Last month, Andy and I celebrated two years together by traveling to Ohakune (Oh-a-coo-nee) for a long weekend. About three hours north of Wellington, it’s mostly known as a ski town. Yes, there’s skiing on the North Island, for those of you not from here. And in truly NZ fashion, the ski mountain is an active volcano, Mount Ruapehu. You may recall it from my previous posts when I hiked Tongariro Alpine crossing or drove the Desert Road.
Anyway, we weren’t there to ski, as May is a little too early for the season (and cheaper!), but I wanted to surprise Andy with a getaway somewhere we hadn’t been together. Because I’m awful at keeping a straight face or secrets, he guessed where we were going when I told him the driving time. Oh well – the accommodation would still be a surprise! Even better? It was dog friendly.
After making the drive up on Friday and making some fun stop-offs, we bought some easy dinner to cook and settled in to enjoy our fabulous chalet (just wait for the photos! Hands down, one of the best places I’ve ever stayed). Higgs especially loved the fireplace.
The next morning, we hopped onto the trail right near our house to explore.
Since Ohakune is at an altitude of about 600 meters (2,000 feet), it was significantly colder than Wellington. Luckily, we’d come prepared for wintry weather.
One of us was not at all bothered by the crisp air. That water must have been chillllly.
With all the leaves changing, it felt like a wonderful blend of autumn and winter.
On the walk back, Higgs made a couple buddies.
Such a happy beastie. Time for a photoshoot with foliage:
This next one just cracks me up. Look at Higgs!
Back at our chalet, you couldn’t beat the view out the back windows.
Having exercised the pup, we set out to explore a couple spots in Tongariro National Park that are sadly (but understandably) closed to dogs. We set out driving on the mountain road that leads up toward Ruapehu, with some stops in mind. The road turned out to be closed at the 13 km mark, just short of the waterfall we wanted to visit, so we decided to park and walk the extra bit.
It soon became clear exactly why the road was closed.
As a New Englander, this just felt like home, somewhere in the mountains of Maine or New Hampshire. With no one in sight and just the clear mountain air and snowy silence surrounding us, it was an amazing place to be. We did hear a deep boom at one point, causing me to momentarily feel as if I could be in some disaster movie (Dante’s Peak, anyone?). Luckily Andy was there to shrug it off. Earthquakes and small volcanic outbursts are nothing new on these shaky isles. Better get used to it!
Besides, nothing keeps me going like the promise of a Lord of the Rings filming location ahead.
We finally came to the sign for the path to Mangawhero Falls. Given the conditions, luckily it was a short hike.
The view from the platform at the top of the falls was jaw-dropping.
Scenes from Ithilien were also filmed not far from here. My inner nerd rejoiced! I don’t think even Smeagol would want to fish this time of year, though.
Not far down the path, we got a stunning view of the 28-meter (92-foot) Mangawhero Falls.
With the snow framing the gorgeous falls and not a soul in sight (except that guy in the next picture), it felt like we’d entered some other world entirely.
That guy is Andy. Surprise!
A snowy rainforest never ceases to amaze me. Such a beautiful and unexpected contrast, since I always picture rainforests as tropical. Not so!
It was time to head back down, and we made the call just in time. Look at the sky up ahead:
Sadly, no kiwis this time of day, just a Kiwi-Brit.
Seconds before we reached the car, the skies opened and hail began to bucket down. Hopping lighting fast into the car, we made the descent toward Ohakune as snow began to fall heavily. Because of the serpentine road, it was scary to say the least. NZ roads can be slightly iffy, and when you add snow to that mix, no thanks! We began to slide on a sharp turn, but Andy is a good (and calm) driver; we made it back to Ohakune very slowly, but safely.
Warm by the fire in our chalet, we watched the snow fall outside, blanketing everything.
I couldn’t have been happier. We’d heard there was maybe snow in the forecast, but didn’t expect it to fall this low down. What an awesome anniversary surprise! Wellington only gets a dusting of snow every few years, so it’s a novelty to us sea-level dwellers. I often miss the excitement of the first snow of the year back in New England, so this felt like the best of both my homes.
Time to explore with Higgs!
He loved it, especially when he found out he could both chase AND eat snowballs.
“Put me DOWN, Mom!”
Our street was slowly becoming entirely white with snow.
And the previously autumnal view out the back window was now looking decidedly wintery.
We bundled up that night and walked into town for a great dinner at a local restaurant, complete with roaring fire. Cheers to two years!
The next morning, we woke to a winter wonderland.
Sadly, it was time to make the drive back to Welly. I had to capture the sunlight streaming into our epic chalet before we left. Andy and I (and Higgs, silently) agreed that we’d love to have a house exactly like this one day. The size and layout were perfect, and the fireplace heated the whole place.
The dining room was maybe the best room in the place.
Farewell, beautiful mountain home! Thank you for a perfect anniversary. We’ll be back (as soon as your high season prices go down).
Up next, slightly warmer environs as Andy and I visit Kelsey B in Sydney!