariro by Walking Legends who are able to access the back roads. The last eruption had increased the traffic congestion so everyone had to do a round trip rather than the usual one way walk from the Mangatepopo parking area to Ketetahi parking area. Normally it takes 6-7 hours and is nearly 20km. GOOD NEWS! The whole track will be reopening on the 8th of May, 2013 so you will be able to continue on past the Blue Lake Saddle but the area is still considered an active volcano zone.  Here’s a map. New Zealand’s Department of Conservation (DOC) has plenty of information about the Tongariro Alpine Crossing and the latest eruption hazard information so you can be well prepared. Take plenty of water as it is advised not to drink from the volcanic streams and lakes (and you have less chance of falling in or over). I only just discovered another benefit of genius and technology in DOC’s app Tongariro Crossing Pocket Ranger which tells the ‘unique stories of the awesome landscape of the Alpine Crossing’. How clever! Today, there’s plenty of enthusiastic hikers out enjoying the sunshine but from now on, it’s all uphill. How steep can it get?

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Mt Ruapehu, N.Z. Enjoying the Silica Rapids Walk****4 stars

A Stroll in the Sunshine makes us Smile.

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On the road between the Whakapapa Ski Area and Tongariro Village is the end of the Silica Rapids Walk which can be taken as a circuit or one way. There’s a map and information here and some lovely little bridges across the stream.

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The silica is deposited in the stream bed as it drops down the valley. Once your into the forests there’s a wonderful bridge hidden among the beech forest where you must pause awhile…. before continuing on and emerging at Whakapapa Village. Keep a lookout for the little Nature Walk nearby too.

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Finally, our patience was rewarded with a great view of Mt Ruapehu from our room at the Chateau. After a brief stop we headed up to the nearby Skotel Resort where we enjoyed a tasty dinner and a magnificent view of Mt Tongariro from the deck before heading back to the chandeliers of Chateau Tongariro and a welcome rest before tackling the Tongariro Alpine Crossing tomorrow. Yet another day of contrasts?

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Mt Ruapehu, N.Z. Patience Duly Rewarded ****4stars.

Waiting Amidst the Clouds & Mist until the Sunshines!

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Still Waiting Amidst the Clouds & Mist

It wasn’t a dark and stormy night but the road to the Mt Ruapehu base area was covered in mist and and not at all inviting. Here’s a map. We stopped at the Cafe and took a few photos of the sign to commemorate our visit and wondered whether to venture into the fog to find the ‘lookout’ ie. stretch our legs a little. Mmmm. Once again we were captivated by the mist and that longing for it to clear and reveal it’s secrets. We just sat awhile amid the mist and boulders, and waited. This enticed a few other hopeful individuals to join us, while keeping a keen eye on what was obviously a precipice nearby. Our guide from Walking Legends was happy to accommodate us and while away the time with stories of the mountain, keeping in mind we were sitting on an active volcano. Past eruptions make great stories though!

Still Waiting Amidst the Clouds & Mist

So we practice patience and wonder if we’re having delusions as some rocky outcrops and the valley below gradually appear. It was all pretty dismal and barren, as you’d expect on a lava flow but captivating at the same time with the awesome power of nature right before us. Fancy living here. The altitude is 16oo metres. In winter the transformation in snow and with skiers would be striking. It’s very, very quiet.

Unfortunately, the weather has closed the chairlift today so there’s no chance of scones at the Knoll Ridge Cafe which is wedged into the mountain at 2020 metres above sea level, the views must be fantastic!

Amidst the Clouds & Mist 

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& Glorious Sunshine!

After enjoying the emerging panorama it’s time for some exercise and a walk around the Silica Rapids where our patience is rewarded with a magnificent view of Mt Ruapehu and glorious sunshine. However, the story continues…..

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Tongariro, Mt Ruapehu, N.Z. Patience Rewarded****4 stars

* * * * Waiting Amid the Clouds & Mist * * * *

Tongariro__0126  Tongariro_1010Wonderfully clear day yesterday for our train journey on the Northern Explorer to Mt Tongariro in New Zealand’s North Island. Looking out the window at Chateau Tongariro we had an excellent room with a wonderful view over the treetops to Mt Ruapehu behind us. This morning it’s overcast, raining and misty but that just adds a different dimension to our adventures. Patience!

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Fortunately, our tour with Walking Legends to Mt Ruapehu is not until this afternoon and the weather might clear. I soon get restless. We were originally heading off to the Tongariro Alpine Crossing today but the weather is supposed to improve tomorrow. Here in New Zealand the motto is “The weather is always fine, unless it rains!” so you learn to deal with it, especially if you’ve been up McKinnon Pass on the Milford Track.

