Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Pt 17- Army Museum; Mt Ruapehu; Tawahi Falls; Lake Rotopounamu; and more

Monday 1 March 2010 – Army Museum, Mt Ruapehu, and the sights back to Taupo

It’s just after 10 am we are pulling out from the petrol station and heading south. Heading for the Army Museum at Waiouru. Much to our delight we aren’t long out of Taupo township when the views of the lake move from pleasant to quite spectacular. This is a totally delightful drive and we are so glad we needed to head down this way. There are very few opportunities for places to pull over and take in the views, but eventually we see a sign foretelling just such a spot and we turn off. Unfortunately the rest area is right down at water level and not at the higher level of the road. The views are still lovely, but not as good and it is one of those situations that photos don’t tend to capture well. Looking out towards the lake your whole field of vision is a palette of blues.

We move along and turn down towards Waiouru from Turangi. As we progress southward we start to see Tongariro National Park across the farmland in the foreground. Then all of a sudden the view becomes overwhelming. Tussock grasslands with plentiful pink flowering heath of some sort and a clear view of the volcanoes strung out along the west of the road. Wow!! Fortunately it isn’t long before we see a spot where we can safely pull over and we take the opportunity to try and capture the spectacle.
The cones of the volcanoes are clear of cloud. It’s a truly grand sight. Hopefully the weather will stay clear until our potential scenic flight over the cones this afternoon. We continue to enjoy fabulous scenery pretty much all the way to Waiouru. I have read that Tongariro National Park is really awesome, but I had not appreciated that it would be this spectacular!

Turns out that as well as the video I thought I took, I have outdone myself in the comedy stakes and taken a lengthy and hilarious blooper video! Reviewing the shots with hubby we are both in stitches before we pull ourselves together and move on.
The Army Museum is easy to find and well signposted for a number of kms before it’s actual location. It looks a bit like a castle and has guns and tanks outside so there’s no excuse for not realizing what it might be. Parking is easy with plenty of spaces available. We are pleased to find the outdoor displays include a bofors gun and a centurion tank both with interpretive boards. Hubby recognizes the tank, as apparently he had a model of a centurion when he was a kid.

Before we pay our entrance fee ($12) we have a spot of lunch in the café. Hubby has lambs fry, bacon, tomato and mushrooms (16), while I just go for a chicken sandwich (5). We finish with an Afghan biscuit ($2) which turns out to be virtually identical to a chocolate biscuit slice my grandmother used to make only shaped like a biscuit (cookie). Clearly home made. Oh how that Afghan hit the spot!

While hubby eats his meal, I cut to the chase and head on into the shop. I’m pretty confident they’ll have some irresistible books, and indeed they do. Conscious of the likelihood of excess baggage, I limit my choices to a book about a kiwi conscientious objector from the Great War and another which is self published by a Korean War veteran and relates stories of his experience in that conflict. I also can’t resist the video actively promoted by the banner in the entrance about Anzacs in Vietnam so it being only light, it also finds a spot in our luggage.

The lady behind the counter is very friendly and we have a nice chat about pronunciation of place names. She impresses me with her correct pronunciation of Cairns! Mum would be proud of her! Her grandkids are teaching her the correct way to pronounce Maori things, as they are part Maori, and when I ask she helps me out with how we're supposed to pronounce Taupo. Apparently it is toe-poo... but this is a bit at odds with the books, whose advice would suggest tah-oo-po, with the final po beign like pot without the t. I think this latter is closer to the way the person on the end of the phone for a Maori show said it..Sigh..

On into the Museum itself. The first thing you come to is the Tears on Greenstone (Roimata Pounamou) Memorial. It is a very beautiful memorial and very touching with the continual intonement of the names of the fallen. We move into the upper area of the gallery and spend some time in the Boer War gallery. I know a bit about the causes and course of the Boer War so I skip along to a section that deals with the concentration camps the British established for internees from the civilian population. It’s a shocking tale of abuse and starvation of women and children. A nearby panel covers the activities of kiwi nurses and teachers that volunteered to care for soldiers and teach the children in the camps.

