Monday, April 27, 2015

ANZAC Weekend: Tongariro Northern Circuit

What did we get up to this ANZAC Weekend? We completed the 1st of the Great Walks, the Tongariro Northern Circuit. This is a trip we had originally planned for over Christmas Weekend, but I decided to get my eyes corrected instead. So we changed the date of our hut booking til this weekend.

Beth and I packed our gear for a 3 day tramp with us overnighting in Waihohonu and Mangatepopo Huts. So we left Kinloch early Saturday morning to drive to Whakapapa Village, the start of the circuit. We started our 18km walk into Mordor with a stop at Taranaki Falls and Lower Tawa Lake before we arrived at the 4.5 year old Waihohonu Hut. This 40 person hut was equipped with solar powered lights and water heating. It also had a wood fire stove that heated the sleeping areas.

Beth and I talked to a couple from Auckland, who were about to complete the circuit. The husband, Dave, was also a keen cyclist. We talked about different rides around the country and how we have an expensive hobby. We also talked to Sally, the DOC Ranger stationed here as the Hut Warden, about kayaking in the area. She had a lot of cool advice about how to get to some cool spots with geothermal activity. We'll have to take our kayaks out to these spots once they have been delivered. Oops. Did I let the cat out of the bag? My friend, Graeme, contacted me shortly after moving to Kinloch about having some kayaks for sale as he doesn't use them much. Beth and I have been looking for some for awhile and just pulled the trigger on buying some. I may have also picked up another bike as well.
Morning at Waihohonu Hut
Morning sun on Mt Ruapehu

Walking into Mordor

Ground view of the Emerald Lakes
The next morning we started out on the frost covered ground towards the Okurere Hut through some remarkable forest. It was surprising to see the dense trees while in a desert. We worked our way up and down multiple ridges and were treated with amazing views of Mt Ruapehu and Mt Ngauruhoe. We made it to the hut after working our way across some barren land and some steep ridges. We stopped at Okurere Hut for a quick bite to eat and a toilet break before starting to tackle the most difficult section of the Circuit. We had to force our way up the scree past the ill-prepared tourists that flocked to do the spectacular Tongariro Alpine Crossing. This was a heart pumping, 1 step up/slide back 2 while being batted around with at least 70km per hour winds, slog of an ascent. We witnessed people loosing gloves while taking photos and having the garment fly into the crater. One German tourist was posing on the ridge with her jacket off and her jacket started to go over the edge and she dove after it. She luckily grabbed it without falling in with it. I can't recall the sheer number of people wearing shorts, jeans, cotton hoodies, carrying no water or food, shivering at the negative number windchill, and snapping photos without paying attention to their surroundings.
Emerald Lakes

After the slog up, it was a rocky stretch to Cathedral Rock, then through Red Crater, before descending Devil's Staircase. It was then a short walk with some elevated boardwalks and crushed stone paths that we made it to Mangatepopo Hut. This was a much smaller hut than our previous night, but it didn't lack for charm. We talked to a fellow American, who has lived here for the past 7 years, who works for ACC. She and her friend were up from Wellington and had originally planned to do the walk in 3 nights, but with the poor forecast they decided to push for 2 nights instead. Sunday night, the winds kicked up and the rain started.
Leaving Emerald Lakes

Beth and I left the hut early as the rain was supposed to get harder. It was supposed to get to 100 km per hour winds and downpours as the day wore on. We did have non-stop rain and gusts of wind when we were exposed, but much of the hike was spent in ravines. Today we saw almost nobody on the trail, which isn't unexpected with the weather, but there were a few intrepid runners who graced the trail this morning. We made it back to the car after some 48kms and tried to find some dry clothes as rain gear can only hold out so much water. I learned the lesson to keep a dry set of clothes in the car in the future.
Mt Doom

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