Taranaki: a Tramp of Trials and Truimphs

Although us interns are eager learners and hard workers, occasionally we do enjoy a trip off the old Castlecliff block. A few weeks ago, John the Intern and I decided to engage in our first real Kiwi travel adventure, a trek around New Zealand’s most-climbed mountain, Mt. Taranaki. We chose to follow the upper-level circuit, a route that circumnavigates the volcano through alpine meadows and scrubby ridges, as well as temperate rainforest, flooded gorges and gravelly slips.
The four-day adventure began with a hitchhike out of Wanganui. After putting our best thumbs forward for 45 minutes, we finally secured a ride. Our hitch was a very enthusiastic man, an off-duty truck driver that loved racing down the winding country roads at 120 kph. After bringing us to his daughter’s house for a cup of coffee, he insisted on delivering us straight to the trailhead. Unfortunately, he did not have the best grasp of the area, and we ended up missing our turn several times and driving a complete loop around the mountain; we didn’t get on the trail until 2:30 pm. To top it all off, we ended at the wrong visitor’s center, and since it was a Tuesday, it was closed and we were unable to secure ourselves a map. Instead we sketched a rough one of our own on a scrap of paper borrowed from the visitor sign-in log.

Since our drop-off landed us a couple hours further from our destination hut, we started strong and booked it toward Holly Hut. It was quite hard to judge our position relative to the hut, as two signs that were an hour’s worth of hiking apart both reported the hut as being 3.5 hours away. We finally rolled in around 8:15 pm, with very little remaining daylight. A nice Belgian couple greeted us, and we discussed our respective trips, made dinner, and went to bed.

The next day we had a bit of rain, meaning soggy shoes and clammy clothes. However, we saw some incredible temperate rainforest and gained some decent altitude, and the warm crackle of a wood fire that welcomed us at our second hut made it all worth it. The man who made the fire also greeted us, standing naked in front of the hut when we arrived! His name was Mario, a native Austrian turned German army man who claimed to beat all the estimated hiking times on his map by two hours. Waiaua Hut had a great view of a gorge below, and afforded us a restful night’s sleep and the opportunity to dry our gear before completing our circumnavigation of Mt. Taranaki.

The third day started with a rapid ascent to a narrow ridge: it was just wide enough to house the trail with a tree on either side, and sloped abruptly to oblivion just beyond. We continued to climb on hands and feet, onward and upward, as my calf muscle conveniently deciding to start seizing up.

Nevertheless, we continued onward, and decided to make the quick jaunt up Fantham’s Peak and stop for lunch at the summit. Let me tell you, this was the hardest I have ever worked for lunch in my life. Mario was quite ill-informed when he estimated that the trek would take about 20 minutes; I guess the trail maps warn “not to scale; not to be used for navigation purposes” for a reason. After a long set of wooden steps that I affectionately look back on as the Stairway to Hell, the trail became a field of volcanic gravel, or scree, situated on a 45-degree or steeper incline. My chosen method of ascent was to take two steps up, slide back one, complain, take a deep breath, and repeat. John fared quite a bit better, scrambling steadily up and patiently waiting for me at the trail posts and boulders where it was safe to rest.

We finally arrived at the top of the major rise, and mutually decided that was a sufficient stopping point. To our left rose the much higher peak of Taranaki, whose presence demanded ever more respect after the comparatively minor ordeal we just endured. In of us stretched a blanket of billowy clouds and the farm country below, and behind us was a rocky ridge of what looked like jagged teeth. We had run out of water and decided not to continue on, but we found out later that just a little farther on, at the true summit, was a hut! Anyway, we finished the third day as we descended down to Dawson Falls once again.

We had completed our loop in three days, while most people take 4-5. We camped out the third night, and finished off the final day by hiking over to North Egmont (the British name for the mountain) Center for a hitch home. When we came to the sign for the Taranaki Summit Track, we decided somewhat disappointedly that there wasn’t time, or the wherewithal in my left calf and knee, to make it to the top and back in time for a hitch home. However, with all things considered, it was quite a successful feat. The rewards far outweighed the trials, and primed us for further tramping adventures in the coming months.

– A. Lamb Down Under

Local Currency Rocks!

Over the past few months the global economy has ridden a roller coaster ride of spiking and easing prices on everything from oil, to currencies, food commodities. While this has led to lack of confidence in major economic systems, it has also led to rising interest in Local Exchange and Barter Systems and Alternative Currencies.

We are fortunate here in Wanganui to have a local currency system in place. Our local currency is called the River Exchange and Barter System, or REBS for short. Our network is made up of 162 members who offer a wide range of services, from childcare to gardening to electrical work. The network averages over $3,000 worth of trades per month with over $200,000 in trades occurring since the system’s birth.

Local currency is one key way of building resiliency in a community. It helps community members realize the wealth of services available locally, and also helps identify community weaknesses. We seem to have a glut of gardeners in our system, but no plumbers. We work hard to support the REBS system by allowing our workshops to be paid for in REBS and using those REBS to then buy food and other goods at the market. It is a definite win-win.

I thought I might give a glimpse at some recent news stories that centre on alternative currencies and local exchange and barter systems.

Here’s one from the New York Times:

Amid Recession, A Return To Bartering
The New York Times – December 8, 2010.
“The concept of bartering often conjures an aura of myth: Jack’s storied magic beans,… [but] in the wake of the recession, bartering has captured a renewed interest among the cash-strapped or habitually thrifty… The hope is that not only will people benefit from an experience achieved through cashless means, but that they’ll also widen their career circles as well.”

And another from the U.S.:

Slow Money’s Gaining Momentum
The Concord Patch – February 1, 2011,
“Imagine if you could buy a cup of coffee from Starbucks in your town at a discount with local community money…The concept of local dollars isn’t new and was used briefly during the depression to stimulate spending in local communities. Slow Money, founded by Woody Tausch, is modeled on the 20-year old slow food movement and promotes investing in small food enterprises and local food systems.It also focuses on connecting investors to their local economies…”

And here’s one from across the pond:

Totnes: Britain’s town of the future
The Guardian – Sunday 6 February 2011
“Totnes in Devon might be the most forward-thinking eco settlement in the world. As fossil-fuel reserves dwindle and the economy contracts, will resident-led Transition Towns become the way that we all live?
…A local currency is central to the Transition plan. ‘Think of a leaky bucket,…any time we spend money with a business that’s got more links outside the community than in it, we leak money from the local economy. What local currency does is allow that wealth to bounce around in that bucket.’ “

And talk of a regional currency right here in Austral-asia. Not quite an alternative currency, but interesting nonetheless:

Businesses keen on common economic zone
“Many New Zealand businesses think the idea of a trans-Tasman currency and economic zone is hot… MYOB’s business monitor surveyed over 1000 local businesses on possible policies ahead of this year’s election and the concept of a common economic zone and currency with Australia garnered one of the most surprising responses…Forty-two per cent of Kiwi business owners surveyed were in favour of the concept”

And finally the local currency system developed by some creative youths in the U.K.:

Fruit is becoming ‘alternative currency’ in youth prison

The Independent – Monday, 31 January 2011,
“Children in young offender institutions in England and Wales are often given poor-quality food, leaving some so desperate for healthy meals that fruit has become an alternative currency in one prison…Young offenders are able to purchase additional food, including bags of fruit, from prison shops… Some boys bulk-buy fruit and exchange it for phone cards.”

Perhaps the end of summer is not the time to set up a fruit-based exchange system, with peaches and nectarines in surplus right now. But during the winter I could see this currency rivaling REBS in value. Happy Trading!

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