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Te Araroa – Taumarunui to National Park

or Christmas with the Volcanoes …

I start again the morning of the 22nd, under a blue sky and a hot sun, hoping that my legs will be as happy as my head to be back on the Trail. I have to say I don’t start to walk strait away… I first hitchhike the 20 km to Owhango… I don’t really want to test my shins after 2 days of taking care of them by walking 4 hours on tar-sealed road… so I get a ride. (I am starting to feel a strong guilt creeping up inside me about skipping even those road parts… I’ll write a post about it later to explain my point of view and why I am experiencing a shift about that…) I walk this part alone. After 52 days on the trail, I can count the days I’ve hiked solo on one hand only… and I feel very happy about some much needed solo time.

The 42 Traverse is a nice cycle track gently winding its way up in the forest, offering some views on the volcanoes and the headwaters of the whanganui River. I am very much enjoying this walk, and my chins get better as I walk. I do a good 27km that day, and camp right after wading the Mangatepopo River. I get the lovely company of a family of Blue ducks in the evening… Magic… The next day I wake up at 6am and enjoy breakfast, watching the sun coming over the hill. I am blessed with another beautiful day. Today is a short day, walking the last bit of the Waione/Cokers Track and joining up with State Highway 47, with a small detour that takes me (through some gorse) to the Te Porere redoubts. The volcanoes are majestically dominating the landscape, and I can feel a good deal of excitement gaining me as I walk closer and closer… I stay at the campsite called Tongariro Base Camp and have a half day off there to organise the next few days. The Tongariro Crossing is usually walked from south to north by most people. If I want to follow the T.A route South Bound (SoBo), I would walk the other way around. As much as I love the idea of going against the tide, this would not work with my plans… Considering it is busy holiday season, the Mangatepopo Hut and campsite are fully booked. so if I want to go SoBo, I’d have to walk all the way to Whakapapa. That’s a good 35km, and with the crossing and the possible climb of Mt Ngauruhoe, with a fully loaded pack, that’d be a very big day; Duable, but almost surely not enjoyable at the end…. so I decide to take the shuttle to do the Crossing the normal way (NoBo), go back to the campsite again, and the next day take the shuttle again to Mangatepopo carpark and walk SoBo from there. That way I don’t miss any part of the Trail but I divide it into reasonable sections. (and I get to hike with only a day pack on! woohoo!) I did the Tongariro Crossing 6 years ago when I first came to NZ, and the conditions were not the best, with basically the whole first half of the hike in a complete white out. So I am hoping for good weather today…. It rained during the night and when I get up at 5am the next day, it is cloudy… but 2 hours later when I start walking, the sun is out and the sky is clear! yes! The beginning of the track is easy, winding its way passed the hut and up to Soda Springs. Then up the Devil Staircase, which are a lot less devilish than I remember. And the views are already stunning. I get to South Crater early, and with this clear weather, it is the perfect opportunity to climb up Ngauruhoe… I am quite surprised by the number of people doing the climb… I was hoping to get out of the crowd for a bit… To get to the summit, it is a very steep (about 30°) ascent up a scree slope, and it takes me about an hour and a half to climb the 650m denivelation. About half way up, I look back down… and this is the time a part of me chooses to suddenly remember that I am slightly scared of heights…. hum .. I ask my legs not to get too shaky and keep on climbing. There are some patches of snow near the top, and the rocks turn red… and then, here it is… the crater of Mount Ngauruhoe. Wow, it feels amazing to be up here… The views are stunning and the energy emanating from the place is very strong and ancient… I wish I was alone up here to be able to sit in silence and connect with my surroundings… some young guys show a complete lack of respect, running around shouting, throwing rocks down into the crater, and leaving banana skins and cigarette butts (which I picked up). Do those people realize this is not a film set… that it is real, ancient and powerful, this is the closest we can be from the activity of our Planet… I personally think being here is a good lesson of humility, and that we human beings are just a little speck of nothingness in something much bigger than us… I walk back down when I start feeling a bit cold (I’m at 2291m). The walk down is more like skiing down, letting myself slide with the scree at each step.

Back on the Crossing. The weather is still fantastic as I walk through South Crater and up to Red Crater, and the view over the emerald Lakes on the other side is absolutely breathtaking. The clouds start rolling in as I walk across Central Crater, and I only get a short glimpse of blue lake through the mist… then it is a nice track winding down towards Ketetahi Hut, with some beautiful views over Lake Rotoaira and Lake Taupo in the distance, and the steam of Te Maari Crater on my right and Ketetahi hot Springs on my left… Back at camp in the evening, I go to sleep tired and happy about this amazing day on the Trail…!!! What a fantastic Gift to be up there on Christmas Eve!!! On Christmas day, I take the shuttle back to Mangatepopo carpark again, and this time I am very happy to leave the crowd and head south…

The track towards Whakapapa is beautiful. the alpine vegetation offers nice views down the valley. it is quiet. The low clouds and mild temperature are perfect hiking conditions. I love it. I take the detour to the Taranaki Falls, have my lunch break there, and walk to Whakapapa. There the Trail takes the well used Whakapapaiti Hut Track for a while, through some stunning alpine bog sections, then veers right into the Hauhungatahi Wilderness of to Tongariro National Park. Geoff Chapple must enjoy Robert Frost poetry, because when two roads diverge (in a wood or not), the Te Araroa always takes the one less travelled by… (and that DOES make all the difference). the one less travelled means here the muddy one… but the beautifu surroundings make up for it, with the majestic presence of Mt Ruapehu, even if I never got to see the summit as it is in the clouds … I get to Mangahuia DOC Campsite just before the rain, and spend the evening with Shane, a thru-hiker from Alaska, and Andy, a mountain trail runner from Lithuania, sharing hiking and running stories under the shelter.

It is a short 7km walk to National Park the next day, which I share with Shane. I meet up with Patrick, Graeme and Rebecca for a coffee and a treat, and hitchhike back to Taumarunui with Serina, Jorg,Eef and P-J, where we will start the Whanganui River Trip.

What a beautiful section of the Trail that was!

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