Day 52 to 57 – Heading North to head South
Friday 7 December – Wednesday 12 December
Whanganui to Whakapapa and back again before continuing south to Palmerston North
Day: 52 – 57
Cumulative Km’s: 1,462km / 3,000km
In last week’s post you learnt that we had to do a little reshuflling of trail sections when we encountered a bad patch of weather before the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. This week we headed back up to Tongariro to walk the section of trail we missed.
Tongariro is a very popular hike and as we discovered ourselves, it is popular for a reason. The hassle of shuffling back and forth along the trail on the Intercity bus was more than worth it after we had perfect conditions for our day on the crossing.
We loved Tongariro and are looking forward to experiencing more of New Zealand’s mountains as we head into the Tararuas (next week’s blog post).
Day 52 – Friday 7 December, +8km walking -219km via Intercity bus
Wanganui to Mangahuia Campsite, Tongariro National Park
After a week of being totally offline we had a lot to catch up on, blog posts, social media and preparing for the next stretch of trail. Making the most of the holiday park wifi we were up at 6 am. I never thought I could be so busy on a hike. How busy can you get when all you have to do is walk each day? Right? I still think the same thing but then we arrive into town and its full swing into drying gear, laundry, planning and resupplying for the next section.
The kind folks of the Top 10 Holiday Park Wanganui not only give us a generous TA hiker discount on our cabin but they also shuttled us and a bunch of other hikers into town this morning to help us on our way. We had a few things to do in town before catching the bus up to National Park where we will be rejoining the trail for the Tongariro Alpine Crossing.
I managed to burn my hand making breakfast this morning trying to check whether the stove was on. It was most definitely on and left me with a circular pattern seared into my palm. After the splinter incident I didn’t want to leave it to chance so it was straight to the chemist when we got to town. The beautiful lady at the chemist sorted me out with all of the good things I need to stay infection free and even did the first dressing for me.
I have been rocking a huge wrip in the bum of my pants for over a week now so I thought that I’d try the local hunting and fishing store for new pants while we were in town. They should have named the store guns and knives because it didn’t stock much else. As soon as I entered I felt unwelcome vibes from the 3 men lurking about the counter at the front of the store. With so many weapons readily on hand I decided not to hang around for long and high tailed it out of there.
Next up was the supermarket. We still had plenty of food left over from our river journey so a little top up on muesli and chocolate was all that was needed. Adam and I probably should have bought an interest in whittakers before embarking on this journey. I don’t think they produce any flavours that we haven’t yet tried.
Shopping done we jumped on the Intercity at 11am and headed north to National Park. Confusingly, National Park is a town not a National Park but it is situated right near Tongariro National Park which is infact a National Park (not sure who was responsible for that naming decision). It was a quick 2 hour bus ride, a recently download audiobook kept me entertained throughout. On arrival at National Park it was off the bus and into the train station cafe for a hot chocolate and a oversized scone before we headed off into the wilderness.
We had a short 8 Km walk ahead of us to get to Mangahuia Campsite. The campsite is located within the National Park not National Park the town but the actual National Park. Confused yet?
Although it was all road walking I found it an excitable road walk. Infront of us the 2 huge snow capped peaks of Mt Ngauruhoe and Mt Ruapehu drew nearer and larger the further we walked. It was such a dramatic change from yesterday’s scenery on the river. My brain was in overdrive. With plenty of photo opportunities along the way the walk flew by and we were in camp before we knew it.
Mangahuia is run on a first come first served basis so we were a little worried that it might have been busy, a Friday before a weekend with a glorious weather forecast. Luck was on our side, it was almost empty when we arrived so we enjoyed a leisurely afternoon in the camp picnic ground beside a pretty stream.
Although it was only a 2 hour drive from Wanganui we felt a dramatic change in temperature as soon as we stepped of the bus in the afternoon. As the sun began to sink we felt the chill of the mountain air growing. We went to bed in thermals and beanies, greatful for having picked up our cold climate layers from our bounce boxes the week prior.
