New Years: Werewolf Hunt

Vague plans for my New Years didn’t come to fruition, leaving me strung high and dry for one of the most important events of the year. So, frustrated and annoyed at life, I packed my bag with a couple of bits and pieces, and hit the road on the Ducati. Having only brought it a month prior, this was her first open road trip, and boy was I looking forward to chewing up my frustration with many effortless miles.

While packing, I instinctively reached for my digital SLR. While I was attempting to fit it into a ridiculously small day bag, I spied my old Pentax film SLR, sitting in my half open photography cabinet, looking unused and unloved. The digital camera was quickly removed.

The Pentax was loaded with a film, and from memory, I was sure it was a black and white film, as I cannot recall using it since my university days, where black and white was all the rage (primarily because the development paper was far cheaper than the colour paper). I was excited about this, as I have to say – I was bored with shooting colour digital.

Valiant Steed

I left Auckland at about 9am on the morning of the 31st December. As I made my way through the Bombay hills, I listed the places I could go:

1) I had friends in Gisbourne, getting drunk and hitting on 17 year olds. Having already sustained a bit of alcohol abuse over the silly season already, I wasn’t too keen on that.

2) I had friends doing the Tongariro Crossing / Northern Circuit, spending New Years in a tramping hut on the side of Mt Tongariro.

The choice seemed clear.

I took the scenic route to Tongariro, arriving about four in the afternoon. I purchased a hut pass, and started the tramp up to Ketetahi hut. This was my least thought out aspect of the trip. I envisaged a brisk walk up to the hut, taking about 45 minutes, not even needing to remove my bike gear. Reality struck home, as it always does, about 10 minutes into the walk. The bike gear was quickly stripped and slung over the backpack, and I cursed my motorcycle boots for not being comfortable for walking in. I reached the hut in about an hour and a quarter. It was here that I realised just how uncomfortable my night was looking. The hut was crowded, all bunks looked like they were taken. I had no sleeping bag, sleeping mat, or drink bottle. My food consisted of a single serve meal from a ration pack, and the only liquid I was carrying were 4 bottles of champagne that I had carefully lugged up the mountainside.

Needless to say, I spent minimal amount of time sleeping that night. Which was helped by seeing in the New Year (tramping hut style). Before we went to sleep, we decided that we would rise very early, and get to the top of the mountain before sunrise, and finish the champagne as we saw the new year dawn. However, when we went to bed, the weather was looking atrocious outside, with dense fog, high winds, and a hint of rain.

I woke up at 3.28am. Two minutes before my alarm went off. Quickly I jumped outside, eager to get blood flowing in my freezing legs and arms. As soon as I stepped outside, I gasped. The cloud had moved off, the wind had died down, and the quiet mountain air surrounded me. The full moon glowed like a muted sun, casting a blue tint across the low lying cloud and mountain side. There was absolute silence. I stood for a minute, just taking in the feeling. My alarm brought me back to earth, as I desperately tried to simultaneously mute the sound and turn it off, least I disturb the sleeping trampers inside. I quietly went back inside and woke my mates.

‘Is the weather better?’ One of them croaked.
‘Yes.’ was the reply.

I was already heading back out the door to attempt to record the scene. I was suddenly struck by the amazing foresight I had by taking my film instead of the digital. There was no way my digital would have the quality, or function, to stand even a chance of recording a moonlit scene to the detail that I wanted. With only a small portable tripod, the long exposure was slightly blurred, but the moment was captured for my own recollection.

5 minutes later the two sleepers joined me, choosing to pack their bags outside to cause the least disturbance. I always wish other trampers had as much respect as my mates and I do for other people’s sleep patterns. I was glad to hear the gasp of amazement as they stepped out of the hut and into the moonlit dreamscape. I helped them pack, and we struck out onto the trail, extremely well lit by the full moon. It took just over an hour to get to the top of the north crater rim, where we saw sunrise was just around the corner, so we found a good vantage point and sat.

As we neared the top, a bright blue grew on the horizon, which started warming and moving to a pale yellow as we regained our breath. The sun rose, as always, over the Kaimanawas, distant across the Rangipo desert.

