Saturday, 22 December 2007

Northwards towards Wanganui and Ruapehu

Image of Mt. Ruapehu by Simon Hathaway

Hopefully Mark's stay in Bulls was memora-bull rather than intolera-bull... (see yesterday's post for more background)This morning, Mark's journey along the coastal plain continues: hopefully the NE winds from yesterday will have abated, although the route he takes is more sheltered.

Before we go any further, just a pointer to a new Audio File which has now been posted on the Artemis website: a 20 minute interview with Mark recorded just before he crossed over to the North Island. Click HERE to listen to the interview from BBC Scotland in a pop-up player.

First of all, a visit to Wanganui: the historic River City. Mark will cross the Whanganui River:

Starting high up in the volcanic plateau of the central North Island at Mt Tongariro, the river travels north to Taumaranui before heading south for 260km to Wanganui passing through the native tree and fern clad hills of the Whanganui National Park. The upper reaches of the river, cloaked in dense rainforest, lead to the deeply incised gorges of the middle reaches, where tree ferns and rare native plants cling to the steep riverbanks. This dramatic landscape opens out in the lower reaches of the river to follow rolling framland and open valleys to the costal dunes and cliffs which border the Tasman Sea to the west.

The Whanganui River is of deep spiritual, cultural and historical significance to Whanganui Iwi, who are the tangata whenua (Maori people of this area).

The Whanganui National Park enjoys a dual heritage from nature itself and from 40 generations of River Iwi who have lived there.

Panorama of Wanganui by Flickr user Squiggle (Creative Commons)

Wanganui apparently means 'big bay' or 'big harbour' in Maori. There was apparently a recent referendum which showed a preference for spelling the name without the 'h'....

Mark will probably have noticed the prominent war memorial tower on Durie Hill.

The road enters the Taranaki region: "like no other" according to its website, and named after Mount Taranaki or Mount Egmont.Mount Egmont / Mount Taranaki is the second highest mountain on the North Island at 2518 metres. It is a near perfect symmetrical cone: a strato volcano (obviously) which last erupted in the 18th Century (1755). It was another one of those 'discoveries' of Captain James Cook... The resemblance of the mountain to Mt. Fuji in Japan, has been noted by many, and led to the mountain being a location for the filming of the Tom Cruise movie "The Last Samurai".

People living in the area have some cause for concern, as there are suggestions that the volcano is likely to erupt within the next 50 years. Eruptions are apparently similar to those of the famous Mt. St. Helens eruption of 1980 beloved of many geography teachers...

The New Zealand MAF (Ministry of Agriculture) has published a detailed illustrated analysis of possible impacts of future volcanic eruption.

The GEONET website has a range of real-time monitoring information which is attractively organised.

All New Zealand volcanoes are placed on an alert level from 0 to 5

Scientific Alert Level Indicative Phenomena Volcano Status


Typical background surface activity; seismicity, deformation and heat flow at low levels. Usual dormant, or quiescent state.


Apparent seismic, geodetic, thermal or other unrest indicators. Initial signs of possible volcano unrest. No eruption threat.


Increase in number or intensity of unrest indicators (seismicity, deformation, heat flow etc). Confirmation of volcano unrest. Eruption threat.


Minor steam eruptions. High-increasing trends of unrest indicators, significant effects on volcano, possibly beyond. Minor eruptions commenced. Real possibility of hazardous eruptions.


Eruption of new magma. Sustained high levels of unrest indicators, significant effects beyond volcano. Hazardous local eruption in progress. Large scale eruption now possible.


Destruction with major damage beyond active volcano. Significant risk over wider areas Large hazardous volcanic eruption in progress.

The area has volcanic soils and abundant rainfall which makes farming very important, particularly dairy farming.

Mark took Highway 4, which travels inland from Cape Egmont, and alongside a meandering river towards the 'double-barrelled' Oreore. On Google Earth this looks to be a steady incline with switchbacks and the river tumbling down to the left, followed by a straighter route past quite isolated houses and farmsteads.Of course, to Mark on the road, this translated into a great deal more effort. Here's today's diary entry:

Good ride from Bulls to Wanganui sitting at 23 - 24 kph. Tim and his wife cycled out of Wanganui to meet up and guide to their home 1km off the road. Had an hour off the bike, food and set off again with Tim on route 4 north. South Island had hills and plains but North Island is all hills! Tim turned back after a good distance. Continued for four hours of absolutely nothing, with probably biggest ascent on whole journey of 1750mtr. Down to 7 - 8kph and average of 18.8kmp for the day. Reached Raetihi, 89km north of Wangani at 7pm - total distance 135km. Ski area with snow still on mountains around.

Last two hours thunder storm and torrential rain stinging in the face. Found a room in a Holiday Park and cooked up pasta in the room. Hoping the worst is done today. Have three volcanoes to skirt tomorrow over 800mtr pass.

Great to meet Tim who has been an Glasgow University Alumni contact since before the start in August and been following the journey. He has cycled across America, so had lots to chat about! Many thanks for all your support Tim.

The thunderstorm possibly explains the tracker stalling near Oreore...

Raetihi is a small settlement with a population of just over 1000, close to the Ohakune and Ruapehu snowfields where the ski industry is prominent. More on Ruapehu tomorrow.

The most prominent mountains will be Tongariro and Ruapehu, of which more tomorrow too... We are getting back into Lord of the Rings territory here...
Also into the outdoors again, as the Tongariro Alpine Crossing is one of the world's classic walks.

Tomorrow we enter volcanic realms !

Alan Parkinson
AKA "Mrs V"

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