The New Zealand Diaries: wonders big and small at Tongariro National Park (02/01/2016)

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Well, this was the best view I could catch of Mount Ngauruhoe: like a coy bride on her wedding day, the mountain hid her face behind a veil of cloud, drifting slowly in the wind, up and down,  teasing the onlooker into a sense of excitement and expectation at the slightest lifting of the veil only to find the view obscured again just seconds later.  The spectacle recalled that sense of awe that I always feel when nature does not play along with our carefully thought-out plans.Rather than feeling disappointed when the weather puts a spanner in the wheels, it just serves as a reminder of the unfathomable,glorious creation which we are able to enjoy, and prompts me not to take views and sounds for granted.

For this reason also, I did not allow myself to feel disappointed for too long abut my failed endeavour to undertake the Tongariro Crossing:severe weather warnings had led to the cancellation of all trips up Mount Tongariro, as well as to the total shut-down of the Mount Ruapehu chairlift. Upon recommendation of both the campsite staff and a friendly park warden at Whakapapa visitors centre, I embarked on the Tamaki Lakes walk instead, and was blessed with relative dryness and some magnificent views of both majestic and little wonders in the lower Alpine terrain through which I tramped: pretty waterfalls, two beautiful blue lakes (the lower and upper Tama Lakes respectively), one of which proudly displaying 3 different shades of blue in a glorious stripey design; multi-coloured rocks and mountains (one of which was actually red…..I assume it was due to either the colour of the rocks or the trees or both; it was too far away for me to tell). Reaching the top ridge above the Upper Tama Lake and looking back took my breath away: I saw an endless stretch of alpine landscape interspersed by the blue sparkle of the Lower Tama Lake, the green of plants and moss,  and a glorious blue sunshine-view across the valley in the distance. It was fascinating to watch this blue (and many of the views around) gradually become consumed by a thick layer of white and grey cloud as the weather front moved into the area; and the speed at which this happened was astonishing….by 3.30pm, the rain was pouring down as predicted.

But it was not just the “big” views that took my breath away,  but also the smaller,more hidden treasures along the way: giant daisies, delicate flowers, bonsai- like trees defying the elements by anchoring themselves  firmly on rocks; mini-cacti and other plants and shrubs growing side by side, as if to give each other support,  delicate yet remarkably resilient (how else would they survive in such harsh conditions?). I walked past what looked like white stones and it was only by bending down and taking a closer look and touching the rock surface that I  discovered that actually,  the white colour eminated from hundreds and thousands of white, star shaped, delicate plant-crystals, woven together in a white moss  covering the stone like a blanket …..absolutely magnificent.

And then,of course, there were the sounds. Due to the weather and length of the walk, not many people were on the track with me and so I could hear bird-song, the trickle of brooks and gushing of water-falls and stronger currents, the sound of the wind rippling through the plants and pushing the clouds to and fro, moulding and re-moulding them into different shapes and wrapping them tightly round surrounding mountains and hills. We human beings fill our lives with too much sound,  too much noise….and sometimes forget the joy of being silent and of listening to nature speak, softly, to reveal an intrinsic truth and beauty which only those who care to listen and look out will be able to fully perceive and lock into their hearts and memories.

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