Dec 12

Tongariro Crossing 1

by in Drawing & Writing

It was 5:55AM, and according to the bus’s rearview mirror, a 40-year-old, female passenger now had her pointer-finger inside her nose.

It was deep.

When the desired article didn’t budge, she changed tactics: it was time to burrow in with the thumb. From the security of the outer nostril her pointer-finger provided extra leverage. The combined action brought her chin down to her chest.

Suddenly her eyes flicked up at the mirror.

Impossible! Eye contact happened. Shame! Double-shame, ugliness all around. Look away, never happened.

Our driver bounced along placidly, 100% grunge. As for his tourist bus, it was a pre-90′s relic. The shocks were gone, so he bobbed in front of a two gigantic glass panes – pure glass – probably not safe – so that it looked like he was playing a video-game in front of a screen, which maybe he was, in his mind. He turned the pre-6AM rock music down to normal volume.

“OK guys, hey – so you’ve gotta be finished by 4:30, OK? If you’re a minute later you’ll be waving at the back of the bus, right? And hey – no swimming in the lakes, absolutely not allowed. Everyone got it? Good, sweet as.”

[sweet as: meaning "sweet". Also known as "cool as", meaning "cool."]

Outside the windows, Mt. Doom, of Lord of the Rings fame, came into view. It was time for the extremely strenuous Tongariro crossing, and we felt like garbage.

The previous day we’d come into Taupo with a sore foot (Antje) and a sore knee (me), having jogged that morning. Besides the fact that these small injuries made us feel old, and therefore vaguely angry at something or someone, the jog itself was awful. The sulfur lake we ran by has huge flocks of seagulls that dive-bomb human joggers. They don’t actually rip flesh, a la Hitchock, but they get within a few feet and “SQUAAAAAAW!” loud enough that you’re sure an eye’s about to be clawed out. It’s completely intentional, what they do, even though there appears to be no purpose to it. So between the birds, the sulfur smell, the smell of a nearby compost plant, and the millions of hovering gnats, the jog was bullcrap. When I mentioned as much to Gerard, the hostel owner, he said, “Ah yeah, I know where you went. Terrible! Only the tourists run there.”

As a result, we opted to rent bicycles in the next town, Taupo, rather than walk the however many miles to Haku falls, a local attraction.

While the route was still road-side, a bungee jump into view, and a timid girl was led to the platform. The river she was about to bungee toward is what rivers hope to be: so clear and so blue that the geological formations at the bottom are visible from high above. As the girl plummeted she left behind that uniquely girly scream that sounds like a referee’s whistle, and when she popped back up her head was soaked with river water; apparently they’re that accurate now. We gave solace to her terror by eating our first Hokie Pokie ice cream bar, as recommended by our very first bus driver. And the feeling was… eh. Certainly delicious, but Magnums hold their own.

The trail went to dirt, then split for the walkers and the bikers. The assumption was that these two trails were roughly equal in length, with one being walkable and the other bike-able. Uh uh. It went up, it went down, it curved left, right, and left-right… it went anywhere but the falls, and then it went up up up up up. The mountain-bikes were great, but our mountain legs, not so. There were a few sections too steep to bike, and a few that we biked when we should have walked. By the halfway point sweat poured out of our helmets, and by the falls it was silently acknowledged that, leg-wise, things were slipping toward disaster.

At Huka Falls that same beautiful clear blue water rushes over a 28-foot drop at the rate of 120 cubic feet per second. If that doesn’t work for you, think of someone who’s six feet tall and who you don’t really care about and imagine three Safeco Field’s worth of that person going over a waterfall every second, sardine-style. Whoa!*

Impressively, or stupidly, or maybe amazingly, two kayakers were preparing to drop it. We ran to a nearby bridge, where a crowd was gathering. Antje asked a baby-boomer couple if the kayakers had already gone over.

“No, no, they haven’t gone yet,” the woman said.

