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Evan Hunter's Round The World Diary


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Friday, March 04, 2005

Tongariro Northern Circuit Day 2 - Mangatepopo Hut to Ketetahi Hut

I't decided to get going early today, to try to avoid the crowds of day walkers doing the Tongariro Crossing. (Apparently in summer, there can be over 500 people per day!)
I left the hut around 7:30, and headed up the gently sloping track. I followed a stream up through alpine tussock, and rocks, and after only about 15 minutes, was passed by the first day walkers (the first I saw anyway).
Coming to the head of a very steep sided valley, more walkers passed me, and I came to a fairly flat area, off to one side was soda springs, which was a waterfall cascade. The track became very erroded, with many many paths criss-crossing, as it ascended the steep ridge at the head of the valley.
As I was climbing, the view of the valley behind me in dawn colourswas very pretty, but as I reached the top of the ridge, Mt Ngauruhoe became visible, and was a very impressive sight. I had decided to climb to the summit of Ngauruhoe (this would also help avoid some crowds of day walkers), so took the side track, and dumped my pack, taking a day pack, and bum-bag.
The now sparse tussock quickly dissappeared altogether, as I climbed the first part of the mountain. Soon, I was scrambling up scree. After a while of struggling up the scree, I realisedthat there appeared to be two routes up - the scree, or, further to the left, a broken rocky ridge. The rocky surface was covered with a thin layer of scree, but was still a bit easier climbing. The scree slope, I realised, was actually the route down, not up.
As with Taranaki, the summit seemed close, the whole way up.
After a bit over an hour of rock scrambling, I reached the crater rim. The crater was very impressive - the first one I'd seen without vegetation. It was probably 100-200m across, and basically hemispherical in shape. I sat for a while admiring the view north over Mt Tongariro, where I could see Blue Lake, and even as far as Lake Taupo.
As I had reached the crater rim, I could see that it was not in fact the summit. There was an older, bigger crater, part of which was still visible to the east of the main crater, and the sumit was on it. I walked (and slid) down to the bottom of the guly formed between the old and new craters, then climbed up to the true summit. It was well worth it - there were amazing views of Ruepehu, the Tama Lakes, and the Rangipo Desert.
Starting down from the summit, I passed a steaming vent, which was a good reminder that the mountain is still very much active.
The top section of hte descent was difficult, with scree over rock. Soon though, the rock became localised to the ridge, and I was able to go down the scree slope. It was even better than Taranaki - nice and deep, allowing me to take huge sliding strides, almost at a run. I passed several people, and probably descended the greater part of the mountain in about 5-10 minutes. (I've since heard that people take worn out ex-hire skis up and ski down the scree).
After picking my pack up, and continuing along the main track, I soon found I was crossing a barren flat area surronded by mountains - the South Crater. Climbing steeply up the ridge on the far side, I eventually came to Red crater. There were quite a few people milling about here. The crater was quite spectacular - a deep ochre red, with what looked like a massive vent in it's side, apparently formed by a lava dam.
Climbing up to the top of the crater rim, I saw the Emerald Lakes - three tiny lakes which were an unnatural turquoise. I could also see a lot of people wandering around, sitting, eating lunch, taking photos, etc... The weather was about as good as you could hope for - clear blue skies.
After sliding down a scree slope from Red Crater to the lakes, I saw that the lowest lake didn't appear to have anyone at it, as it was a little off the main track, on the Oturere Hut track. I sat down text to it and had lunch. There were several steaming vents around the area of the emeralt lakes, and after a while, I noticed my eyes stinginga little due to the sulphur dioxide gas.
Surprisingly the lakes were not highly acidic or toxic, and there were even some weed like plants growing in the water (probably the only plants at that altitude in the area). After eating lunch, I soon moved on, to avoid the sulphur fumes.
After the Emerald Lakes, I found I was walking across the edge of another huge crater - Central Crater. The ground was flat, strewn with rocks, except for a large lava flow, which had impinged on the crater floor.
Climbing the far rim of Central Crater, I came to Blue Lake, which is much larger than the Emerald Lakes, and as the name suggests is blue, not turquoise. I walked slowly around it's shore, the day walkers were not so common now, as most had to catch busses at about 4:30.
The track left Blue Lake, and followed a gully between North Crater, and Blue lake. Vegetation re-appeared, and the trail contoured around, below the north crater, in tussock. Soon I could see Ketetahi Hut, as well as Ketetahi Springs, which appeared to be a rocky gully not far from the Hut, with huge clouds of steam billowing from it.
After several long switchbacks, down the grassy mountainside, I came to Ketetahi Hit. It has a greatview from the veranda, overlooking Lake Rotoaira, and in the distance, Lake Taupo.
After the last of the day walkers left the veranda, those who were staying overnight cooked diner, ate, and watched the sun setting on the mountains and lakes. There was a clear sky with lots of stars, and again, everyone went to bed early - before 9pm.
The scenery I saw today is probably the most striking and surreal that I have seen anywhere. It is an alpine volcanic desert, and much of the area looks like pictures of the surface of Mars. The views on a good day like I had, were fantastic.