The rest of the champagne was drunk, the crater was filled with light and so we stood up, stretched, and parted ways. They were off to complete the Northern Circuit, a 2-3 day tramp around Mt Tongariro and Mt Ngarahoe. I was off back to my bike. I went back the way we came, passing by the hut just in time to help out some people struggling with their packs. It’s always disappointing to see people with these ‘dual purpose’ packs, made to function as both a travelling bag and a tramping pack, failing utterly at both. These ones were particularly amazing, complete with wheels on the base so you could take them through an airport without actually putting it on your back? Remember this: If you are tempted at buying a ‘one bag does all’ type of luggage, think again. If you are going tramping, buy a tramping pack. They are fine to travel with, robust, compact, and if you put it actually on your back, possibly the easiest way to carry luggage. I did what I could, wished them all the best, and headed off. I reached the car park at 10am, relieved that my bike was still there, and still intact. Seeing as the day was warming up, I had no schedule to keep, and I had very minimal sleep to run on, I had a bit of a lie down.

Midday I woke up with a start. A tourist bus had pulled into the car park, sending dust everywhere. I got up, shook out the cobwebs, packed the bike, and hit the road. My next destination was Wellington, to meet up with a German couch surfer I had hosted a few months back, and to catch up with family there, in particular my 3 year old cousin Patrick.

I reached Wellington about 4 pm, much to my cousins’ relief. They were waiting for me at the window, eager to see ‘Katie’. Hugs and chats and Wii Tennis were conducted prior to dinner, after which I headed into town to catch up with the German. Hearing a foreigner’s experiences of New Zealand are always fascinating. They observe things that as a Kiwi, I’d never notice, or take for granted. Her recollection was no different, albeit truncated as she had not made it to the South Island yet. It struck me as odd that she had come to New Zealand to escape the ‘rat race’ before she committed to a career, however she had gone straight to job search mode when she arrived. I made a mental note not to do the same when I commence travel.

The clock struck 12, and suddenly I was exhausted. The accumulative effect of lack of sleep, lack of proper diet, and a full two days of motorcycling and tramping hit me. I bid the German safe travels, and went back to my Aunt’s. I was so exhausted I performed none of my post ride checks on the bike, instead abandoning it, hurrying inside, and collapsing on the floor. Sleep came in about 20 seconds.

I woke with an exuberant 3 year old bouncing on my chest. Wii training commenced at 8am it turns out. After getting thoroughly thrashed at both tennis and golf, breakfast was served, and I packed my bags, ready to head back to Auckland. The weather turned on as I was doing so, with lashing wind and a fair amount of rain hampering my escape from the capital.

The rain pettered out soon, but the strong winds stayed with me for most of the time until Waiouru, forcing me to lean my bike over constantly just to stay upright. Usually when motorcyclists pass each other on the open road, there’s a bit of a wave, maybe a signal that a cop is around the corner, or even a toot. Today there was only the occasional nod, every motorcyclist fully engaged in keeping their bike on the road.

I reached Waiouru approximately lunch time, where I met up with a work collegue who was taking a road trip with his son. After a quick catch up, I carried on. Just as I was passing Mt Ruapehu I stopped to take a photo, as I saw a scene that I thought would look magical on black and white. It struck me suddenly that purely because I had a black and white film loaded, my entire criteria for a good photo had changed. Suddenly I wasn’t looking for amazing colours. I was looking past that, at composition, darks and lights, texture, patterns, every BUT colour. I remembered how much I enjoyed black and white. Mental note taken.

It was smooth riding back to Auckland, with traffic fairly light, and idiot drivers confined to only the occasional Ford and Holden. I got back to Auckland about 6pm, unpacked the bike, oiled it, wiped it down, showered, and hit the bed.

Upon taking my film out to take to get developed, I was very surprised to find a colour film in it. Slightly disappointed that it wasn’t going to be black and white, I took it in for development.

When I got them back, I was astounded. The exposure of the photos were a bit lacking, but the composition, subject, and overall impact of the photos were some of my best yet. Mental note: Think black and white, even for colour photos. The colour will take care of itself.

The best thing about it was that within 3 minutes I had reviewed all my holiday photos. No epic 200-800 crappy digital photos to wade through, these were all quality, some clearly better than others of course, but they all held their own. Wether this is because of the manual/mechanical nature of taking the photos, or that they were actually better, they had a more rich response in me.

3 Days well spent? Yes.

Some of the photos from the trip:

Moonscape over Tongariro


Bubbly at Sunrise

Sam and Frodo off to Mt Doom

Cloud over Ruapehu

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