But I’m stuck inside for now so I decide to explore the Chateau, which was opened in 1929. There’s some great old pics here. It’s a bit of a labrynth & I keep getting lost but that’s just part of it’s ‘neo-Georgian’ charm, especially for those who venture through the maze of staircases and facilities below ground. I discovered the ‘pool’ and was left speechless..briefly..Seeing is believing. Fine to cool down after a sauna and the description of small plunge pool is accurate, but it’s not for me. However, it does make a great talking point if you stay here, I say no more. You have to find out for yourself.

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Meanwhile, I head back upstairs to the Lounge and sit restlessly amid the chandeliers and admire the magnificent windows framing the misty view. Mmmmm. OK, Morning Tea time for the restless. After a hearty breakfast I can’t manage a high tea so I opt for the Devonshire Tea instead. Good choice. The scones were terribly dry and indigestible so the High Tea must be unbelievable but the surroundings and the coffee were fine. While reeling from the disappointment, I needed exercise so we donned our coats and ventured up to the nearby Tongariro National Park Visitors Centre at Whakapapa village.

I forgot to mention Mt Ruapehu and Mt Tongariro are active volcanoes. Mt Tongariro erupted in August and November, 2012.  Volcano hazard information is here. For a time we were unsure about whether or not to come but were glad we did, although you never know here or elsewhere. Walking with local guides who are friendly and know the area helps to make the most of the prevailing conditions. Here’s a map and brochure with Walks in and around Tongariro National Park.

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Right on time Walking Legends arrives at the Chateau and we’re off to Mt Ruapehu. First we stop at Tawhai Falls for a short walk, a fast flowing waterfall and loads of rocks.

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Back in the bus and we’re off to Mt Ruapehu, at last!…………………………………………….. Now, what about that fog and mist?………………………………..

To be continued…………. . . . . . .  .  .  .  .  .  .   .   .   .   .   .   .    .    .    .    .    .     .     .     .     .   Patience!

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Auckland-National Park, NZ. Train Spirals on Kiwi Rail’s Northern Explorer ****4stars

Why would you drive 350 kms?

Train_0346  Train_0347 Train__0090  Train__0093Finally on New Zealand’s North Island and heading down from Auckland to National Park to stay at Chateau Tongariro and walk the Tongariro Alpine Crossing and Mt Ruapehu. Mt Tongariro volcano has erupted twice in the past few months but the track is still open up to the Red Crater although you have to return the same way rather than via the Emerald Lakes, which is closed. Here’s a map and fact sheet for the Tongariro Alpine Crossing which warns you to be prepared for anything. We booked the return train, 3 nights accommodation and 2 walks with Walking Legends as a package through Kiwi Rail.

Train_0378  Train__0379KiwiRail’s Northern Explorer leaves Auckland at 7.50 a.m. and arrives at National Park about 1.15 pm, taking about 5 hours if it arrives on time before continuing on to Wellington. Having previously enjoyed travelling on both the TranzAlpine from Christchurch to Greymouth and the Coastal Pacific from Christchurch to Picton we were looking forward to another rail journey. Fortunately, the carriages are new and designed for viewing scenery. Best of all there is a viewing car as well as a cafe/buffet car so you can move around. The scenery is mostly undulating hills and farms but it’s great just hurtling along in the viewing carriages. Perhaps there will be scones today?

Train_0361  Train_0370Train__0105   Train__0112  Rail buffs will be interested in the Raurimu Spiral just before National Park Sation. The National Park Village website describes it as being opened in 1908 with ‘Southbound trains from Taumarunui climb 636 metres in only 52 kilometres to National Park, the steepest gradient being 1 in 50, laid out in the form of an ascending spiral, incorporating a complete circle, three horseshoe curves, and two short tunnels’.  Hard to see all that from the train but it does goes round and round.

Tongariro_0344  Train_0345Fortunately, we got another ride through the spiral on our return journey to Auckland. There weren’t any scones on the train but I discovered the delightful Station cafe on National Park Station where the cheerful staff were more than happy to pack a few lemonade scones for the trip. Why not stop there even if you don’t get the train, as these were my favourite scones on the North Island, and well worth a visit (or two).Train_0369

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Sydney Harbour, NSW. All Aboard ‘HMB Endeavour’ ****4 stars

Australia Day: A Fine Days Sailing

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The ‘HMB Endeavour’ Replica was sailing from its mooring at the Australian National Maritime Museum for the Australia Day Celebrations in Sydney Harbour. We set off about 10am to watch the Ferry Race and join in the Tall Ships Race. All aboard!

