Tongariro Northern Circuit – drowned rats ahoy!

Skipping a week or so in the adventures just to try and catch up a bit (net time is being very elusive at the moment – just too many good things happening a little too quickly, and limited opportunities for getting online in between!)

Just back from being a very drowned rat on Tongariro N Circuit. It was a fantastic walk (tramp to any kiwi’s out there reading this!), but school groups should be banned!!! (Well, at least from just randomly turning up in huge groups and not booking into the hut system in advance!) It’s a long story – but involved doing most of the circuit in 2 days rather than 3 as I moved on to the Otuere Hut rather than staying the first night in the usual Ketatahi Hut. Now that’s not a clever move with lightweight boots and a heavy pack, but it was necessary if I wanted anywhere to sleep that night!, And of course that put me just the wrong distance from the Waihohonu hut – arriving there at lunch time gives the dilemma – to stop very early, or to carry on late…

The first day is also the Tongariro Alpine Crossing – rated as the best one day walk in the world, perhaps justifiably. But the downside of this is a lot of traffic – even on a day of relatively poor visibility. Taking a side trip to either of the two summits does get you away from the crowds for a bit, but being there after 2pm is best for a level of peacefulness, as that’s when the day-trippers need to be at the Ketati Hut by – or risk missing their transport out!

So back to the dilemma – speaking to the Waihohonu hut warden she reckons most folks do that section out to Whakepapa vilage in less than the 5.5hrs posted, and there was bad weather forecasted for Thurs am, so it made sense to carry on. Especially as the first sandflies of the tramp then found me!! But it ended up being 28km of walking that day, and the compromise I made on the walking boots (approach boots rather than proper walking boots, which would have probably been fine over three days) wasn’t so good over that distance in that time with that heavy a pack, and the blisters that developed as a result ended up making me arrive too late to get transport out of Whakepapa that evening.

But the Skotel (literally at the end of the track – on the Upper Taranaki Falls route) provided a very welcome backpackers bed (proper bed too – not a bunk!), a much needed beer, and the chef (Raj) was fantastic and rustled up a huge plate of garlic bread despite my having missed last orders!

The next morning dawned very wet and a bit windy, and the blisters seemed to be saying that’s it for walking. But then I got talking to some folks who had also finished the walk the previous day. All the info I’d had up til then was that folks don’t usually do the section between Whakapapa and Mangepopo Hut, but that now seemed a little misplaced. This group had done it, and said it had it’s own special character (they were right!) and it now seemed a little incomplete to leave the walk without doing this section. Despite the blisters and severe weather warning out there, it had to be given a go!

But the weather actually wasn’t half as bad as forecast, very little wind, albeit rather wet, and a sneaky move in leaving the heavy rucksack behind at the hotel to collect later made the blisters bearable. And that section was worth it – in many ways it felt a little wilder than the rest – although that was probably more down to the poor track maintenance on that section, rough weather, and the beauty of having the track entirely to myself without having to leave late enough that most other folks have already gone through!

Drowned rat at the end – mebbe, but certainly not an unhappy one! And many thanks to Annie of Adventure HQ whose shuttle service from Mangetepopo Roadhead at the far end made that last section possible – especially on a day when most of the shuttle services didn’t want to play, and had shut up shop due to bad weather!