Around Taumarunui, part 2

April 13, 2017 • 9:00 am

I was under the weather with an incipient cold for one day in Taumarunui, but I recovered quickly, and Heather suggested a drive to Tongariro National Park, about an hour away. It’s the oldest national park in New Zealand, the fourth oldest in the world, and is a UNESCO cultural/natural heritage site due to its beauty and prevalence of sites sacred to the Māori.

On the way, we drove past idyllic little valleys with streams and farms; it’s like one big Hobbiton. In the distance you can see the mountains and volcanoes of the Park:

I’ve shown this before and will show it again. Only in New Zealand!

Two of the three famous volcanoes in the Park: the cone is Ngauruhoe and the one to the left is Tongariro:

Mount Ruapehu. At 2797 meters (9177 feet), it’s the tallest mountain on New Zealand’s North Island. It’s also an active volcano.  If you’ve seen the Lord of the Rings movies, some of the Mt. Doom and Mordor scenes were filmed in the barren rocky areas above tree line on this mountain.

A view down to the valley from the slopes of Ruapehu.

There’s a very fancy hotel, the Chateau Tongariro Hotel, near the base of Ruapehu. This is where Peter Jackson and his crew stayed while filming the Mordor and Mt. Doom scenes:

The area is a big ski resort, getting many more visitors in winter than summer. When we visited, helicopters were flying in fresh loos for the upcoming winter season:

This is the only stuff that can live on the high-altitude volcanic slopes:

Some flowers a bit lower down. I don’t know what the species are, or whether they’re endemic, but please identify them if you know:

What’s this flower?

And, back near Taumarunui, we visited a farm that bred sheep with unusually long necks. (Yes, yes, I know they’re alpaca.)

Heather has a friend who, along with a sheep station, grows lavender to make soap, oil, perfume, and other things. Here’s the field photographed by Heather shortly before I arrived:

It was rainy when we visited, so the flowers were mostly closed. But I saw a bunny:

A bee  bee-mimicking hoverfly on lavender:

We had scones and a drink at the farm, and they harbored a friendly farm cat named Smoky:

And so I got my cat fix, as I had a bad Cat Jones by this point:

A marae (Māori ceremonial area) in Taumarunui; the wharenui, or main meeting house, is to the right and the wharekai, or eating house, is to the left.

The carved sign over the door of the wharenui:

Not over an hour had passed after I arrived at Heather’s when we heard a knock at the door. Sure enough, there were two Mormon missionaries from Canada, there to convert us. When Heather told them they were at the wrong place, as they had encountered two atheists, they kept on with their palaver. I then began photographing them.

At first they waved, but when I kept taking photos they asked me to stop and then to delete the photos. I told them that I wouldn’t do that because I was allowed to photograph them on Heather’s property.

Local lunch on the way to Taumaranui: a chicken and leek pie with salad and a caramel-nut muffin. The standard of cafe food in New Zealand is very high, and I love the various kinds of savory pies.

Heather is an excellent cook, and made us a vegetable and ham quiche one night:

Green-lipped mussels at the grocery store, where several patrons were barefoot. We had them (the mussels, not the patrons) pickled in a salad; and they were superb:

Another product of Heather’s culinary skills: a bacon and egg pie with vegetables. Americans need to adopt more savory pies, as the only indigenous food like that we have the ubiquitous chicken pot pie.

The inside:

Heather’s car battery went dead before I left, and, while waiting in the garage for a new battery, I took the obligatory self-portrait:

And so farewell to the small town of Taumarunui, population 4640. Here’s the main street:

And thanks to Heather for her hospitality!

65 thoughts on “Around Taumarunui, part 2

  1. Lovely photos Jerry. Regarding your ‘bee’ I wondered if you got pwned by a mimic—the eyes have that fly gestalt to me.

    1. Yes, it’s surely a hover-fly. Wonder if it’s another introduction, though the more robust of the native NZ bees [Leioproctus] have a slight resemblance.