The natural route through which the layout takes you travels chronologically through from the time of the NZ wars. I have decided that I will try to prioritise things I cannot learn through books, especially considering the info provided is necessarily kept to a high level overview.. if you were to read each display you’d need a lot longer time than we have available to us today.

There is are a lot of interesting little facts around the place.. for example the New Zealand Cross.. established by Governor Bowen in 1869 on his own initiative as a reward for valour given that the processes involved in getting a Victoria Cross pretty much meant that you had buckley’s when you were a volunteer out in the colony…. The “home” authorities didn’t approve, but pretty much had to just go along with it for political reasons.. Nice one Governor Bowen!!

Then there is the history of the NZ Army.. going back to the armed constabulary… a very different arrangement for civil defence than we had in Australia.. I wonder if NZ also had a citizen soldier program. There is a mock up of an armed constabulary blockhouse and a section to show how the hollow walls were filled with rock rubble to defend against bullets.

A temporary exhibition is also located on this floor and at the moment it is works by the official New Zealand Army Artist Matt Gauldie. Some of his official commissions and some of his own private collection. He is excellent. We really like his work. What a wonderful legacy is being created for future generations. As we check out the labels I note the motto of logistics regiment “by our actions we are known”. Good motto.

This concluded I head on through the galleries relating events of the Great War. I do a bit of reading here and there, but only skimming… I’ve read a lot about the Great War and most of the time the Kiwis and Aussies where pretty much operating with or nearby eachother so the Australian histories usually cover what the kiwis were up to.. I’m just looking for things from the kiwi perspective. There’s some great dioramas and mock ups of trenches and so forth but we move along.

World War II Aussies and kiwis were again mostly doing similar things at the beginning.. North Africa, Greece etc, then of course we diverge rather greatly when Australia was facing invasion by the Japanese and the Australian troops were almost all ordered home from Europe pronto… not entirely of course, but the Australian histories tend to focus from that point on the dramatic events in New Guinea.. Kiwis stayed on in Europe.

My attention is drawn by an exhibit entitled “The Featherstone Incident” another unfortunate set of events involving Japanese prisoners of war and the severe culture clash this involved. Controversy to the max when a “mutiny” by prisoners is quashed..

In the same general area there is a stand of audio recordings with headphones of interviews with veterans. I sit and listen for a while to a fellow that was a POW of the Germans.

Naturally, there follows displays on Korea and Vietnam. I’m particularly interested to read the entries on Korea.. I already recalled very well that the kiwis sent artillery, but I am reminded that they also sent other support units .. transport I think it said, and of course a couple of Naval ships. Troops from all over the British Commonwealth operating together in Commonwealth Division. ..One story that I read in a Korean War history by an English historian, involves the NZ Artillery.. The Australians, whose units were constituted of very experienced veterans of WWII, and who were consequently damn fine troops (according to the British commander), were being given a tough job to do and as a sweetener they were offered some high powered high tech artillery support by US units… now it’s important to understand that the poor US guys were in a bit of a bad way morale wise. MacArthur had let the occupying forces in Japan get in a dreadful state before they were suddenly dumped, poorly trained and ill prepared, into Korea where they caught what was known as “bug out fever” ie when things got hot they tended to drop everything and run away leaving their armaments behind in working order for the enemy to use (no wonder Korea is the forgotten war!)... anyway to cut to the chase the Aussies had been working with the NZ artillery as support. NZ artillery wasn’t so high tech, or powerful on paper, but the Aussies had absolute confidence in them and that when they were fighting for their lives they wouldn’t suddenly find they had no artillery support behind them. So they said “ah, thanks but no thanks. We’ll stick with the kiwis”. The historian reported that this caused much puzzlement among the powers that be. I find it more puzzling that people were puzzled given what was going on or had gone on re “bug out fever”! ..anyway if memory serves the Aussies and Kiwis went on to achieve extraordinary things working together, but I don’t notice any specific reference to any particular battles in the Korea section here in the Army museum.

The more recent displays in the museum relate to peace keeping operations and then we arrive at the hall of valour. An interesting display of all the types of medals that have been awarded to NZers… examples of course not the actual medals awarded.