Saturday, March 05, 2005

Tongariro Northern Circuit Day 3 - Kitehahi Hut to Waihohonu Hut

Last night the hut warden had been talking a little about off track options in the park, mainly as a day walk for some others. I decided this morning, that I would try going up to North Crater, then around to Mt Tongariro summit, back to Red Crater, the Emerald Lakes, and on to Waihohonu Hut.
The sunrise was very pretty, with clouds in the valleys and the sun lighting the sides of the mountains. Most people in the hut seemed to be sleeping in when I left at 8am. I walked back up the switchbacks, and could see that Kitehahi springs were hardly steaming at all.
Just after the top of the switchbacks, I left the track, and began climbing the alpine herb/tussock. It was slow climbing, trying to damage the plants as little as possible. There were many bare areas, where it looked almost like damage from trampers, but were most probably natural.
Eventually, I came to the rocky rim of the plateau, and could hear wind rushing around the rocks. As I crested the rocks, the wind hit me - it must have been around 80km/h, as it made walking a little difficult, and it was freezing cold.
I found myself on top of a circular flat plateau, almost free of vegetation, and strewn with small rocks. I walked over to the North Crater, on the other side of the plateau. It was similar to Ngauruhoe's crater. It felt good knowing that very few people make it to this area.
Skirting between the crater, and a ridgeline, I saw the first sign of people - a rock cairn. I walked around the end of the ridge, back into stunted vegetation, where I saw a set of footprints (probably the hut warden's). There were good views to the west.
I crossed a shallow valley, and started up the side of the summit of Tongariro. I thought I might be the first of the day to reach the summit, but as I crested the ridge, and walked the short distance to the true summit, I saw there were already half a dozen day walkers there. The views were great, but cloud was starting to come in from the west, and was catching on the peak of Ngauruhoe.
the walk to Red Crater, along the summit ridge was quite scenic too - there were great views across south crater to Ngauruhoe. The trail went up and down several peaks and dips on the ridge, past a few strange pillars of rock.
Red Crater and the Emerald Lakes were even more crowded than yesterday, I descended the scree to the bottom lake, and turned off toward OterereHut. As I did, I could see cloud sweeping in to engulf the peak of Red Crater.
From the Emerald Lakes, the track descended steeply toward the desert. I had lunch in the shade of a boulder, overlooking the desert.
Quickly descending off the mountain to the relatively flat desert, I was soon walking through a dry barren area with some dry grasses. Soon the grasses thinned, the ground became a grey sand (volcanic ash) in places and strange piles of boulders appeared everywhere. It had become quite hot, with little air movement. The clouds had not made it past the mountains, so the sky over the desert was pretty clear.
I soon came to Oterere Hut, where I met a couple (Malcom and Anne) I'd talked to last night. They had daken a route I was considering - down the ridge extending toward Oterere Hut.
After refilling my water bladder, I continued through the desert, now going across rivers . Climbing and descending over low ridge after ridge, the vegetation became sparser and sparser, now limited to about 10% coverage - mainly around the dry creeklines. The ground was now almost entirely sand, covered in places with small pebbles. I felt like I was getting sunburnt, despite having put sunscreen on.
In the distance, I could see a forest, and wondered how it could be growing in this baking desert. After some time, I reached the edge of the forest, which was an amazing sight, as one side of this gully had a lush beech forest, and the other side was dry desert. At the bottom of the gully, a fairly large creek flowed.
Crossing the creek, I was suddenly in the dark, cool beech forest. The trail climbed fairly steeply up over a forest covered ridge, then down the other side, where I found myself at Waihohonu Hut. The hut didn't really have views due to the forest, but that didn't matter anyway, as the clouds were low around Ruepehu and Ngauruhoe.
After cooking dinner, everyone again went to bed well before 9pm. I went down to the river after dark, and thinking it was only 20 or 30 metres, didn't put my bootson, and after gazing at the stars by the river for a little while, managed to stub my little toe painfully. After this, I went to bed


