So I have settled, for the time being at least, in a ramshackle but charming hostel on the shore of Lake Taupo. New Zealand is an expensive country to travel about in and winter employment was in order.
The town of Taupo (toe-paw, not t-ow-po) is fine, occupying an inlet at the north end of the lake, the second largest in Oceana, it has the standard grid system, uninspiring buildings and general air of a smallish kiwi town. Not much in itself other than a relatively friendly, community vibe but New Zealand’s prowess does not lie in its urbanism, although there are some notable exceptions, the country’s prime attraction is its natural beauty.
Taupo is well situated for scenic splendour and is a principle reason that in season it is one of the busier places in the North Island. It capitalises on its location, having established itself as a central hub for providers of various adventure tourism activities.
The grand volcanic plateau, pinnacling in the mountains of Ruapehu (2797metres), Tongariro (1978 metres) and Ngrauruhoe (2291 metres), rears up from the south side of the drinkably clean, trout packed lake. These peaks are not large by global standards, or even domestic – Aoraki (Mount Cook) on the South Island is 3724 metres – but their topographical prominence and often snow-capped summits lend them a somewhat majestic air. I have been known to exhale dramatically at small hills in Cornwall so these are impressive to me at least. Lending to their majesty is that they are very active volcanically speaking. Thus they could wreak untold havoc at any moment. In fact, it’s a geological certainty they will at some point.
The town of Taupo is situated rather close to something even more humbling. A Supervolcano (yeah I linked Wikipedia). It could not be any closer actually, being directly on top of it as it is.
Supervolcanoes are one of the many potentially cataclysmic things modern humans carefully and dutifully ignore, one that is quite literally under our noses here in Taupo. Happily providing us tourists with various exciting and relaxing leisure activities. When they erupt in earnest, rather large swathes of, well, everything becomes quite inconvenienced.
Thus it is an unfortunate fact of Kiwi life if the Taupo Caldera – which comprises the entire lake – decides to go, and it seems there could be little warning, the North Island, as it is, goes with it.
It has blown before, the last in was in 120 AD and the consensus is that it will again. The Oruanui eruption occurred roughly 25000 years B.P. and is the world’s most recent supervolcanic eruption. Without a doubt this eruption affected things for us Homo Sapiens who were still firmly within our Paleolithic (living in caves and sharpening rocks with other rocks) phase. The most recent major eruption here (‘major’ being an eruption with a volcanic explosivity index – or VEI – of 3 or more ) was the Hatepe eruption in 180 AD, a relatively mild event compared to the Oruanui. This one affected the global climate extensively enough for the Romans to look up and wonder what had happened to the sun for a while. For comparison the Hatepe eruption expelled 120 cubic kilometres of material, the Oruanui ejected 1170. Well, shit.
This notion is really quite present in my mind. The steaming streams and geothermal pools that we recline in, the faint odour of sulphur in the frosty mornings, the occasional rumble in the earth as I lie in bed serve as little elbow nudges, reminding me I am dwellling in a part of the world where the earth’s crust is somewhat thinner than I’m used to.
I haven’t really written about New Zealand. I have been writing other things. Which is nice as I haven’t really written anything of note for a long time.
It high time that I do put some words out on this strange new place though, if only to collate some solid opinions – does anyone else find that opinions sometimes only coherently form when you actually set about writing?
The first thing I noticed is that the air is pure. It’s fresh, clean and clear. Taupo is indeed colder than most places on the North Island (which might explain why it’s full of English people) being at a rough elevation of 500 metres but still, whichever way the wind blows the air retains its clarity. Even in Auckland in the tail-end of Summer the air was crisp enough. The southern hemisphere is fairly renowned for having less pollution and less ozone than the north so this wont be a surprise for most but I notice it a great deal. Following this the sun really is outrageously strong. I had heard this, taken note of it and still burned myself to a comical extent within my first half an hour of solar exposure, foolish pallid human that I am.
I was also under the general impression that there are great deal of similarities with the UK, culturally there are some of course but there is little resemblance in the landscape.
The British landscape is ancient. Its geological turbulence long since passed, with that comes a stolid solidity, the hills and mountains are impassive, the rivers entrenched and old, the land is well trodden and the seas are overfished. I love the ancient air of home, theres magic in it, but New Zealand feels much younger, much more active and volatile but also much more vitalised and healthy and there’s a different kind of magic in that too.
This sense of youth bleeds over into its anthropological history as well. All valid historical evidence points to the islands first being happened upon by the genius level oceanic explorations of East Polynesians in the late 13th century. The lush, green, spacious and temperate land was subsequently – and presumably enthusiastically – settled and thus formed the beginnings of the Maori Culture (for the record Maori is pronounced ‘Ma – aowl – dy’). This is remarkably recent for a such large landmass. Incidentally, in Maori tradition, Taupo is one of the first places the great priest/chief Ngātoro-i-rangi came to when New Zealand was first settled by the Maori and where he named the peaks of the volcanic plateau.
There are fringe theories about pre-Maori settlement but absolutely no reliable evidence to support them and as far as I can tell the theories that posit a celtic/megalithic history are largely racially motivated, which is most unpleasant.
That said, there is solid evidence that Australia has been peopled for around 65000 years, an enormous span of time really, so perhaps there is a remote chance ocean navigating people reached New Zealand before the Oruanui eruption and subsequently had their culture – which presumably would have been Paleolithic hunter-gatherer in the same vein as the Aboriginal Australians – erased but I also know very little about the pre-history of this part of the world so I’m merely thinking aloud, as mentioned I’m not aware of any evidence to support this. I’ll have proper read over the next few months.
Anyway, yes, I like New Zealand, it’s home at the moment and I am stuck/settled in the town of Taupo until I save up enough money to get the hell out. Handily I have landed centrally so barring imminent supereruptions I will be motoring out and about more now the weather is improving and I have a dashing beige Honda Odyssey which I am quite fond of to do it in. Sweet bru.