On the opposite wall a long recess with VC recipients photos and citations. It is an inclusive collection. The first recipient was a fellow who won his VC while serving in the British Army… years and years later after he retired from the Army and at a fairly advanced age he moved to NZ and died in NZ. Seems an odd inclusion on this wall to me. There are also some recipients who would also be listed in the Australian hall of Valour. VCs won by men who were NZ born but serving in the Australian Services. In one case it was a guy who left NZ as a young adult and never returned going on to be a prominent figure in Australia.. in legal field I think it was. Sometimes the line between kiwi and Aussie is kind of blurry.. just look at Russell Crowe!

Yes this is a very inclusive display and it prompts some mulling over on my part. How should you define such things? At what point do you start or stop being a kiwi? .. or an Australian? or whatever? I think of the gallery of holocaust survivors in Auckland.. and the tone of the presentations all through the military museums. It seems to me that enormous care has been taken to present the history and acknowledge the sacrifice and valour without glorifying combat in any way whatsoever. There's an obvious effort made to promote examples of the horrid things done by kiwis and their allies in time of war and to honour the sacrifice of the enemy soldiers too. This is the way to put things in perspective isn't it. It's never good for a nation to only hear about the good things they've done and the bad things the enemy has done. The Army museum and the War Memorial museum in Auckland both handle this issue very very well. It's quite an achievement and I think must say something about the national character.

These places of memorium are vitally important. My own view is that if we, as citizens of a democracy are going to have military forces and deploy them we have an obligation to understand what they've been asked to do and go through for us. And what they have done in our name, both good and bad. The highs and the deepest lows as well. But when you do that it's a challenge to be proud and yet keep the tone free of jingoism. It's an issue which requires constant vigilance. I think the kiwis have succeeded in doing that in their military museums. I've said it before and I'll say it again.. the kiwis are an impressive bunch of people..

Time to head off we pick up another couple of Afghans and head for Mountain Air, the local scenic flight operator. This involves travelling through Ohakune, a small but upmarket looking ski resort; then on to National Park which is similar. The country side is pasture land fairly comprehensively cleared, just a few trees here and there of a consistent type. It’s quite a pleasant pretty drive. On the corner of routes 47 and 48, ie just before you make the turn up to Whakapapa we find our destination.

There are a few people milling about, but the office is unattended until a couple of operating flights return. The sky has clouded over and it’s looking a bit iffy for seeing what we would be wanting to see. Eventually when the pressing tasks are out of the way a young pilot comes over to give us a weather briefing. She tells us that it’s bumpy up around one section down towards Mt Tongariro, this cloud we can see in front of Ruapehu is being pushed over it and we likely wouldn’t be able to fly over to see the craters. All things considered we decide to give it a miss for today and hope the weather clears during our stay. We check they have correct contact number for us and get some advice on what to see on the ground on the way through, before heading off in the general direction of Taupo.

The route continues quite scenic and we make a stop at a lay by where hubby admires an old trestle structure. Then we are making the turn up the road to Whakapapa. Almost as soon as you turn and head into the park the scenery becomes striking. This is great stuff. We decide we will head right to the top of the road and then work our way back down. It is a winding road with precipitous drops and few guard rails as we climb the mountain. You really feel like you are climbing up a volcano too. It’s an almost post apocalyptic sort of scene. There is white stuff all over the place and we can’t see from the distance what it is.

We take our opportunity for a photo stop to admire and capture the spectacular scenery and views. This has to be a must do when in the general area. What a spectacular place. Close inspection reveals that the white stuff is a sort of alpine plant. It is accompanied by a range of other tough as nails little plants growing in the looser material between the rocks.

Well before you reach Chateau you can see the imposing edifice of the building standing apparently alone on the mountainside. It is fortunately a very attractive building, and yes, very much like a French chateau. Looks like an awesome place to stay. There are other buildings around about but they are more subtle and in sympathy with their surroundings so not so noticeable from a distance. There’s a few people around but I wouldn’t call it crowded.

