North Island: Tongariro Northern Circuit

After a bit of a stressful start, visa coming in one day before our scheduled flight, just in time thanks to some lovely ladies at the immigration office,  we have landed in Auckland. Jack is attending a conference while I stay by a couchsurfing friend of mine and entertain myself with slacklining, climbing, drone-flying, pizza and ciders. I also use some time to buy a few last minute supplies for the big tramp and interview a Dutch vet who lives here.
At the end of the week we start hitching down south. It’s raining when we head out. But this might actually work to our advantage, call it the pity factor. It seems to work and a couple hours later we are already at lake Taupo. We have a lunch break and decide to hitch a bit further so we can start walking in the Tongariro National Park. It’s already getting late and it’s harder to get a ride. We finally get picked up by an interesting guy, who in hind sight might have been under the influence of something or is suffering the permanent damage from it. Jack needs to clear the front seat of some busty babes magazines while I am trying not to squash the bible that’s on the back seat.  I guess it’s clear where the priority lies. Anyway it’s a short ride and we got there in one piece. It’s dark by the time we reach the trail head and we climb the first section in the dark with our head lights. We find a nice flat spot to camp which as we would realize the next morning has a really nice view over Lake Taupo.

Our view from the tent early morning

Our view from the tent early morning

We pack the tent quickly as we are not allowed to camp here and head further up. It’s a steady climb for a couple of hours to the first ridge. The sun is already high up and it’s a clear blue sky. We’ll have some good views today. At the hut we fill up on water. There are some streams up here but it’s a vulcanic area and the strong sulfur smell makes me suspect the aqua taps won’t make this water more drinkable. As we get higher up the terrain change, here there are no more plants just loose rubble and lava rocks. Just over the second hill we catch our first glimps of Mount Ngauruhoe or better known, thanks to Peter Jackson, as ‘Mt Doom’. The red and grey rocks form a stark contrast with the blue sky and the white snow that still cover its peak. At the bodem you can see the lavatongue, a reminder that this is still an active vulcanoalthough the last eruption was in 1975. 

Mount Ngauruhoe a.k.a. Mount Doom

Mount Ngauruhoe a.k.a. Mount Doom

About half an hour later we reach the Emerald lakes. Its a beautiful sunny day and the place is crawling with tourists that just got dropped off at the other car park with the touring bus. They shuffle down the steep ridge line in a never ending train. We are the only ones going against traffic. The hill is very steep and covered in loose fine gravel so with each two steps I take I slide down about one step again. On the plateau we take a lunch break before heading down to the base of Mt. Doom. The climb to the peak is quite and exercise but the views are well worth it.
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The way down is very steep and loose gravel again. One guy is running down, that seems quite efficient. Maybe that’s a better way to do it. Then he falls. Maybe not…
We reach the hut around 5pm. We can’t stay though because the Northern circuit is one of the great walks and you actually have to book the huts and campsites ahead, which is expensive and we didn’t do that. So we grab some water and hike a bit further down finding a nice camping spot tugged away between the hills hidden by some tall grass. We have a great view of the mountains we crossed today as we cook the noodles with tuna and peanuts.
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The next morning continue the trail towards Whakapapa, which is pronounced as ‘Fuck a Papa’, so that’s easy to remember. The trail is very muddy and slippery. Jack slips and gets his feet wet. I’m still trying to prevent this. He suggest I should just embrace the mud. That’s easy to say for someone who is already soaked. After a few hours we reach Whakapapa village. In winter this is used as a ski resort but at the moment it is pretty quite. One cafe is open however and we use the opportunity to treat ourselves to some coffee and ice cream while we have the chance.
After a very extensive lunch break we continue climbing up to the plateau. We pass Taranaki falls which are quite impressive after the recent rainfall.

Taranaki falls

Taranaki falls

From the falls we climb up to the plateau and the Tama Lakes, two infilled explosion craters. We decide to pitch the tent on the plateau near the lower lake and explore the upper lake from there. The terrain is covered in a thick carpet of moss and lots of stiff grass, but after some searching we find an open spot well out of sight of the trail where we set up camp.

The Upper Tama Lake

The Upper Tama Lake

By now the clouds are moving in fast and it won’t be long before the rain hits so we hurry back down to the tent. When we reach the tent it already starts to drizzle, I’m glad we have already pitched it. We cook in the rain and then retreat into the tent. It rains all night and the next morning it’s still poring. We only have to walk out to the road today so decide to be lazy and stay in the tent reading books and writing. In the afternoon the sun breaks through and we walk out to the road. Made it all the way with dry feet! It takes a while before we get a lift but we get a ride all the way to Wellington, from where we are going to take the boat to the South Island to start the long walk down.

Rain moving in...

Rain moving in…

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