Sunday, March 06, 2005

Tongariro Northern Circuit Day 4 - Waihohonu Hut to Whakapapa

When I woke and dressed this morning, I found that I'd stubbed my little toe worse than I thought last night - I'd taken off a fair bit of skin. My heels were also quite cracked as they had been for a while, so putting on my boots, and the first bit of walking was a little painful.
Waliking down to the track junction with the 'Around the Mountain' track, there were low clouds that looked like rain pressing down to the ground level between me and the mountains, obscuring any view of them.
I dumped my pack at the track junction, as I wanted to see Ohinepango springs. Walking down the Around the Mountain track, I crossed a couple of creeks in sparse vegetation. Pretty soon, it started misting rain, and I stupidly hadn't taken my raincoat.
After about 20 minutes, I reached the springs, where therre was water surging out from under a moss covered rock in beech forest. The water was amazingly clear, tinted slightly green, and immediately formed a large creek.
After walking back to my pack, I set off for the Tama Lakes, and Whakapapa. I followed the trail up along a creek, in tussock grass. There were many very eroded areas, especially around side streams. The misting rain continued, and after a while, the clouds closed in, cutting visibility to just one or two hundred metres. Often there was a strong wind, driving the rain into my face, and after an hour and a half, I was getting fairly wet despite my rain gear.
The track crossed more and more creeks, with steeper ridges between, and after 2hrs 20mins, climbed a fairly steep hill to the Tama Lakes turnoff. I didn't bother stopping, as it was too cloudy and miserable to be worth it.
The walk back to Whakapapa from here was mostly along badly eroded creeklines in tussock. At one point, I dropped below the clouds, and could see a little further, and as I neared the Taranaki Falls turnoff, the rain stopped.
The Taranaki falls turnoff was at the start of a line of cliffs. I walked down the steep stairs into the forest, and shortly came out at the falls, which were quite pretty. Following the river downstream from the falls, the track ran through wet beech forest, and at one point crossed the river at a point where the water fell down a short waterfall into a pool cut deep into solid rock, with the bridge directly above.
As I neared Whakapapa, it started raining again, and I came back onto the track I'd started on. Since Tama Lakes, I'd seen quite a few walkers, some of them whom seemed very unprepared for the rain.
I reached Whakapapa, walked to 'Skotel' and retrieved my gear, then to the Visitors Centre to sign out of the walk. I changed out of my wet clothes, then sat and ate at the cafe for a while, whilst waiting on the bus which came at 4:15.
The bus went to National Park Village, then to the Kitehahi carpark. Amazingly some people had done the crossing day walk in the bad weather. One of the busses had broken down, so we all piled into a spare bus which had been brought.
After a brief stop at Taurangi, we continued on to Taupo.
At Taupo, I got off the bus, and found the 'Go Global' backpackers. I went out to find some dinner,after a shower, but couldn't find anything I felt like. Eventually I settled on Subway, and sat on the lake edge, watching the sunset while I ate. After this, I went to bed relatively early.


Monday, March 07, 2005

R&R in Taupo

This morning, I wandered around Taupo exploring a little. I bought breakfast at a bakery, then spent some time buying stuff like leather treatment for my boots, trying to find somewhere that could help me get some dust out of my camera lens, and using the internet.
After buying lunch at a cafe, I went to the cinema to see "Motorcycle Diaries". The cinema was tiny, as there were not many people seing the film - only 11 seats!. The film was quite good - despite being in spanish with english subtitles. It was interesting seeing some of the areas I want to go to when I reach South America, and to try to pick out some of the spanish words.
I went to the Pub below the hostel for dinner, and watched a little TV before bed


Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Taupo to Rotorua

This morning, I got up early, packed and went to the visitors centre, after buying some breakfast, I booked a shuttle bus for 9:30am to Rotorua.
As we drove north, there were a few areas near the road where there were clouds of steam rising from the trees. Coming into Rotorua, we passed by a hilly area where there was a large number of steam clouds coming from the trees and a creek - Waiotapu.
Arriving in Rotorua, I walked down to the "Treks" hostel, which is brand new, and very nice, and checked in.
I went for a wander in town, down to the lake, then back to the hostel, where I could now move my gear into the room. (it wasn't ready before)
After asking at reception, I walked a short distance down the road to a large park which had thermal pools. I wandered around the park for quite some time, as there were heaps of pools - probably over 30. The variety was amazing - there were pools only the size of a soccer ball, and one which was at least as big as an olympic swimming pool (but shallow). Some pools were filled with crystal clear water, some were filled with mud, some were deep, some were shallow. Some pools were just simmering with small amounts of steam, and others were vigourously boiling, with huge plumes of steam rising into the sky.
The thermal pools were not static either, there were several places where temporary fencing had been errected around an area where a pool had expanded, or a new one had formed. All the pools were about 30-50cm below ground level, and all emitted an unpleasant smell, but didn't sting my eyes or nose.
After the park, I went into town again, where I bought a second hand novel, spent ages trying to find something I felt like for lunc, and, as I was feeling quite tired, I went back to hostel, read my novel, and watched a little TV.
I had been intending to go to a Maori concert that evening, and to Waiotapu tomorrow, but I felt too tired to go to the concert, so I decided to go to Whakarewarewa tomorrow and see both concert and thermal activity in one place instead.
After visiting a supermarket late in the day, I cooked dinner at the hostel, then read before going to bed.

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