Day 53 – Saturday 8 December, 13km
Mangahuia Campsite, Tongariro National Park to Whakapapa Village
What was a quiet afternoon turned into a noisy night, a big group of Spaniards came in to camp late last night and struggling to know how to put up their tents were laughing and shouting until nearly midnight. In hiker hours this is the equivalent of 4am. I was angry to the point of crawling out of my warm sleeping bag to give them a serving. It didn’t help.
Sleep deprived we were up and walking on the Mangahuia Track by 7.30am. The track started off as a well graded beautiful alpine trail and soon after progressed into non-maintained beautiful alpine trail. I am beginning to think that DOC enjoy lulling hikers into a false sense of security. They give you a couple of kilometers of boardwalk or gravel and then bam! Up to your shins in mud. Lucky it is such pretty country to hike through.
The Mangahuia Track was stunning. It felt like we went through 4 different climate zones on the short 13km stretch into Whakapapa Village. From Alpine to rainforest with an arid zone in the middle. It was spectacularly beautiful. I was blown away after not expecting much of this trail. In my mind it was simply an approach track but Mangahuia Track was a beautiful walk all on its own.
We had a few river crossings today. The first of which I didn’t want to risk wet boots on so I took off my shoes and socks and waded through. It was FREEZING cold. The mountains had received a dump of snow only 4 days eariler and after 2 days of strong sun this water was fresh snow melt.
As the kilometres increased Mt Ngauruhoe and Mt Ruapehu drew close and closer. Each time we walked to the crest of a hill I was excited to see the mountains grow larger and larger before our eyes.
About an hour and a half before reaching Whakapapa we ran into our Swiss friend, Robert. After saying goodbye to Robert yesterday we really weren’t expecting to see him again but sure enough there he was coming along the trail. He was on the Round the mountain track after catching a shuttle to Whakapapa earlier that day.
Not far from Whakapapa we came to a bridge under construction. Two workers were on the tools as we passed by. It was an impressive backdrop for a worksite but I can imagine it would have been annoying for the workers to down tools every time hikers walk past.
We made our way into Whakapapa and headed straight to the holiday park to set up camp. It was the first time on trail we have tented more than one night in the same place. We will be using it as a base to walk the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. The plan is to get going early in the morning, walk the crossing and catch a shuttle back at the end of the day. On Monday we will head back down to Wanganui on the Intercity bus, rejoining the trail.
By the time we set up camp it was after lunch. We were both feeling hungry so we headed to the only open cafe in town for a very expensive but delicious lunch. We then had a quick trip to the Isite for some information about the Tongariro Alpine Crossing before heading back to camp to settle in for an early night.
Day 54 – Sunday 9 December, 27.5km
Tongariro Alpine Crossing
The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is a big day walk on its own with a high of 1,886m. We would be adding to that the Mangatepopo track which forms part of the TA and the approach to Tongariro. We had our alarms set for 4am, one of the earliest birthday morning I’ve ever had but it also turned out to be one of the best.
We were up and hiking by 4.30am, after 40 minutes of walking in the dark first light broke through at 5.10. The track mostly runs through low tussock so our way was well lit by the moon. As the sun started to show its head we could see first glimpses of Mount Ngauruhoe ahead of us. As we walked the most brilliant pink and orange light began to appear on the horizon. The kms were passing by quickly, minute by minute the colours of the sunrise morphed befpre our eyes. As the sun started to climb higher in the sky the brilliant colours travelled, moving in a circle around us, from Mount Ngauruhoe to Mount Ruapehu and beyond. It was one of the most spectacular sunrises I have ever whitnessed. I felt overcome with emotion.
I hadn’t expected anything so beautiful on the walk to Mangetapopo Hut this morning. We had received mixed messages about the section of trail, some people saying they enjoyed it. Others saying they hated the track. We had considered skipping it at one point, getting a shuttle directly to the start of the crossing but im so glad we walked it.
