Today we woke up to a clear beautiful day on the beach where we slept, at the end of Ahu Ahu Road. The surf had come down a bit to a more manageable size and was clean and glassy. There were some intimidating rocks strewn about the line-up, but there was a nice spot with nothing but a fun left peeling through. We expected a big Saturday morning surf rush, but it was just us and one other guy at that peak, although up the beach a ways there were about three guys out. The water was blue and inviting, but even with my warmest wetsuit and booties on, it was chilly. It felt like a San Diego sunny winter day out in the water, and we surfed until the tide got too high.
Back in the van for a hot shower (nice!) we packed up and headed inland to Taranaki National Park, but this time going in on a different side of the mountain. We drove through the cute town of Stratford where we stopped and had lunch at a little cafe. You'd think the food here would be pretty much the same, but I've only seen a few brands I've recognized and the rest seems extremely European. They love pumpkin everything (which was great for Halloween today as we are a day later than the US) along with Kumara which is like a sweet potato. Curries and fish 'n chips are everywhere, as to be expected from the Brits.
After lunch we drove up the windy road to Dawson Falls Visitor Center. Located in the midst of an enchanted looking forest, we got a map and started out on our hike. We walked through the mossy wonderland to reach Wilkies Pools which were sculpted by running water over the lava rock. The series of pools and falls were gorgeous with the volcano looming over us in the background. We continued our loop up a ridge trail and linked up with the Dawson Falls Track. We passed a dozen smaller waterfalls on the way, one that ran entirely through the trail, and eventually came up to the 60 ft Dawson Falls. Even though it was Saturday and again we expected crowds at one of the top sights in the National Park, we had the entire falls to ourselves for a little break.
On the way out, the mud was so deep in some spots it came up over my gortex hiking shoes (which I am SO glad I have on this trip!) and filled them with mud. All of the snow is starting to melt off the top of the peak and saturate the trails along the bottom. The temperature has been pretty nice over on this side of the island, in general. Not as warm as what we are used to in San Diego, but comfortable anyway. As we move on down to the South Island (where there are Penguins!) I know I will be freezing and am enjoying the warmth while we have it.
A four and a half hour drive put us way down in Wellington, the capital of New Zealand where we will take the ferry across tomorrow. Driving through the small towns to get here, and at the grocery store this evening, we've seen loads of people in costumes and out trick-or-treating. I didn't think the holiday would even be acknowledged here, but I guess it's a big party night.
Welllington is obviously very urban and I can't say I'm excited about sleeping in the parking lot near the ferry station since our boat leaves so early in the morning. It is the first night we have not had a fabulous panoramic view to ourselves, but it will be nice to get on the South Island before it's too late in the day tomorrow.