Up to Whakapapa where there is an info centre and a small cluster of buildings and visitor faciltities, but we don’t’ stop. It’s on up and up until we arrive at the ski resort. Little lodges clustered on the rocks. It’s a very barren sort of place with large parking areas. There is a chair lift operating. Unfortunately we are too late. Last upward departures are at 3:30pm $23 for an adult return, the trip takes about 40 mins. At the top you have the option of hiking to the crater rim, which we are told takes 2 ½ hrs up and 1 ½ hrs coming down. Hubby enquired about the clothing required and is informed that his t shirt and rainbird would be fine for the chairlift. Maybe we’ll get back here if we end up on that scenic flight.

We start working our way down the mountain slowly, taking our opportunities for brief stops in the viewing areas. However we make no longer stop until we reach the recommended walk at Tawahi Falls. There is now only one other car in the car park (there had been two when we passed earlier). We head along the path which commences quite level, but comes to some stairs in several distinct flights… 45 steps in this section, though they are low risers and very easy as far as steps go. The path then follows a slight downward incline until another set of 19 small stairs brings you to the viewing platform for the top of the falls. It is only a low waterfall but pretty and extravagantly full of water… to our Australian, drought acclimatized eyes anyway.

Back up the stairs from this viewing platform the path continues down through native forest with a lovely fresh aroma until we come to more stairs. 51 steps this time and you are at the river. It’s a beautiful spot and lovely to be in some native bushland. Quite a different vegetation community than we have explored before. Still with the pretty flowering pink heath. Definitely worth a stop. Although there is a total of 230 stairs, they are easy and they give my knee no problem at all.

I pause on the path on the way back where it is quite still, to exercise the macro zoom and try to get some close ups of the tiny little heath flowers. Among the wildflowers is a white flowering hebe. Nice to see this common garden plant in it’s native environment. It’s been a delightful interlude here at Tawahi Falls.

We head along the road towards Lake Rotopounamu enjoying western views of the mountains and come across a sign to a lookout. We’re pretty much just taking our opportunities as we head along. The Lookout gives views across Lake Rotoaira and bush clad hills. We’ve hardly set off again before a sign comes up to another notable spot. The pointer was too sudden for us to make the turn safely so we chuck a uey and head back.

We hop out of the car and wander over to the sign. This is one of New Zealands historic places. The site of a Maori village (kainga) from about the 15th century. There are some kumara pits excavated by archeological digs undertaken in the 1960s. I have read about kumara pits so it is very interesting to see one and read the accompanying interpretive sign. We wander about the grassy headland and read what information is provided. One information board points out an island in the midst of Lake Rotoaira. This is Motuopuhi and it is now wahi tapu so access is prohibited. It was very interesting to learn that it was after being hidden on this island from enemies that the chief Te Rauparaha wrote the most famous Maori haka with which so many in the world are today familiar . Ka mate! Ka mate! Ka ora! ka ora!

Congratulating ourselves for deciding to stop here we head back along the path bordered with a traditional Maori fence to resume our travels. Just another corner or two and we have arrived at the angle parking for the Lake Rotopounamu walk. The sign tells us that the walk will take about 2 hrs. Someone has added further information in white scrawl “3+ if you have lunch”. LOL. The walk has been described to us as uphill to here (pointing to what we interpret as the junction of the loop walk around the lake.. then it’s a level walk of about an hour.. We head on in taking care to lock the car as is encouraged by the signage. Reassuring to note that video surveillance may be operating in this area.

Immediately we head in from the sign, we have entered the deep green of what looks to me like a rainforest. Mature trees and what’s that crashing in the canopy above? We look around and blow me down if there’s not at least 7 kereru foraging overhead! There is an intensive feral mammal baiting program on this reserve. Clearly the kereru don’t object!

The path is decidedly uphill as we expected. Perhaps a little steeper than one might hope but it is a very beautiful walk. Twittering draws my attention and stopping to look about I find a sweet little tomtit and a couple of fantails flitting about in the trees overhead. The fantail drought seems to have broken. We saw several at Waitomo at a couple of different sites.. I think on the Ruakuri walk was one, and now these two here. Good stuff.

Breath caught I set off again, glad to be getting some decent exercise. It’s about 20 mins before we reach the junction of the loop walk. Two beaches are illustrated. It’s getting pretty late and we’ve had a busy day, so we decide that we will walk to the closer of the two and then head back.

Along the way now we find name labels for plants and trees with interesting information on them. I am pleased to note the horopito which has been used to flavor the olive oil I bought at the farmer’s market.