      The first flower shown is a species of Parahebe, or more properly, Veronica, subgenus Parahebe. The veronicas are one of the great radiation in NZ, with at least 100 species of mostly low to medium shrubs evolved from a likely herbaceous ancestor, and occupying all elevation zones. Quite popular as ornamentals in milder areas on the American west coast.

      I don’t have any rez on the heathery plant following it.

  2. Nice photos, especially the pie. That looks like a dipteran rather than a bee on the lavender, though!

  3. Lovely. But now’s the time to hunker down, with Cyclone Cook headed straight for you! I remember the last storm of this intensity. It was in 1968, and sank the inter-island ferry Wahine, killing 52. Look after yourself!!!

    PS I believe the cone of Ngaruahoe was the model for Mount Doom itself, as opposed to the close-ups of the two hobbits’ ascent.

    1. Cyclone Cook missed! At east, it missed Auckland, which is where I think Jerry is headed.

      That is to say, we (in Auckland) were warned to expect torrential rain and extreme gale-force winds yesterday. A once-in-a-hundred-year storm. What did we get? A few brief showers and no wind *at all*. It was a bit weird, waiting for the worst and nothing bad whatever happening.

      I drove down to New Plymouth today, in the clear with really dirty black weather just in front, but it was travelling as fast as I was and clearing just ahead of me. The roads were all wet but I only encountered rain for a few minutes.

      The moral of that is… I don’t think there is one. Except Auckland weather can make a liar out of weather forecasters any time it feels like it.


  4. Apparently you are not allowed to take a photo of your guest? I would not think someone could or should ask you to remove pictures you have taken but?? Anyway, great photos.

    I just went to a nursery yesterday to buy some lavender.

    1. To be fair, the missionaries seemed to be fine with posing for a few photos. But I think I would have been a bit creeped out too by an extended series of clickclickclick. I’ve seen too many movies where the FBI or some other nefarious organization is doing a surveillance on a prime suspect … or target. Mormons are sheep — and this is a land which knows well how to deal with sheep.

      1. Very good – sheep looking for a shepherd. When they keep talking after they are warned you are at an atheist’s house? Mormon’s on mission to New Zealand? Really rough duty. Maybe next they go to Hawaii.

        1. You’ve just got to look at it from their perspective. A land full of “nones?” That’s the proverbial target rich environment. Opening the door and telling them you’re an atheist? That’s like tying a pork chop around your neck and walking among a group of hungry dogs.

          1. I don’t know. The dogs would be hungry for what I have. But Mormons at the door, who would be hungry for that unless they also happen to be delivery pizza.

          2. Also, there are atheists … and then there are atheists.

            Not all nonbelievers are what has been called “intellectually engaged.” Some don’t believe in God out of habit, or because it’s easier, or even, in some rare cases, due to never really hearing much about God, religion, or the amazing benefits package. It happens. And this is the prime meat they seek.

            Unfortunately, a lot of missionaries also seem to assume that this type of atheist is the default, the standard they ought to expect. Had Jerry and Heather chosen to engage with them, the nice young Mormon proselytizes would have probably been in for an exciting, stimulating, and disturbing time of it.

            Which all things considered they would probably have appreciated. Going door to door is boring. Better a heated argument than another “No, I’mhappywithmyreligiongoaway.” Plus, they might be invited to sit down. They smile, but their feet hurt.

  5. You should’ve asked the Canadians if they weren’t really Americans. Canadians love it when you ask that. 😉

    1. I made some comment about being out in such terrible weather, and they said it wasn’t so bad – it was refreshing. So I said something like, “Refreshing? Are you Canadian or something?” and they confirmed they were, and wanted to know how I knew. (Like most people, they probably don’t think they have an accent.)

      I suppose their magic underwear was keeping them warm. I suppose they’re normally far too hot wandering around NZ with all those extra layers at this time of year.