“They are so crazy going down there!”

“They are. One of them’s my daughter.” The dad was silent and shivering.

Two minutes apart, both flew over, pierced the foam like a dart, and disappeared for about three seconds. Then, like a buoy, they surfaced. The crowd gave an ovation.

On the bike-ride home we passed one of those wonderful natural features that are commonplace in New Zealand. A hot water thermal spring pours directly into the river, creating a mixing zone where bathers can jimmy a little bit to the left or right to find exactly the right mix of hot and cold water.

At the hostel where we rented the bikes (not our own) I commented on how tough the ride had been. “Yeah,” the guy said, “we don’t usually tell people that, otherwise they wouldn’t rent bikes.”

Back at the hostel we ran into Andrew from Louisiana. He’d just finished the Tongariro Crossing and had made new friend in the process, a South Korean named Khan. Their eyes were bloodshot, their movements fatigued – the crossing had completely drained them. They hadn’t been able to add Mt. Doom to the trek because of the weather. “Still,” I said, “twelve miles is no joke.” Khan’s eyes went comically wide. “Twelve miles? Twelve miles! I think it is much more than twelve miles!” The only thing keeping them going at that point were a half-dozen NZ microbrews. We had a bottle of NZ pinot gris, and that might have been why the topic of international drinking games came up:

“We have one in Korea,” Khan said, “called ‘Bunny-Rabbit.’”

We all leaned in.

“I say, ‘Bunny bunny bunny’ to you [to me, in this case], and you [Conor] say ‘Bunny bunny bunny’ at the same time.” Yep. All clear. “The other two people have to say ‘Carrot carrot carrot’ at the same time.” Antje and Andrew practiced saying, “Carrot carrot carrot” simultaneously. “That’s the game,” Khan said. “It’s very easy.”

We tried it. Khan and I did “Bunny bunny bunny” and Antje and Andrew did “Carrot carrot carrot” at the same time. It tapered off.

“Like that,” Khan said. “And then sometimes I say ‘Bunny bunny bunny’ to him [Andrew] and you [Conor] say ‘Carrot carrot carrot.”

“To Antje,” I said.

“No. She does nothing.”


Andrew asked, “How do we know who should do what?”

“Ah yes, it’s very complicated,” Khan said. “It’s hard to explain.”

He tried his college best for ten minutes. There were a lot of bunnies in there, and a whole lotta carrots. But to tell you the truth, only Khan left that table with any knowledge of the “Bunny-Rabbit” drinking game.

Unexpectedly, our bottle of wine was empty. Also unexpectedly, it was 11PM. The bus arrived at 5:40AM.

[The more you know!]**

* This equation is not as easy as it seems. Remember, outside of Jerry Springer, no one on earth is a perfect 6′ x 6′ x 6′ cube. So I’ve assumed a height of 6′, a shoulder-to-shoulder width of 2′, and heel-to-toe thickness of 1′, thus resulting in 144,000 humans.

** Another Saturday morning cartoon reference


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4 Responses to “Tongariro Crossing 1”

  1. From Brooke/mom:

    Another burst-out-laughing blog and a great drawing!

    Posted on December 12, 2011 at 21:03 #
  2. From Laura B.:

    I got to the dive-bombing seaguls, but I’m going to have to come back to this later seeing as I have already burst into laughter in my office a few times. Oops.

    Posted on December 12, 2011 at 21:19 #
  3. From rebecca:

    hello you honeymooners! making our way to the airport later today – turn on your mobile, antje, so we can catch up on you on new years eve!
    looking forward to wanakadancing and barbecue on the beach!
    love, r+r

    Posted on December 13, 2011 at 09:40 #
    • From Antje:

      You can text me I will answer you with a weird Skype- text message I don’t have mobile service here :) We are looking forward to celebrate with you. Have a save trip! If you have the chance watch “The help” on your flight:)

      Posted on December 13, 2011 at 21:42 #