It is important to note that kiwis seem to have a different interpretation of the word “level” than most Australians I know. The path heading to the right from the sign at the junction is level very briefly then heads up, then down, then rather steeply down. Looking through the vegetation we see glimpses of water far below. .. this is level? Maybe by level, they actually mean no stairs..Never mind… then we head up for a bit then down again and finally we reach a grey sand beach overlooking this lovely isolated little lake which is entirely surrounded by bush. There are patches of reeds over to our right and just a few water fowl determinedly paddling away from us.

A seat has been provided under an arbour of branches. There is an abundance of twittering coming from the bushes near about. A group of small birds is quite close. Tiny little things. No particularly noticeable tails, keeping in constant contact with eachother as they forage. The light isn’t fabulous so colours are hard to discern with confidence. I wish I had brought my bins from the car, but I don’t tend to when I’m with hubby as it’s too distracting. We both admire the birds while they are nearby then sit companionably on the seat for a few minutes. Wander down to the water.. quite cold.. then, picking up a stray snack packet someone has left behind, we figure we’d better head back up.

It’s hard going back up the steep inclines. We are tired and hungry, but we are enjoying the walk. It’s taken 25 mins down to the beach and back including rest stop. It should be easy heading on the long downhill to the car, but my knee starts to complain. Those blinking stairs at Waimangu Thermal Area!! When my knee is a bit annoyed it’s the downhill it hates. As I walk I notice an abundance of hollows in the bases of mature trees in the forest close by. These seem tailor made for kaka breeding holes, if the one we were shown on Ulva Island is anything to go by. If only the predator situation can be kept under control.

Our walk has taken us about 55 minutes. Checking our sketch itinerary, today is working pretty consistent with my tentative plan for the day when I was researching the trip.

In another 5 or 6 minutes we are again pulling up at another lookout. This time it is for sweeping views across Lake Taupo. The parking area is looking a little battered, but there are a couple of metal picnic tables where you could picnic while taking in the views.

It’s a straightforward drive around the lake as we head back to town. It really is a beautifully scenic drive all through past the lake and around the volcanoes. Again another uey when I notice a huge licorice allsort on top of a café at Motuapa. Daughter2 would absolutely love this place.. snap..

Closer to town we duck again into another lookout over the lake that we had passed on our outward journey. It’s nearly 7:30. As the light starts to fade the views across the lake fade again to a palette of blues. The sun threatens to break through the clouds but is slow about doing it. It is interesting that when the light is fading in fiordland everything turns black and white.. here in Taupo everything turns blue. Photos aren’t doing the scene justice, but we make our attempts just the same.

Time for dinner. We notice for the first time that there is a restaurant right next door to where we are staying. Jolly Good Fellows is the name. We’ve been looking at various dining options online, but none sticks out in the reviews and close to home has a definite appeal tonight. We park at “home” and walk over. It’s a nice cosy atmosphere. Obviously going for an “English pub” sort of theme. We are seated and hubby orders a tui.. notwithstanding the large range of English beers available. They’ve listed a couple of other New Zealand beers under other locations like “just over the hill” and he is slow to twig that this means seriously local.. oh well.

I decide to take the opportunity to try a Toad in the Hole. Hubby goes for a mixed grill. First of course he has to try the chowder. I guess the tone for the food is set when the chowder arrives and it includes seafood extender. Hmmm. Hubby’s not fussed though.. he’s nowhere near as fussy with his food as I am. We were warned that there is a half hour wait for the Toad in the Hole, but it arrives a little earlier than expected. It is simply humungous. Ridiculously enormous. Good grief! Hubby’s grill is large also but not as big as my meal. We have a go. Neither of us enjoys our meal. Neither of us finishes it, though we probably couldn’t have even had we really enjoyed it. The Yorkshire pudding that is a prominent ingredient of my dinner is simply burnt. Exterior tough rather than crispy. Gourmet sausage a bit too spicy so all you taste is spices rather than the flavor of the meat. Very disappointing. I would say that this place is aimed at a demographic that is more interested in quantity than quality.

Off to some inadequate attempts at journaling then bed.

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