Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Tongariro Northern Circuit

The two fat blokes and their entourage (minus a couple from GBI plus an extra picked up along the way) departed at 7:15am on a misty moisty morning from the hostel at National Park along with about 20 others who had all stayed at the Hostel the previous night. After a short drive we were deposited at the trail head at Mangatepopo. There was already a steady steam of walkers that had been deposited by other buses heading off. There was only our group and one or two others with large packs doing the 3 or 4 day circuit, all the others were doing the Tongariro Crossing regarded as the best day walk in New Zealand.

Most of our group have walked in a wide range of weather conditions over many years and we were more than a little surprised by the lack of equipment and water that most of the day walkers were carrying or not carrying. The weather for the day itself did not look all that fine but still there was an apparent lack of gear.

The landscape reminded me of Scotland (not that I, as the poor member of the two fat blokes team, have ever visited that exotic land) and, as it turned out later, the purple flowers scattered amongst the rocks and coming and going from view with the cloud whipping past was heather, Calluna vulgaris, imported to remind the poor British souls of their beautiful homes that they had left behind. It is now a rampant weed within the National Park

After a short walk we came to the turn off to Soda Springs which we all visited. It was then up and more up as the track climbs up the saddles where for those keen walkers you can detour to the summits of Tongariro and/or Ngauruhoe. Two of our group, with too much energy, decided to peak bag Tongariro. We more sensible people headed over the crest of the ridge, about 1860m, to get out of the cold wind and to the great views of the red crater and for a spot of lunch. To sit there for a 30-40 minutes and watch the changing views of red crater and Ngauruhoe with the wind whipping the clouds past was a wonderful thing for a person who has no active volcanoes, and their barren landscapes, anywhere close to their home.

The descent down the loose volcanic scree slope was quick and easy. A stop at the Emerald Lakes with the earth close by emitting a constant stream of sulphurous gases was interesting. The others headed along the track to Blue Lake while I cut across the valley floor to admire the parallel runs of solidified lava flows. Very interesting photography. After getting back on the track and meeting up with the others at a high point over looking Blue Lake we headed down the never ending ziz zag track to our accommodation for the night, Ketetahi Hut.

A good night with an interesting mix of people from around the world and informative DOC Ranger/Hut Warden.

The next morning, we had to climb some 300ms meters back to Blue Lake which was a bit disappointing after losing that height the previous day the day. Lance, the other half of the two fat blokes’ famous team, had organised the itinerary and did a fantastic job. Due to the completely different weather conditions we had the opportunity to see the Red Crater with a backdrop of Ngauruhoe which we had only seen fleeting glimpses of the previous day. I headed back up the loose scree slope, the others thought that was pretty strange after already going up some 300m from the hut but it was a once a life time chance to see the different two faces in two days.

After sitting up there for half an hour or so I descended back to the track junction at Emerald Lakes to find the group had headed of to Oturere Hut for lunch. It is a very interesting walk though lava flows before descending a nose of one flow to a valley floor. You must stop regularly on your descent and take in the changing views of Red Crater and Ngauruhoe. Wonderful constantly changing vista.

I arrived at the hut at 13:00 for a welcome cup of tea and some rejuvenating food. We departed the hut at about 14:00 and headed for our night’s accommodation at Waihohonu Hut. We arrived at this very large and brand new hut after another varied and interesting walk at about 5:00 pm, enough time to set up our bunks, brew up a cup of tea and have a wander around outside to take in the new vistas of the mountains.

Waihohonu Hut reminded me a little of the new Windy ridge hut on Tasmania’s Overland track, large, modern well built with too much space. Both huts have very large kitchen dining areas that lack the crowded intimacy and group conversations that the older smaller and consequently crowded huts seem to generate.

Last day’s walk passed the original Waihohonu Hut which is a lovely historical hut. After that it really was a bit of a trudge all the way back to Whakapapa Village, particularly the last 2 hours along the newly “hardened” track from the turn off to Tama Lakes.

A quick bus ride back to the Hostel at National Park and then an easy 2 day drive back to Auckland completed another varied and interesting walking trip to New Zealand’s North Island.

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