Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Day 10 - Waitomo to National Park

I wake up to the dawn chorus. In the perfect silence the birdsong rises loud and clear. I cannot lie in bed today because the lodge is a bed and breakfast place and Janet had informed me that breakfast is from 7.45 to 8.45. So I make myself a cup of tea and go outside. Being summer, the sun has risen early and sunlight is swathed over everything, the hills, the rooftops, the road. Trees sparkle and the cows in the hills are silhouetted perfectly in the bright light. One cow says ‘mooo...’ and another replies ‘mooooo...’ I’m sure they understand each other even though I do not. Somewhere close at hand a sheep goes ‘baaah, baaaaah’. My city-dweller heart goes rapt with delight. I feel rested but alive. This is how one should begin one’s day, I think, at peace and living every minute keenly, deeply. I wonder how to keep this aliveness alive always. It could be that living among nature brings down our barriers, our masks, and connects us with the source that lies within all.

The other guests are having breakfast already and Janet and Colin go from table to table chatting. They are such a nice couple, no airs, very helpful and friendly. I compliment Colin for his cookies that he has left in the room. And Janet helps me to find things-to-do at the National Park, which is my next stopover. On my way out I discover that they have a little lily pond with orange fishes in it and around this a veggie garden. Broccoli, brussels sprouts, onions, berries, growing cheerily in the sun, looking healthy and delicious :)

Then I start a 2 hour drive to the National Park. On the way I stop at a small town for a break and see a restaurant that has been built into a railway carriage. I wonder how it would be inside. I should have gone inside and had a look.

As I get closer Mt.Raupehu rises majestically in the distance. This is the highest peak in the North Island and in winter is covered in snow. There is a twin peak called and both mountains are popular ski-fields. After I check in at the YHA hostel I enquire about the activities I can do. This is the only place where I hadn’t thought beforehand about what to do, so I’m a bit at a loose end. Ann, the lady at the counter suggests the I take the ski-lifts up to almost the top because it’s too late to start climbing. Little does she know that I have absolutely no intention to climb :)

So I have lunch and drive the 9 kms to the foothills of the mountain, to take the ski-lifts. The ski-lifts are mainly used during the skiing season to take skiers up to the top so that they can come skiing down the icy slopes. Non-skiers like me, however, go up and come down in the ski-lifts itself :) Most of the snow on Mt. Raupehu has melted away in the summer and only small streaks still cling to the top reaches of the mountain. The mountain looks so much different without the snow. During winter it is a white fairyland, snow on everything including the housetops and bushes and even the foothills and it all looks like a picture postcard. Now, it is all rocks and gravel, in various shades of brown and grey. This transformation is amazing and hard to take in at first. Even the houses look drab and dark.

I take the ski-lift which is really an open chair suspended on a metal rope attached to the supporting ropes being rotated by a pulley system. As it takes off and my feet lose their contact with the ground, I must admit that I feel little bouts of fright. But once you get used to being suspended in mid-air by a flimsy looking rope it starts to become fun. As I climb higher the air gets colder and Mt.Raupehu gets closer. Somewhere along the way a waterfall hangs, singing spritely among the silent rocks, splashing down all the melted ice.

I reach the end of the lift system and get off. Getting off is tricky because the lift doesn’t actually stop, just slows down, so you have to hop off and move to the side else, it’ll come and hit you. There are only a few people around as most are either climbing up or down using their muscle power. My muscles are still complaining after yesterday’s cave adventure so I feel no temptation to join them. :) But I climb a few rocks to where the snow line begins. The snow lies in patches against the rock face and when I take up a handful I find they are actually tiny ice crystals. They feels crunchy and start melting due to the warmth of my hand and forms a ball when I press them together. Nice feeling! I then settle down on a rock and just gaze at the half-snowy landscape.

The silence of the mountains are of a different quality. Since there are not much living things around, the silence actually emanates from the rocks, the snow and hangs in the air. It is not a pulsating kind of silence but a deep brooding one. I breathe it in, into my inner spaces. It is no wonder that the Maori consider Mt.Raupehu to be sacred, there is a sacredness in the inscrutable rocky face, the impenetrability, the awesomeness of its size that makes man seem so fragile and so puny.

The rock formation where I’m sitting is crater like with a huge bowl like depression in the mountain surface and people have make tracks for slides, for sliding down on their backsides. Shortly after, a family arrives who discovers these and proceed to whoopee down the tracks on their bottoms. It seems like fun but I feel in the least inclined to get my bottom cold and by pants wet. So I watch as more and more people arrive and take to the slides. It is interesting watching people’s reactions during this their little adventure. The young enjoy it thoroughly, taking the bumps and the excitement in their stride, the older ones look a bit self-conscious and a little apprehensive and do not do as many repeats as the young ones.

Having lost the silence in the air and growing tired of the human activity I take the ski-lifts back down. The view while coming down in panoramic. The plains are spread out on all sides parts of it simmering green in the distance. For the main part, however, it is brown, especially the foothills and the desert around the mountains. The desert here is not made of sand but of dwarf bushes and dry grass which looks sparse but still has a strange stark beauty to it.

Back at my room which is on the first floor I find on looking out of the window, a couple of young people sunbathing on the grass. They have put up a little tent on the grass and I wonder if they are going to spend the night in it. I am amazed at the Europeans. They leave behind comfortable homes, with cosy beds and heating and spend days living in tents with hardly any basic amenities, while most of the people in the Third World are trying to acquire just the conditions these folks have left behind. Hmmmmm....

When I look out of the other window I see much to my surprise Mt.Raupehu looking serene far in the distance. I had not realised that I had such a good view of the mountain from my window. If only all surprises in life are pleasant ones like this :)))

Bath and dinner over, I’m ready to rest for the day. This has been a quiet day spent in much reflection and contemplation.