New Zealand days 24 to 26, Tongariro Northern Circuit

Wednesday January 22, Oturere Hut, Tongariro Northern Circuit day 1

No rain! Bus from our motel at 7:30 to the start of the track. The hills were in low cloud and mist. We got underway just before 9:00. Today’s walk was all above the tree line. The landscape is tussock and volcanic rock. Unfortunately, no views today. Much of the time we could not see more than 50m and sometimes half that. As we climbed the wind picked up, the temperature dropped and the mist thickened. The wind was forecast to be gusting to 65 kph at the top, and it was. We were glad to have warm, waterproof gear and hiking poles. We took few photos. The steaming craters were hidden by mist although we could smell the sulphur.

Many day hikers doing the one-day Tongaririo Crossing turned back. It was surprising how many were under-equipped in spite of large signs at the start warning hikers to have gear for bad weather. We saw people hiking in jeans with no rain pants, running shoes and even cotton sweatshirts. They would be very cold by the end of the day, risking hypothermia.

Much work has been done on the track since we walked it eight years ago, much of the work to handle the increasing number of day hikers. Many steep places now have wooden steps to help reduce erosion and the work is ongoing. We passed two crews building new sections.

Once over the highest point near Red Crater and the Green Lakes, our route turned south and descended on an old lava flow to a broad plain full of volcanic rocks and black sand. The wind dropped and the mist lifted a bit. We even had moments of sunshine and we took pictures. It was a desolate but beautiful area.

The Oturere Hut was small, full and crowded, but the sun came out from time to time and area is lovely. In the evening heavy showers replaced the sunshine and the wind came up.

Thursday January 23, Waihohonu Hut, Tongariro Northern Circuit day 2

The wind howled on Wednesday night, shaking the hut. It was still blowing hard this morning. Gusts at the peak of the crossing we did yesterday were predicted to be 85 kph today. I’m glad we did it yesterday when the wind was “only” 65 kph.

Although windy and cold, the morning was sunny. It was a short three-hour walk to the Waihohonu Hut. The landscape continued open, desolate and lovely. We took our time, although the wind was strong and gusty. Hiking poles were a help. We arrived at the Waihohonu Hut just past noon. In contrast to the last night’s hut, this one is large, spacious and new.

In the afternoon after leaving our packs at the hut we walked to a nearby spring in a valley sheltered from the wind. Without the wind the sunshine was warm and we enjoyed being lazy by the clear stream flowing from the spring.

Friday January 24, Whakapapa Village, Tongariro Northern Circuit day 3, end of the walk.

A sunny, cool and windy day. We were up early as the walk to the end of the circuit at Whakapapa Village is 5 hours and we had a bus to catch at 13:45. More open rocky and gravel landscape, again beautiful. Not a difficult day with a long gradual climb and a few steeper ups and downs. We were in forest for a short descent into a valley about half way through the day then up to open rock and gravel for most of the rest, and briefly into forest again for the last half kilometre into town.

Mount Ruapehu dominated the landscape for most of the day.

The walk took 4.5 hours including a short side trip to see Lower Tama Lake, a vivid green lake in an old crater. That left time for coffee and lunch at a cafe in Whakapapa Village before the bus to Rotarura. Amazing how good real espresso coffee tastes after a few days without.

Mts Tongariro and Ngauruhoe on the crossing were shrouded in cloud much of the day. Only while driving out on the bus in the afternoon did the cloud lift giving a good view of where we had been in the first day.

It was a great three days. The weather was awful at times but the stunning landscape made up for that, and we enjoyed the challenge.