The Nakasendo – Tsumago

On the subject of forgotten highways, we’re going to Japan now for a slow journey down the Nakasendo. The Nakasendo is the old highway in the main island of Honshu, Japan. It stretches between the ancient capital Kyoto and, at the time, the newer centre of Edo (now modern-day Tokyo). I’m only walking a small 8km stretch between the two mountain towns of Tsumago and Magome. Both of them are located in the Kiso Valley, north of Nagoya, and both of them have an extensive collection of heritage buildings.

Tsumago is the better preserved. The fact that they’ve managed to bury all their overhead cables means that on the surface it hasn’t changed much in appearance since samurais walked the streets. You can see the mountains looming close by. In winter this place inevitably gets cut off from the outside world by many feet of snow.

A journey into the mountains...

The buildings are all made of hardwood and the streets still cobblestoned. All in all, in makes for a very quaint atmosphere, in a quiet, Japanese kind of way.

Tsumago in the Kiso Valley

Mind you, it isn’t always this deserted. Because of it’s heritage status it’s really a tourist village and no one (except for a few inn-keepers) actually lives here anymore. I didn’t stay in the village but close by, and was able to come back early one morning before the tourist hordes arrived.

The Forgotten Highway – New Plymouth

It was very late in the day when I entered New Plymouth. I was so exhausted that I went straight to bed. I did make an effort to see the town the following morning. I walked the foreshore walkway alongside pebbly beaches. Just think that across that stretch of water is Australia.

New Plymouth

That’s the end of my journey down the Forgotten Highway. Not quite forgotten, at least not by me.

The Forgotten Highway – A Glimpse of the Mount

Over yet another saddle, and I got my first glimpse of Mt Taranaki, with its distinctive cone. Reminds you of another mountain, a famous one in Japan perhaps? Well you’re not the only one as the producers of The Last Samurai thought exactly the same thing and hence shot most of that distinctly Japanese film in the Taranaki region. I stopped for a late lunch at a hilltop cafe not far from this point, where Mr Cruise and family apparently helicoptered in for afternoon tea one day. Such Hollywood excess.

Mt Taranaki

The Forgotten Highway – Volcanoes

The Forgotten Highway is a 150km road linking the two volcanic regions of Ruapehu and Taranaki. It’s a bit of an adventure because it traverses thick rainforest, a few mountain passes, and a one-way tunnel. To top it off the middle 30km or so is unsealed.

I must say that I couldn’t really enjoy the drive that day because I was coming down with the flu. It made the trip even more interesting as I was trying to get to New Plymouth as quickly as I could without driving myself off the road. But I did take quite a few rest stops.

The first was at the top of Strathmore Saddle, which gave me a great view of the volcanoes in Tongariro National Park (namely Mt Ruapehu, Mt Tongariro, and the cone-shaped Mt Ngauruhoe. Being early August, the peaks had a good covering of snow on them.

The Forgotten Highway

The Forgotten Highway – Waitomo

I’m starting a new sequence of posts today about one journey I took through New Zealand back in 2004. Yes, there’s certainly a wealth of photos from that trip (as with all my trips to NZ), simply because it’s such a stunning country to photograph.

This journey was in the west of the North Island, from Waitomo to New Plymouth. Waitomo is famous for its extensive cave system, many of which contain glow worms. Seriously, you’ve never seen glow worm caves like these before, because they are large, and they are very, very wet.

Access is via a number of means. The more adventurous go caving, which includes abseiling 20 or so metres into an abyss, or white water rafting. I went via the most placid form, on an aluminium boat, but the caves were still spectacular.

Of course, it’s almost impossible to take photos of glow worms, but here is one of the tributaries of the Waitomo River that runs through the caves, which made just as pretty a picture.

Ruakuri Walk

Icelandic Sounds

Ever since I bought Bjork’s 90’s classic album, Post during my uni years, I’ve had a fascination for Icelandic music and Iceland in general. One of my dream holidays as a photographer would be to go to Iceland, but while that remains a pipe dream (for now) I have gotten closer to that mystical island through the music of Bjork and Sigur Ros.

Today I discovered the music of Sigur Ros’s lead singer, Jonsi. My first listen of Jonsi’s first solo album, Go left me so joyful that it lifted me out of the slump I’d been in for much of the morning. It’s a heady combination of Jonsi’s falsetto, lush orchestration, and a sense of optimism that I really rarely hear in modern music nowadays. While I describe most of Sigur Ros’s music as optimistic melancholy, the music of its lead singer is positive and joyful.

Just have a look at this:

I might have only listened to this album once, but for me this will end up being my ‘album of the year’. Which makes me glad to have bought tickets to Jonsi’s show at the Enmore Theatre in early August. Judging by what’s on the album and the reviews of the album and his gigs online, it’s going to be stupendous.