      1. I met a couple of really nice Canadian girls on holiday in Venice once but that is another story entirely.

      2. I think Canadians are so used to Americans not knowing anything about them that they just think that’s how the whole world is. I was always surprised when anyone knew anything about Canada when I travelled.

  6. That pie look awesome!

    We had the Jehovah’s Witnesses at the door the other day. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to play.

    1. Yeah … Heather and Jerry missed a wonderful opportunity. When I get JWs on my doorstep I invite them in and keep them in as long as possible. It is doing my civic duty.

      Don’t get many (any) Mormons though.
      It would have been a wonderful opportunity though … get them seated comfortably, get a copy of WEIT out and ask them to explain where the book is wrong. Hours of healthy fun.

      They have sadly stopped coming … they even walk by when I am in the yard.

      1. That day we’d both got up very early and done a lot of travelling. We were very tired and neither of us was at our best. If the Mormons had turned up later in the week … well let’s just say Jesus saved them from a very difficult conversation by having them arrive when they did! 🙂

        I few months ago I invited the Seventh Day Adventists in and wrote a post about our hour-long conversation.

        1. I saw a video the other day, can’t remember where (my age) and the guy answered the door starkers to a bouple of JW, they beat a hasty My son tends to invite them in and get them to try and get him to believe, waste of time ,but he gets a laugh out of it.

          1. :-D.

            I’ve come across a couple of women on Twitter who strip off and grab a wine glass when they see proselytizers coming up the path.

          2. 🙂 As long as you promise to wear the magic underwear.

            Did you know the fibres of the fabric used for covering your naughty bits are impregnated with local anaesthetic? It seems God can’t be relied upon to be watching all the time. (Well, it’s an urban legend I’d like to start anyway! 😀 )

          3. “Did you know the fibres of the fabric used for covering your naughty bits are impregnated with local anaesthetic?”

            Yes but that only works when they’re being worn. And kind of an essential prerequisite of being really naughty is that they first be removed to avoid frustration and laundry bills. (The magic underpants, that is, not the naughty bits – that might be considered a little extreme).



      2. Although JWs are almost always Creationists, Mormons seem to be a hit or miss proposition when it comes to evolution. I wouldn’t assume one way or the other.

  7. Great photos, Jerry!

    I don’t suppose you could prevail upon Heather to post the recipes for those lovely pies so that I can do my small bit to advance the cause of savory pies in this currently benighted country?

  8. Looks like “meeting house, is to the left “, should be “right”.

    This leg of the trip is probably my favorite so far. Fine views outdoors and in!

    The Chateau Tongariro Hotel, looks a bit like the Grand Budapest Hotel. I’m sure nothing quite the same goes on there. 😎

  9. Helicopters flying around in “fresh loos” — is that an aviation term particular to helicopter flights?

      1. They’re not port-a-loos (as we call them in NZ), they’re steel containers that take all the wastewater from a ski lodge etc. They’re a septic tank the size of a shipping container, which is what they’re made from.

  10. Sure enough, there were two Mormon missionaries from Canada, there to convert us.

    I wonder: if I converted to Mormonism would the Mormon church pay travel expenses and R&B to New Zealand, and all I’d have to do is annoy New Zealanders for a few weeks? Hmmmmmmm…..

    1. It’s a long, arduous process and you don’t get to choose where you go. Part of the process is being cut off from family even during holidays as you go through the education and practice. I worked with a Mormon whose son was just finishing his education in Salt Lake City & waiting to be “called”.

      1. The Canadian Mormons were probably happy to find out they were going to New Zealand. Not just for the scenery, but they speak the language and the conditions are generally clean and modern. It’s plum.

        I’ve read some pretty gruesome descriptions of missions-from-Hell in which the poor saps can’t communicate and can’t flush a toilet. Add in abominable (or scant) food and surly, resentful, demanding leaders and “the greatest experience of my life” is stepping off the plane at the end.

