Northern Circuit and then some

January 3rd, 2007

To start this year’s training, my dad, my sister and I did the Tongariro Northern Circuit which is 3-4 days worth of walking around Ngauruhoe, the volcano that stars as Mount Doom in the Lord Of The Rings films. Our first day was one dad and I had done before, 5 hours worth of ambling along through tussock and up, down and over gullies. The weather was great and it was an easy day, unlike last time when it rained the whole way and we called it quits that night. We stayed the night at Mangetepopo hut where the other two got the last mattresses inside and I finally got to use my tent outside. The Big Agnes Seedhouse SL 1. I got it from REI in America on the strength of a few reviews and slept in it indoors for a week after it arrived. Using it outside wasn’t much difference except I now had a pack to deal with. A possum came scavenging for scraps as soon as I turned off my torch so I moved the bag inside and found this to be a mistake in the morning. The tent is tapered so it gets thinner near the feet, but my sleeping bag is not. Moving down to make room for my pack meant the sides of my bag touched the tent walls and got damp in the night. I’m going to have to put the rain cover over the bag and leave it outside, when I put the tent up at all that is.
Day two started early to get up The Devil’s Staircase before the busses started dropping people off. Because the weather was so good and it was still in holiday season it was really busy and looking back from the top we saw that people just kept coming. The staircase is a hard climb but thanks to the gym at work and the stepper machine I was eating a second breakfast up the top before too long. Across South Crater (which isn’t really a crater) and up the ridge to look down into Red Crater then a fun descent towards Emerald Lakes. The descent is loose scoria and some people go down it very careful, scared of slipping or grazing a knee. But not me, I run down it. Digging your heels in upon landing means you can’t slip, and it is really cool to go bounding past everyone as they edge there way to the bottom. In the bright sunshine the lakes looked very pretty, of course they’re volcanic lakes and probably very poisonous, but one looked really spectacular for snorkeling in, it even had some sort of plants, but no animal life. Now we’re onto new territory. To make the trip into 3 days we skipped Kitetahi hut and took the turning to Ohtarere. We met a few people going up that ridge at about 2 in the afternoon, on a hot day, that must have been uncomfortable, going down was hard enough. We took a siesta at the hut and I dried out my tent and sleeping bag. I have to remember to set it up on grass rather than sand as the grit really sticks to wet material and since the material is so light I worry about it’s durability. The afternoon walk to the Waihohonu hut was quite nice. Wide open areas of volcanic landscape and a long ridge before dropping down to cross a river and climb through a beech forest and finding the hut. Our 2002 map was very wrong about this last bit and definitely plotted a southerly path over the hill but the path went west. There was no other path around and it was clearly labeled, but in this case having a bad map was worse than having none at all because it worried me to be going against what the map plotted. We got there anyway and again found that the good weather was making the circuit very popular and people had to cuddle up for dad and Ruth to get anywhere to sleep. My pepsi-stove and basic support worked well and the powdered milk on muesli wasn’t bad.
Day three featured the Tama Lakes and a gradually more and more people as we completed the loop passing the Taranaki Falls about an hour from the end. The others had to return to Auckland but I had nothing better to do so I started the Round The Mountain track heading off from Whakapapa village to Whakapapiti hut. At first the path enters a beech forest as a gentle stroll and crosses the golden falls where minerals in the rocks sparkle orange and are really quite a site. Then it gets steep and gradually winds up the hillside to a wide open plateaux and crosses a decent sized river. I found a spot where I could cross without getting wet as it was the end of the day and wasn’t keen to get a soaking on my first day out. The hut didn’t have any tent spots, and there was no flat ground to be found, so I slept inside that night, lame.
Day four I was really on my own. I didn’t see anyone from the moment I left the hut until after midday. I did a few river crossings, and though I could have rock-hopped across I took the time to wade through the icy water as practice for the Sierras where I won’t have the choice. My current boots don’t dry so well so I did it barefoot and dried off before carrying on. I didn’t take enough water and since The Cascades get their beauty from minerals in the water I decided against drinking it. Eventually I got to the Ohakune Mountain Road, but I wished I hadn’t. 3km trudging down hill and the road was melting below me, it really was sticking to my boots. The track started again I treated some water before finishing the last hour or so with a climb to Blyth Hut. Up above the hut was a great spot for southerly views, I couldn’t do it justice so I just took pictures looking up at the mountain above me. That night I slept on the deck, again no room for tents. Why do they sell tent tickets for back-country huts if there is no space to put up a tent? I used my emergency plastic sack as a water shield around my bag, but the condensation from inside meant it was wet in the morning. I was plenty warm enough and stayed dry myself despite some morning mist but the z-rest is no mattress and sleeping on that wooden desk was not comfortable.
day five and it was back the way I came for an hour. Then down the Old Blyth track. Not one for wet weather I think. Even after 5 days of glorious sunshine many places along here were water logged. I managed to clamber around most of it and was glad for the logs someone had laid over the rest. Trail crews really are worth their weight in pizza vouchers. I got back to the road again and since I’d managed to over sleep I didn’t time to dawdle, 9km to go and 3 hours. Not hard but if I missed that train I was truly stuck. Luckily the first vehicle that passed gave me a lift and I was at the bottom in 20 mins, time enough to stock up on food and dry out my stuff before getting the overlander back to Auckland.

Distance today: 0 miles. Total distance: -1 miles

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