Quiet Roads and Volcanoes

The early morning view of Taranaki is breathtaking. Yer actual snow-covered-peak against a clear blue sky. The snow lies in scimitar slashes down its sides as if applied by a master calligrapher. We decide to drive right round the mountain via New Plymouth to get a complete picture of it. Shortly after we start Taranaki wraps itself in cloud like some Pacific god wrapping himself in his feathered cloak and remains hidden for the rest of the day.


New Plymouth is pleasant. It has the spacious, laid-back airiness we’ve already encountered so often in New Zealand. The weather is beautiful. The seafront area is decorated by flower beds and various sculptural-cultural things. The skate park is busy. The library is superb with excellent facilities tended by courteous and helpful young people. We indulge ourselves in the internet nook.
Lunch in a quayside cafe and off we go towards Opunake and Hawera. The road is open and winds but gently when it does wind. A blessed relief from the demented rally driver’s heaven of yesterday. The landscape is open and pleasant rather than picturesque. It is uneventful, which suits us right down to the ground.


Uneventful that is, until we are approaching Wanganui when we spot a towering plume of smoke to the north. Half in jest I ask ‘Is that a fire or a volcano erupting?’ because I do know that the Tongariro area is still active. We forget about it. We stop at a very modest looking Chinese establishment in Bulls (yes, Bulls) for surprisingly good fish and chips. The TV is on. The news begins. Main headline, the eruption of Tongariro. Holidaymakers and hikers have had to run for their lives as the volcano threw up a huge cloud of ash and dust. Eyewitnesses speak of their panic as a quiet trek in the hills turned into a Hollywood disaster production. I wish we’d got a shot of it at its height. Memo to self: photograph everything in New Zealand. Outside the town we pull over and get a couple of shots of the ash plume now smeared out across the northern sky.
The hill ranges to the east of us close in and we drive nearer to the coast. Now we pass through Carnarvon and Foxton before returning to Maori territory in Otake and Waikanae and reach Paraparaumu. A brief search locates the motel. A rather uncommunicative concierge signs us in but does not offer to order our breakfast as we’re too late. The internet works if you stand in the doorway.
Out for a walk under the first quarter of the inverted moon. Paraparaumu appears to be closed for the night. We locate the boat club and decide to risk parking the car there for our day away tomorrow.
We pick up milk and breakfast bars at the brightly lit Asian run superette which is the only sign of life apart from a few young men playing pool in a bar across the road.


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