Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Tongariro + Turangi

We slept in a great spot next to a gurgling stream in Tongariro National Park and slept in because of the quiet. In the morning some clouds were rolling through but no rain, so we got ready to head into town and ask about fly-fishing. We stopped at the i-site but unfortunately, there seemed to be no fishing guides available in the entire area, and she had tried to call five of them. So instead we bought a hiking fold-out map of the National Park and went across the street for breakfast.

The cafe was nice with high ceilings, wood paneling and trendy ambient music playing on the stereo. Erich was quite looking forward to a "toastie" which they serve in some cafes which is basically a piece of toast with an omelette sort of thing on top. They didn't seem to sell them, so he settled for an egg, bacon and sun-dried tomato panini instead.

After breakfast, Erich wanted to check out the local mountain biking shop to rent a bike for the afternoon (see below.) Once I heard the trail would certainly have big mud puddles all along it, I opted for a day hike instead while he went to ride. The forest walk within the National Park was beautiful, with signage along the trail with information about the huge, old, native trees growing within. I didn't pass one other hiker the entire trail which was nice and gave the woods a serene feel with only the streams and river making any noise.

When Erich got back to the camper, we drove up to Turangi to see about fly-fishing up there. You would think in the FLY-FISHING CAPITAL OF THE WORLD as they call themselves this would not be a hard feat. In the first shop we visited we talked to a grumpy old man with glasses who told us that we couldn't fish in the evening due to the cooler temps and the weather might be bad in the morning so we should just wait until then. We walked across the pedestrian walkway to the other fishing shop where two of the sweetest older ladies told us everything we wanted to know about fishing in the area. They also told us to go to the thermal pools up the road, a good spot to park the van for the night, and hooked us up with a fly pole and five flies, nylon and a permit. We were glad we had gone in to talk to them and headed out of town following the little maps they had given us.

We peeked into the thermal pools, but they seemed to be more of a local venue and I'm just not crazy about the rotten egg sulfur smell that seems to surround many of these places. The pools were connected to the thermal river and there were signs around stating not to put your head in the water to prevent ameobic menegitus. The certainly made our decision and we left feeling glad we had already gotten our thermal pool fix down in Hanmer Springs.

Continuing a few kilometers down the road, we pulled into the dead-end culdesac on the lake where we planned to sleep for the night. The women in the fishing shop indicated there was decent fishing here, so we pulled out our step-by-step paper she had given us with how to tie the nylon to the rod and then the fly to the nylon. I love learning new knots and this one was simple, so we were ready to go fish! It seemed after about a half an hour that fly-fishing, or maybe even fishing in general, is really like a picnic (complete with beer) by a river or lake where you sort of throw a line around in the water too. We had absolutely no idea what we were doing at all, but had fun laughing at each other trying to figure it out. Needless to say, we did not catch any trout. However, it does seem to take quite a bit of focus, trying to get that little feathery thing to look like a fly bobbing around on the surface, so it was pretty fun to think you might actually catch something. Erich got distracted by some sort of dramatic duck fight (I was using the bathroom at the time) and let the fly sink to the bottom of the lake. When he tried to pull it out, it had gotten entangled in something on the bottom and broke the nylon, loosing one of our glow in the dark flies for evening fishing. Luckily we had bought three similar to that one, and two for the morning, so we could keep fishing.

The camping spot is nice and seems like it will get quiet as soon as the New Zealand fire department finishes whatever drills they are doing next to the lake. Out the window, we can see the vents steaming on the hillside from all of the thermal activity around the area. Hopefully the rain will hold off in the morning so we can try our trout luck on the river once more before we have to return the poles and head west to the beach.


As Sara mentioned I rented a mountain bike today. As all things backwards in the southern hemisphere (like the way your toilet water swirls when you flush) the bike brake levers and shifters were on opposite sides. This of course made it interesting to stop quickly with the rear brakes when I was grabbing a handful of lever to come to a quick stop to find I was stopping the front wheel and practically hurling myself over the handlebars. Luckily there was a fair amount of play in the brakes so this was not too huge of an issue, and the mud seemed to keep things a bit on the slower side. The trail was not anything too New Zealand extreme as we would have had to put the bike in the van and traveled up the road to the "42nd Traverse" which is supposedly NZ's #1 mountain bike ride, but it requires about 8 hours and 20+ miles with over 3000' of elevation change so that didn't seem like it was going to happen today. As Sara said, she jumped off the bike idea since it was "pissing" a fine mist (New Zealand term for raining) and the thought of a muddy ride. I figured it would be nice to get a quick ride in whatever the trail conditions and then I could get it out of my system of mountain biking in NZ.

The trail meandered thru some amazing old growth beech forest and an experimental planting area where the pervious NZ conservation department prior to the current one tried to determine what they could get to re-grow successfully to re-plant many of the cut down forest around the country. I never could figure out exactly what this massive tree was that was around every 100 yards or so. The trunk was the size of large truck and must have been hundreds of feet high. I was definitely well into the woods with no one around minus one Department of Conservation agent I saw checking possum and stoat traps. The downhill portion of the trail was a muddy disaster. Since this was practically rain forest, mud bogs went right through the middle of the trail and the bike would literally sink in to the wheel hubs, slinging me to a screeching halt. I didn't even know bikes could slug into this much mud and still ride, but somehow the bike and I labored on and eventually the slowest downhill ride of my life (slower than even riding uphill) ended and I got back to the van where Sara was waiting after her hike.

We were so close to catching a trout this evening. Sara finally perfected the motion of the fly after spending 20 minutes while I casted carefully studying the water bugs bouncing off the water. I told her we should record her new found master technique and deliver it to the New Zealand National Trout Center which is located here in Turangi as a central museum for the whole country. We are not quite sure how no one has ever fully figured out this secret technique, but now we can make it public since Sara is willing to pass on the knowledge to fellow trout fishermen and women.

I expect the only reason we don't have a 20 pound trout on the grill right now is because they just were not here due to the fine "pissing" and apparent cold weather that Mr. Grumpy in his fly shop says drives the fish away. I think its always cold here so what the heck does that really matter in the trout capital of the world?

Wrapping this up, the first fly was only lost because some demonic duck was attacking another defenseless duck who was squacking to have the other one stop, but the bully just would not quit. I was looking for rocks on the ground to throw at the pain in the duck and apparently the fly sunk deep enough to find the only piece of wood within striking distance of our fishing grounds. Growing up on the most tree and stick infested lake in America I am fairly highly skilled at dislodging hooks from rotten logs, but the failure was in the 8 pound tess line attached to the fly and quickly broke as I tried to flip the lure loose. There was absolutely no way to avoid our first fly casualty and the lake probably need it more than we did anyway since it would have just been one less trout in the water if we still had it available to us in our trout fishing arsenal. Fish and chips shack here we come!

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