January 27-28, 2013
(Posted by Xavier)

Traveling on from Wellington we had a long bus ride to our next destination. The only thing was, we hadn’t quite made up our minds where exactly we were staying, Taupo, Turangi, or further on to Rotorua. After a little internet research we came upon “A Plus/Samurai Lodge”, run by a guy named Ian. We called up, and found he was a fast talking, all knowledgeable, area guide planning tour office, type of guy. He quoted me a good rate for a room and also said he would pick us up at the bus station. “Just get here mate, and we can work out all your plans. No worries,” he said. I then told him I would call him back, as I had to check with my partner, Kristin. “Got it mate, you wear the trousers, but she tells you which ones to put on”. I chuckled, not knowing what to make of that, and told him I would call him back. Well, the price was right, and we needed to get a place and figure out our expeditions. We called him back and booked the room, and sure enough, there he was waiting for us at the bus station.

Ian is your standard, backcountry, tall, strapping, good natured, easy speaking, rugged looking, New Zealander. He easily picked up both our backpacks, as if they were light as a feather (Kristin and I were impressed, because we struggle with them every day), placed them in the van, and off we went to his backpacker lodge. Now let me take a moment here to describe his place. It’s in town in a residential area. He owns a large piece of land, with at least four separate colorfully-painted buildings with several rooms in each, plus a large area for tent and campervan camping. It’s rustic, but very well equipped and clean. He lives there with his wife and three kids (son, about 12; and two daughters around 8 and 6 years old), and everyone shares in the common areas.

As soon as we got into the van, and for at least 30 minutes longer after we got to his place, he bombarded Kristin and me with various options for activities in the area, how and when to go about doing them, and also for the rest of our stay in New Zealand. So much so, that Kristin and I felt overwhelmed and needed a time out from Ian so that we could come up for air. We actually stood there dazed looking at each other questioning if everything Ian said was possible. Now l know that he initially kinda rubbed Kristin the wrong way in all his suggestions and opinions, but it wasn’t until later that we saw that this man has a true calling and love for what he is doing. He knows his backyard and the beauty and experiences it has to offer, but more than that, he loves his country and its natural wonders. We took a deep breath, and decided to go along with what Ian suggested.

Our main purpose of going to Turangi was to do the Tongariro crossing hike, but because of a recent eruption of the Tongariro volcano the full 7-hour hike through the pass was not possible. Ian told us there were three options: do an up and back hike of the open section of the crossing (6 to 7 hours); hiking the open section of the crossing, then continuing on a different trail to the other side of the park (8 1/2 hours); or a completely different hike further south in the same park, skirting the volcanos (6 to 7 hours). We had counted on a 7-hour hike. Even at that, we thought it was pushing it for us, since neither one of us had gotten into prime hiking condition. Later that evening as other younger exhausted and sunburned hikers returned, they told us that the 8 1/2 hour hike was actually 11 to 12 hours to do across unshaded desert like conditions. OKAY, that settled that, we would then do the 3rd choice of the 6 to 7 hour hike skirting the volcanos.

Other things we wanted to see in the area were the Craters of the Moon geothermal area, and Huka Falls. Ian said “forget “Craters of the Moon” geothermal area, it’s a waste of your money — you’ll see better stuff at Wai-O-Tapu in Rotorua.” He also offered to take us to see some local geothermal pools that evening. Then the next day he would take us to Huka Falls, and watch another hiker staying at his place bungy jump, and drive by and see “Craters of the Moon” geothermal area from the outside. And, since I still had not seen glow worms (seen in caves) Ian said he could take us to go see some in some local caves for free! Plus he would drive us around, drop us off, pick us up and/or serve as a guide for us. Hey! What about going to the top of Mt. Ruapehu and seeing the peaks and cliffs of “Mordor” from The Lord of the Rings movies. Okay, who is his guy, Ian? We’re all on board!

We jumped into his van that evening with a few other hikers and headed off to this local geothermal area. What the heck are we going to see at night, said the questioning glances Kristin and I gave each other. What we didn’t know was that the glowing light of the full moon would make for some remarkable photos and a most unique experience. Chalk one up for Ian.

The next day we loaded up with Ian and our bungy jump victim, Noah Yook from S. Korea. We were the first ones there and Noah was the first one to do the jump. The jump took place at a fantastic location over a beautiful river. YIKES! I’m glad it was Noah and not me — but he loved it. Next we had a quick drive by of Craters of the Moon geothermal area — quick peek over the hill, we agreed it wasnt worth it, and we moved on. On to Huka Falls. Wow! Not just a falls, but a chasm, rapids, then the falls. Ian threw in a photo stop at a giant bicycle and we were off to the start of our reconfigured Tongariro crossing hike.

We knew the hike would be long and hot, so we took plenty of water (camelbacks and extra bottles of water), and food. Lathered up with sunscreen we set off and told Ian to give us 7 hours. He just said to call him when we get close to the end and we can relax at the resort there while he comes to pick us up.

The hike started off at around noon (yes I know, what were we thinking) in low lying brush with two volcanos to either side of us off in the distance. A short stint through a forest and after awhile we came across a newly built hut, but man what a hut. Just up the hill from a clear running stream, the hut is surrounded by porches with benches and tables and in the inside a large eating area, separate propane cooking stoves and sinks, separate sleeping bunks for at least a dozen men and women with bathrooms. And they call this a hut? We dipped our feet in the cool stream and then moved on.

We continued with our hike into a section with no trees and no shade. On our gradual ascent up the hills between the two volcanos, we could see steam rising in the air from one and snow down the side of the other. The hike started to grow long as we stopped several times to eat, take pictures, drink water, and just rest. But there was no shade and the sun had been kind to us as it ducked down behind lingering clouds just long enough for us to gather our strength to go on. We were hoping to see some lakes, but when we got to a fork in the trail that would extend our hike aanther 30 to 40 minutes to go see the lakes, we decide to pass on it and move on to the finish. Just one more climb up and then it’s all down hill. Near the end we came across a wonderful waterfall with people swimming in and under it. Unprepared, we could have jumped in with our hiking shorts on, but we didn’t want to walk the remaining 30 minutes to the end of the hike all wet. Another hour later we finally arrived at the trail’s end, a resort, and immediately took off our boots and socks, and put on our sandals. Blisters! Exhausted we walked to the pub have a cold one and wait for Ian.

Ian pulled up with four newly arrived backpackers and we were off to Mt. Ruapehu to see the peaks and cliffs of “Mordor”. Cameras in hand, the group had the mountain to themselves. Seeing the jagged rocks, we didn’t have much difficulty remembering the scenes from “Lord of the Rings” movies. No sooner were we done there as we were swept on to our next destination of a hidden cave with glow worms, trundling through an active logging area to get there, racing against darkness. There weren’t many glow worms, but they were there, and it was nice to be on our own makeshift private tour.

That night back at Ian’s “A Plus/Samurai Lodge” we were about to call it a night, I was passing Ian in the courtyard when I overheard him talking to another newly arrive couple, “Got it mate, you wear the trousers, but she tells you which ones to put on”. I smiled.

The next day he let us stay a little longer while we waited to catch our bus. We paid him for our stay and the services (it was one of the best deals on our trip), and then he gave us a lift to the bus stop. Ian, you are one-of-a-kind.