      2. Also, the missionary’s family pays for all their costs. I imagine it is great training for being a salesman.

  11. I love savoury pies from time to time, these look nice. And I’ve been having a lot of mussels – though not those wonderful green ones. Do they taste any different?

    1. They’re commercially grown green-lip mussels, about 7-10 cm long. They are probably from farms on the Coromandel Peninsula, but may be from the Marlborough Sounds farms. Surprisingly, they’re one of the cheapest sources of protein in New Zealand.

      I haven’t been able to compare their taste with other mussels, but will confirm they’re delicious.

  12. the part with the Mormons had me laughing. That is exactly how I will handle that situation for now on.

  13. The “bee” is actually the exotic, European hover fly Eristalis tenax.

    The flower looks like a Parahebe, but I’m a local zoologist, not a botanist.

  14. Very fun photos, thanks for sharing them!

    The cuisine in NZ has definitely improved since I was there 26 years ago! (I’m not commenting on Heather’s cooking except to say: It looks WONDERFUL!)

  15. I spent many summer holidays in Ohakune as a young boy mid to late 50’s early sixties, which is just south of the National Park. Ohakune has a route to Turoa a Ruapehu ski field, the route the Prof (E) travelled is to the other ski field, Whakapapa. Back then Ohakune 2000 ft above sea level, was a farming, forestry and railway junction town, now it is all about skiing and popular hunting for American tourist shooters, deer, boar, trout fishing. I do remember the night sky being incredible.
    Anyhow, the three mountains were always snow capped (Tongariro though not as much) even in the height of summer so I am surprised to see them so bare and barren.
    As a Auckland city boy all I wanted to do was get to the snow and play but had to settle for the rivers that flowed down through farmland. I could say I’m disappointed to be robbed of a childhood memory as I have not been back for decades and the last time it was winter.. ah but I can still see the childhood memory as plain as day, so no great loss. Climate warming jumped in there by way of an exolaination?? Nice post to a familiar area and a reminder. Loved the valley shot and don’t start me on pies… yum.

    1. A lot depends, I think, on how much precipitation there has been over winter.
      And bear in mind that right now (end of summer) snow will be at its minimum.

      In June about 15 months ago I was down there and Ruapehu was covered in snow right down to the Desert Road level. The snow cover started alongside the road a couple of miles north of Waiouru.


      1. ah… thanks, I was just a little taken aback, when as a child our visits in summer, Ruapehu was always covered at least a quarter of the way down (Mid to late January) and it was always searingly hot and sleepy in Ohakune. Childhood memories can be tricky. Forgot to mention Ohakune was?still is? carrot capital of NZ all that lovely rich soil. I think the extraordinary unpolluted night sky down there at the time had an affect and planted the seed of doubt in my faith addled brain. Cheers to that.

  16. Botanical ID time.
    The photo labelled “This is the only stuff …”: the grass is Rytidosperma setifolium, one of our large group of snow tussock grasses. The grey cushion is a moss, Racomitrium lanuginosum; it turns yellowish green instantly if you wet it. The green cushion is another moss that I can’t identify.
    The next photo is indeed a parahebe as a couple of folks before me have noted, and now classified in the genus Veronica. It’s Veronica hookeriana. The hebe you showed in your post about our visit to Mt Bruce is also now classified in Veronica (as Veronica stricta). I did my PhD on the taxonomy of what was then the genus Parahebe and I’m also responsible for transferring them and the hebes back into Veronica (where they were classified until the 1920s and 1930s).
    The next flower is heather or ling, Calluna vulgaris, which was introduced to the area to provide cover for grouse (also introduced, to be shot at). The story is the grouse didn’t survive but the heather did and it’s now a major weed in the National Park and region.
    I’m glad you got to Tongariro National Park Jerry.

        1. Ha ha! I hope not! We don’t want our Heather eliminated. Heather – you can hide in Canada if you need to. 🙂

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