If you were to ask me what my favourite place in New Zealand is, you’d probably get an answer giving my list of top 5 places in the country – trying to pick just one favourite has always been too hard.
But, if you were to press, and ask me really and truly, what place fills me some of the greatest wonder… well my answer would be that it’s not a specific place, but actually… a road.
The Desert Rd (on State Highway 1) carves through the centre of the North Island. From Turangi through to Waiouru, running through the Central Plateau, this road is unlike any place I’ve ever known.
Often closed during the winter months due to snow, ice, and generally unfriendly weather conditions, the Desert Road runs through National Park, the home of the mountains Ngauruhoe , Tongariro, and Ruapehu. It’s also the base of the NZ Army and they perform a large amount of their manoeuvres there – look out for their camp at Waiouru and for the signs dotted around warning you not to wander around certain pieces of land – it’d be a good idea for you to heed those signs.
I have vague recollections of school camping trips to this region – of being marched for 7 hours hiking up and down mountains. Of tents filled with mosquitos and the first flush of boys trying to pull their not-so-smooth moves on the girls when the teachers weren’t looking. Of making cups of Milo over campfires and having out-of-bounds activities punished by dawn wake up calls and being told to stand in freezing cold lakes. And there was that one time… the group driven to a dense forest late in the afternoon, being given a compass and then told to find our own way out. Tired and cold we emerged the next morning – never really in any danger of dying, but collectively bitter about our perception of being thisclose death, all the same.
But it’s more than a pile of vague memories. This road is always a place of great reflection for me. In winter the rain roars down and I secretly hope for snow to start tumbling as well, to transform the wild landscape into something even more wondrous. During the summer months, the scrubby earth gives way to views of soaring mountains and endlessly bright blue skies. I’ll have the windows down, and I’ll be ready with music to blast from the car stereo, too, as the wind rolls through the windows around the cobwebs in my head and out again.
This road, this stretch of asphalt running through a desert which houses alpine plants and mountains and lakes and groups of schoolchildren just trying to stay alive…
This place might just be my favourite place in all of the land.