We were desperate for a shower, food, and a bed. Two days of hiking the Tongariro Northern Circuit meant it was time to take it easy for a few days around the North Island of New Zealand. The hour was late, but we managed to find the last restaurant open in the National Park town and sneak into a backpackers for a shower before setting up camp for another night. The next day we would check into a hostel and wash 2 days of sweaty hiking clothes in the adorable town of Turangi.
Then we’d be on our way to the West coast for a short stay before driving North toward the Corromandel, a peninsula with beautiful beaches and native bush off the north shore. Harald the German, Marek the Czech guy and I relaxed a lot, discovered the Forgotten World Highway, and made s'mores at our camp near Mt. Taranaki.
A well-deserved meal
Over 43 km of walking in two days and eating only camping food led to cravings unlike any I’ve ever experienced. My body needed some real nourishment. We were relieved to find one remaining restaurant open in the whole National Park town.
The restaurant owners at the bar took one look at us and asked, “Did the crossing, eh?” No, we did the entire circuit in 2 days, we responded. “Wow! Good on ya! Isn’t that a 3 or 4 day trip?”
The meal felt like bliss. Never have I tasted a simple chicken sandwich and fries (or “chips” here) so good. The beer to wash them down was like a cool, sweet nectar. So good.
A sneaky shower
We tried to get a hostel to stay for the night, but it was late and receptionists were already gone for the night. This didn’t stop us from getting a much needed shower. We gathered what we needed from the car in backpacks and sauntered into the hostel like the owned the place.
Ducking into the shower room, I took the shower of a lifetime. Soaking my feet in the warm water pooling at the bottom of the shower was equal parts “ouch” and “ahhh.” The cleaning lady came in while I was standing at the sinks with all my cloths spread on top of my bag. She glanced knowingly at my dirty hiking boots and walked out. She knew I wasn’t staying there and seemed not to care.
My hair was still wet against the cold air when I went to meet the guys outside. Since the hostels were all closed up for the night we camped one last time in the national park before checking into a hostel the next day.
Taking it easy in Turangi
The small town of Turangi was the perfect rest and relaxation spot. All within a few meters walking distance was laundry, free wifi at the library, a pharmacy for tending to my blisters, and the hostel equipped with a kitchen and huge lounge. We all found ourselves going off separately to do what we needed to do and then came back together to cook and play cards.
With three players, the game Monkey which I learned from Deisha in Thailand was the perfect game. We even taught it to a few other backpackers staying there.
I also learned how to properly eat a Tim Tam while at the hostel. This is a delicious cookie popular in Australia and New Zealand. The Tim Tam is best eaten by chewing off two corners, sucking milk through it like a straw and then letting it soak and melt in your mouth. Nom!
To Taranaki along the Forgotten World Highway
A night in a bed and a day of relaxation meant it was time to start camping again. We decided to head west to check out Mt. Taranaki, the other volcano we could see from the summit of the Tongariro just two days prior. None of us were ready to go on any serious hikes again, but we still wanted to get a better glimpse of it.
The route there took us along the Forgotten World Highway—the oldest touring road in New Zealand. There are several points of interest along the 3 hour drive including waterfalls, gorges, historic landmarks, and more. The sights from the road are gorgeous because the drive climbs three saddles, Strathmore, Pohokura, and Whangamomona.
We stopped at one farm where cows next to the road were playing peek-a-boo with us in the grass.
I was amazed at how these cows manage not to fall down the steep hills where they graze.
When we made it to Mt. Taranaki, the drive was well worth the wait. The mountain is the perfect shape!
S’mores without graham crackers
Before leaving Turangi, I said to the guys “In United States, camping is not camping without s’mores.” I learned Harald had never heard of or tried s’mores and Marek had loved it when he tried it during his travels. So we went to the store to pick out the ingredients. Alas, New Zealand does not have graham crackers, they hardly have marshmallows, and there’s no Hershey’s here—blasphemy! I had to settle for biscuits, weird pink and white baby marshmallows, and Whittaker’s chocolate.
The handy Campermate App led us to Te Ngutu O Te Manu campsite near Stratford, a small town looking out at Mt. Taranaki. We stayed two nights at this campsite because it was so nice. There were BBQs there where we could make a little fire to roast our marshmallows.
The s’mores were not perfect, but it was a comfort food reminiscent of home. The perfect remedy to round out our recovery from the tough Tongariro hike.