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The ‘James Craig’ joined us as we departed Darling Harbour and headed for Sydney Harbour Bridge. The passengers of the P&O’s Pacific Pearl got a bird’s eye view throughout the day. Onboard, the ‘Endeavour’ a band played traditional seafaring tunes as we cruised along, enjoyed our morning tea and got to ‘know the ropes’.

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The harbour was teeming with a colourful cavalcade of boats heading up for the Ferry Race, we bided our time and watched the passing parade while having a ‘first rate’ view of all the action.

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There was plenty of room ‘above board’ as we got underway again, heading towards Watson’s Bay and South Head. Nothing like being the centre of attention amongst this modern day flotilla. Time for a ‘square meal’, although the increasing swell near the Heads and an ominously open sea meant just having enough to ‘tide me over’.

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Time to make sail. Up the rigging went a few hardy soles to unfurl the sails. All hands on deck to raise the sails. This is seriously hard work with all crew and volunteers on deck and needing to pull together. There seemed to be miles of rope passing through the hands of these dedicated men and women, and probaby more than a few blisters too! Before ‘battening down the hatches’ there was just time to prepare the canons!

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The Tall Ships Race included the ‘Endeavour’, ‘James Craig’, ‘Soren Larsen‘ and the  ‘Southern Swan‘ and started at Bradley’s head with the Harbour Bridge being the finishing line.  No ‘taking the wind out of her sails’ for the ‘Endeavour’ which cruised majestically into 4th Place. Imagine the ship’s bell heralding the time as the hearty crew and tireless musicians delivered their happy cargo back to the Australian Maritime Museum. What a terrific day on Sydney Harbour celebrating the ‘true colours’ of our home! Why not give it a try next year, perhaps they’ll even have scones!

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North Island, New Zealand. Assorted Scone Adventures 2013.

GREETINGS  FROM NEW ZEALAND (AGAIN)!

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Just returned from the North Island of New Zealand and an assortment of scone adventures. Auckland_0894

Flew into Auckland and travelled on the new Northern Explorer Train to Tongariro National Park, then returned on the train back to Auckland so we could drive up and have plenty of time to explore the Bay of Islands and Hokianga, before flying out of Auckland again.

After the horrendous heat wave in Sydney it was a delight to be back on the North Island of New Zealand.

The following scone report will briefly let you know how we fared sconewise.

It didn’t start well……

The Northern Explorer takes five hours from Auckland to Tongariro National Park. It does not serve scones but has a dining car, friendly staff and it’s great fun in the open carriage, especially on the Raurimu spiral.

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Enjoyed staying at Chateau Tongariro where they do serve scones and high teas. Unfortunately, the scone was really a rock cake and was so dry it tasted like pumice from the nearby volcano, so I didn’t try the high tea.

Pity, …

but……

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While waiting at National Park station for the return train ride I was delighted to discover the old railway station had been converted into a charming tearoom with lemonade scones. The staff were happy and cheerful and the scones were an excellent treat for the journey, even though they got a little squashed in my bag. Definitely try this one if you can!

The Cape Reinga Tour from the Bay of Islands stops at the Ancient Kauri Kingdom. It’s a long day and a long time to lunch so I bought a very nice, large Date Scone and eked it out over the next 3 hours on the bus. That must be a scone record.

The Kauri Museum at Matakohe was a good spot to stop on the drive from Hokianga back to Auckland. The Gumdiggers Tearooms looked very inviting but the date scones had just sold out! Oh well, it was a tasty chicken and salad sandwich.

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Closer to Auckland, we stopped at the Dome Cafe at Warkworth to stretch our legs. Enjoyed some fresh air and a welcome date scone on the balcony with a cup of tea.

Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to walk to the Dome Forest Lookout. It takes about 40 mins.

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Finally….

as we waited in the departure lounge we discovered a huge cheese scone, which was an excellent choice to sustain us on our journey across the ocean back to Sydney. Air New Zealand doesn’t have scones.

After my initial disappointment at Tongariro I was reassured that New Zealanders in the North Island do make scones and not merely rock cakes. The generous nature of the scones and the people who make them, made our visits most enjoyable and there are sure to be plenty of delightful scone havens yet to be discovered. Would have loved to try Knoll Ridge cafe at Mt Ruapehu, near Tongariro, but it was closed because of high winds. Let me know if you have discovered a special scone place in New Zealand too.

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