From what we can tell, Cup & Show Week in Christchurch mirrors what we would imagine the Kentucky Derby is like: girls dressed ‘to the nines’ with wide-brimmed hats and heels watching the races. It also coincides with A&P Show weekend and Canterbury’s anniversary. At the A&P show, ‘the farm comes to town’. Yes, you can see huge cows, sheep, horses, old cars, tractors, wood-cutting competitions and more. After experiencing our first A&P show in 2012, we have since decided to take advantage of the three-day weekend every November to accomplish the many hikes we want to do.

In 2013, we tramped the Milford Track, one of NZ’s most iconic Great Walks. This year, we attempted to complete the Tongariro Circuit. This alpine hike summits some of the North Island’s most incredible volcanoes-including Mt. Ngauruhoe, or Mt. Doom, from Lord of the Rings. We planned to meet our friends, Nathan and Alicia, for a marvelous 3-day excursion. Sadly, some things are just not meant to be….

After arriving in Rotorua airport and meeting Nathan and Alicia, we quickly discovered that the front coming up from Antarctica had no plans of dissipating, but instead had all intentions of ┬ásending its worst across the island. But, we thought we would try the hike anyway…we had, after all, paid for the flights to get there.

Low cloud definitely loomed on top of the peaks, but we did see patches of clarity that revealed the beauty that the grey clouds disguised.

Mt. Ngauruhoe ascends into the cloud to the right

Mt. Ngauruhoe ascends into the cloud to the right

A moment of clarity to view Ngauruhoe's cone peak.

A moment of clarity to view Ngauruhoe’s cone peak

No bother; we pressed on. Volcanic terrain is pretty incredible. We felt as though we were walking on Mars or some other world. We steadily climbed higher and higher approaching the steep incline that would eventually take us to the craters. Just before our steepest ascent, one of the wardens from a nearby hut stopped us and urged us to turn back. The volcano peaks threatened complete white-out conditions, with possible freezing rain and 60-100km winds.

Disappointed, we decided to continue climbing until the ground became too icy, visibility grew too poor, or we were just too plain cold. Again, we were blessed with moments of clarity, but we only made it about 3/4 up the cone until we decided to turn back :(

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Good friends, Nathan & Alicia France

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Mt Tongariro in the background. Here we are about 1/2 way up

Although Mt Ngauruhoe looks more like your typical volcano cone, we discovered that it is merely a vent for the much larger Mt. Tongariro system. We knew these were active volcanoes, but it was a little unnerving to learn that both these volcanoes were long past due for eruptions…and we were on our way to their craters.

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Looking down on the valley through which we had just hiked

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The grey clouds finally descended upon us and we turned back without reaching the crater or seeing the famous emerald lakes. But, I guess we have a lot to be thankful for: we didn’t get wind-swept off the cone, wet, or burnt to a crisp in an eruption. With how fickle New Zealand weather is, we have quickly learned to look for the silver lining in most tramping situations. This was the second time we attempted to hike the Tongariro Crossing. Maybe third time will be ‘the charm’.

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Soda Springs near Mt. Tongariro’s base

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Just in case Moms were worried, the weather went to custard but the volcanic risk remained normal throughout the day

Although our original Tongariro hiking plans were thwarted, we did make the most of our weekend. The following day, we returned to Tauranga with Alicia and Nathan to see where they had been living for the past year. We climbed Mt Maunganui, visited delicious cafes, watched movies as the rain poured down, and ate a whole block of chocolate that had been saved for the hike we were meant to be doing.

The sun returned on Sunday (at least where we were), so we decided to drive to the Coromandel Peninsula and attempt the Pinnacles. It was a blustery but beautiful day.

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We had finally reached a point above the tree line. We hadn’t yet realised that we were about to attempt to climb to the highest boulders atop the mountain on the far left. We still had quite a bit to go at this point!

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Getting closer to the top

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We love that New Zealand encourages you to be adventurous. Instead of blocking off the top of the Pinnacles due to their size and steep drop, the DOC installs metal rungs to assist your climb. Our ode to this country without liability!

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One of the more ‘hairy’ parts of our climb

We reached the summit, only to be nearly swept away by gale-like winds. We found ourselves nearly crawling at points, clutching to the rocks for security, and hanging onto our hats and camera for dear life! Evan nervously mused that this may have been one of the more dangerous things we have done yet…it sure does keep your heartbeat up. But, it’s hard to beat these views!

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From atop the Pinnacles looking towards the ocean

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What is the desire in man that compels him to conquer a mountain? Regardless, it makes for a cool photo!

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So much windier than this photo reveals…

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Summit of the Pinnacles

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Taking shelter as a strong gust passes…better hold on a bit more tightly!

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Can you see the zig-zag trail that we had just used to reach the summit? Or the hut in the distance?

Although the 16km Pinnacle day-hike was not our original intention for this weekend, it was a consolation prize we gladly received.

Thanks also to Nathan & Alicia for the wonderful company and hospitality.

In other news, we returned from our weekend to excitement on the home-front. We both received promotions-on the same day. Evan is now Campaigns and Content Manager at Tait Communications, still in the marketing division. I will start 2015 as the Year 3-4 Team Leader. God is good. We thank Him for His continued favour in both our jobs.

Next time you hear from us may be from Asia! We leave December 13th for a 5-week excursion through Southeast Asia. So if you don’t hear from us until we return, Happy birthday Jim from Halong Bay, Vietnam…Merry Christmas from Cambodia…Happy New Year from Thailand…Happy Birthday Nolan from Universal Studios Singapore! We return January 19th.