After we'd visited Whakapapa when my Dad and Judy were here (photos might appear on this blog at some point), we decided we hadn't visited Tongariro national park nearly enough and that we should come back soon. The last part of the Tongariro Northern Circuit (done in the usual direction) looked about right: spectacular scenery, a long enough day to feel you'd accomplished something — and good practice for the Abel Tasman Coastal Track that we're doing at Easter — but not too arduous.
So we picked a weekend, made some bookings and watched the weather forecast nervously. The week leading up had terrible weather — Palmy got an average February's worth of rain in one day — but the forecast was for the weekend to be good, and so it turned out to be.
We drove up on the Friday night, and stayed in one of Whakapapa Holiday Park's cabins, which was nice enough but we couldn't help thinking that it would have been terribly cold in winter (and Whakapapa is a ski resort!).
We didn't get going quite as quickly as we'd have liked, but by 9:15 or so we were well underway, and taking our first picture of the many we took of Ngauruhoe.
It was clear enough that Taranaki was easily visible to the west.
As we were standing above the Taranaki Falls, we saw smoke from fires at the top of the Whakapapa ski area.
We later read that this was arson. Hard to imagine why people do these things.
As we walked on, the clouds were formed into quite spectacular formations, almost perfectly centered on Ruapehu.
Emma got quite excited by some of the ripples in the clouds.
Something to do with the interaction between two air masses, I think.
We walked on towards the Tama saddle, with Ngauruhoe still dominating the view.
We took the ten minute side trip from the main track to visit the lower of the Tama Lakes.
It's pretty, and a remarkable colour, but it didn't convince us to take the extra hour it would have taken to get to and from the upper lake. The walk to and from the Tama lakes is a popular day tramp from Whakapapa village, and we'd seen quite a lot of people on the path, some utterly inappropriately equipped for where they were. Trainers, shorts, a t-shirt and a bottle of water isn't really enough for three hours walk into a decidedly alpine environment, even in summer. It was almost enough to wish for a chastening flurry of sleet, but the weather was determinedly fine. After we left the lake, heading into the more remote side of the mountain, we saw noone until we got to the hut
The top of the saddle much more featured topographically than we'd expected; the route description implied that the walk went gently up to the saddle, then gently down to the hut, but this missed out on some up and down near the top, some of which was pretty severely eroded.
After half an hour or so of this sort of stuff, we finally got a view to the east, towards the Rangipo desert.
See that little patch of forest on the near horizon? That's where we're going.
Along the way we found some charcoal in the deposits.....
Looks like a tree or tree stump was burmed during an eruption some time ago, and the new cut of the path had exposed it.
As we got close to our destination, we passed the old Waihohonu hut, built in 1904 and one of the first mountain huts in New Zealand.
There were pictures outside of horses and coaches, and it was hard to imagine how they got there given what the approach looked like today.
Crossing the Waihohonu stream meant that we were all but at the new hut.
There's a side to Kiwi tramping that's really quite civilised. Walks generally allot 4-5 hours walking to a day, which with stops for lunch and photos might expand to 6 or so, but this still means that if you get a nicely early start, you get to your destination by mid-afternoon. And then you're staying in a hut, so you don't have to faff around with tents and such, giving plenty of time to relax and sit next to the river and look at the mountains.
Unfortunately, it clouded over too much for the sunset to be as impressive as we were told the one the night before had been.
There's not much to do in a hut after it gets dark and you want to get away early the next morning in any case so by nine fifteen or so we were tucked up in bed.
I'm not going to post so many photos from the second day, partly because we were covering the same ground as the day before and partly because the weather was like this for much of the day:
I am going to include a photo of a bed of pumice that we saw:
It's a little strange, it looks a bit like several hundred square feet of rabbit droppings.
We didn't take any side trips on the way back and walked a bit faster than the day before, but we were still happy to see Whakapapa village come into view.
The weather brightened up considerably for the last bit of the walk.
We were back in Whakapapa by three thirty or so, which meant we had time for a coffee before setting off back home, a little tired but happy with our weekends exertions.