Friday, December 21, 2012

Another Day, Another Volcano

Dec. 22, 2012

Some people might call this tempting fate, visiting another volcano on the day when the Western Hemisphere is half expecting the day dubbed the Mayan Apocalypse.  If an extinct volcano were to spring to life, it would be on the day the world ends, right?  At least, it would in Hollywood.

But we’re not in Hollywood.  No, we’re some fourteen thousand kilometers away.  To the SE of Hollywood.

So we went to Mount Eden today.  Maungawhau, in Maori, because of course this extinct volcano is sacred to the Maori, and site of a former pa (fortification) – and Maungawhau is pronounced something like Mow (rhymes with pow) nya fow.  Lovely old volcano and, like many of the some 53 volcanoes in the Auckland area, a sudden steep hill without a top – apparently Maungawhau erupted suddenly and violently, blowing off its entire top and creating a huge crater.

We took the train out to the village of Mount Eden, more of a sweet little village surrounding the base of the mountain, full of Victorian homes and lovely little shops and cafes.  I love the gingerbread moulding and little spires added to the homes, making them look so pretty and ornate – and of course the flowers coordinating with the colors of the house or the door – just one of those charming neighborhoods in this city.  Except that this lovely little village has an extinct volcano as its backyard, looming ever in the background.

We followed the road up the mountain, winding around and spiraling ever upward, slowly gaining better and better views of the city below.  At times we saw the harbor, then the opposite  side of Auckland, then all the way to the Coromandel Peninsula, then the city again.  As we wound our way up the hill, we kept encountering signs marking the Coast to Coast Walk – Auckland is bordered by the Tasman Sea on the west and the Pacific Ocean on the east, and apparently there’s a marked walk so that one can traverse the narrow part of the north island, literally walking from coast to coast.

We arrived at the top, looking into the crater, some 50 meters deep – the volcanic cone, Auckland’s tallest, is only 196 meters high, so the crater depth is about one-quarter into the cone – impressive!!!  The Maori call the crater Te Ipu Kai a Mataaho, meaning The Food Bowl of Mataaho (god of things hidden in the ground), which seems like a very reasonable name.  The other side of the summit was apparently the pa, with terraces and storage pits still visible.

But the views were incredible – we could see other volcanoes all around, steep hills rising suddenly out of the plain, with the telltale flat or indented top yelling out “I’m a volcano and here’s the crater.”  We could see all the way to Mt Victoria in Devonport.  In fact, from Mount Eden to Mt Victoria there was a line of volcanoes, in nearly a perfectly straight line running from sea to sea in both directions. 

There was also a huge medallion 
with a map of the area and compass points, as well as distances (and arrows) to various parts of the world – New York 14,197 km away to the NE, Vancouver 11,362 km off to the NNE (or was that ENE?) – and, of course, various points of Asia to the NW, and Johannesburg South Africa just about due south (and apparently calculated in a line across Antarctica).

We walked around the crater, admiring the views, enjoying the breeze, and then decided to take one of the trails down the hill rather than circling the mountain downward by following the road.  No problem, we asked a few people and followed the trail down the steep side, finishing with a long and steep flight of wooden stairs.  And, of course, since this was a Richard and Phebe trip, came down off the mountain on the complete opposite side of where we started.  We asked for directions, followed along for a while, asked again – and a wonderfully helpful and friendly man offered us a ride.  He was driving his daughter to a nearby neighborhood, and offered to drop us back in the village of Mount Eden.  We’ve run into delightfully friendly New Zealanders before – but this man turned out to be not only as friendly and helpful as usual, he also was a Judge of the High Court!  Yup, this is the court above the district court – the kind of judge who on special occasions wears the wig and robes to mete out Justice on behalf of the Queen.  Not exactly the person we’d expect to be chatting with us as he goes out of his way to drop us off, with a few recommendations for lunch spots – but he was fun to chat with, and he saved us a few miles of getting lost.  (I need to add that in the morning we stopped at a lovely coffee shop and ended up chatting for a while with the Turkish baristo; a young couple, the young woman being an art teacher at the middle level; and a man who is a doctor of aviation medicine.  Interesting people all, we had a great time chatting and sharing experiences, they’ve all traveled around and were interested in our experiences in touring NZ, and it was just a delightful morning.  Plus wonderful coffee, and absolutely amazing chocolate from a company called Evil Child Chocolate.  Tiki touring at its best.) 

Anyway, we wandered the village of Mount Eden, then caught a bus back to our hotel.  Turns out Mount Eden is just a kilometer or two beyond the Grafton Village area, where we had stayed a few nights during our first trip to Auckland – we’re slowly putting together a picture of the city, and learning our way around.

And we’re very glad the volcano remained extinct for our visit.

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