Days like these are why we are on this adventure. It makes the long days, cold days, tempremental weather, tired legs and aching bodies all worth it. In moments like this everything is pulled into perspective. It felt like an affirmation, that this world is too spectacular to be spent in an office rather than outside exploring it.
When we talk to people about what we are doing a lot of the responses we get are along the lines of ‘oh its so great you are taking a break in your lives to do this.’ One of the thoughts that I had while walking this morning was that this is not a break in life, this is life. We have one go at this particular life. We should all live it in a way that is true to us. A way that makes us happy. Even after some cold, wet and quite frankly miserable days on trail not once have I not wanted to get up and start walking in the morning. Thinking back to corporate life, so many mornings were a struggle with the thought of another long, stressful day in the office.
So focused on the beauty of the morning, lost in the amazement of life I lost track of the time and the kilometers. Before I knew it I could see Mangetapopo Hut appearing on the horizon. Reaching the crest of a small hill on the track a hawk was sitting on one of the trail markers. I was surprised to see it sitting there so calmly, seeming undisturbed by my tramping down the trail. It allowed me within a few meters before calling out and flying another 50m down the trail. As I approached it’s new perch the bird allowed me to come even closer again. When it felt its safety zone had been breached it called again flying to a nearby rock with a view over the valley below.
We made good timing that morning and despite the multiple photo stops, arrived at the hut at 7am, minutes before the first shuttle bus load of tourists. A quick top up on water and we were underway. Adam was concerned about the flood of tourists coming in behind us so I opted to eat my breakfast on the go. It was an interesting test of my coordination and fitness. I can proudly say that I can now multitask eating museli and taking photos all while walking a steady 4km an hour.
The crossing started in beautiful Alpine terrain with streams of water running off the mountain top. After only a few Kms the climate quickly morphed into a moonscape as we climbed our first peak. It was steep but the track is incredibly well formed and well maintained to deal with the thousands of tourists who climbed it each day. It was a lovely change from some of the forests we have been tramping through.
The higher we climbed the more the views continued to impress us. Reaching the first peak at South Crater we were met with 360 degree views. Every way you looked each angle was spectacular in it’s own way.
The climb continued to Red Crater, the highest point on the crossing at 1,886m. As we began our descent down the slippery rock scree the stunning emerald lakes came into view. Their vivid aquamarine was mesmerising. We spent a good deal of time at the top admiring the lakes and taking many a photo.
Down at lake level we spent a little time having a bite to eat, admiring the reflection of the mountains. We had made good timing during the morning and had plenty of time to make it through the crossing. We had originally anticipated that we would struggle to make it for the 5.30pm shuttle bus back to town but we ended up having time up our sleves.
After a rest we began to climb again. This time up to Blue Lake. The colour not as impressive as Emerald Lakes but what this lake lacks in colour it makes up in size. As the trail wound its way around the rop of the lake it appeared to change colour as the sun shone on it at new angles.
We continued on, exiting the main volcano area and beginning out decent from the crossing. We had magnificent views out to the horizon. We have heard a number of North American hikers complain that DOC don’t use enough switchbacks when forming trails but that definitely isn’t the case here.
The trail zig zagged through the tussock like a tobogan chute. After spending most of our time on tramping track which goes straight down it did feel a little unnecessarily long but it sure did allow us to take in the views (and more photos because clearly we hadn’t taken enough yet).
My knees were starting to feel it as we passed by Ketetahi Hut. This hut was damaged in an eruption about 6 years ago and is apparently going to be conserved as a reminder of the explosion. By the looks of it not too much work has been done. We had a quick stop to admire the holes in the roof and continued down. As the trail began to flatten out the terrain slowly morphed until we were under a familiar forest canopy once again.
Crossing over a few streams we walked through a Lehar high danger zone where apparently there is a high risk of a volcanic mud slide event. You could definitely see the evidence of historic mud explosions. It was unlike anything we have seen before.
After taking our time we ended up making it to the end of the track with 30 minutes to spare until the first shuttle arrived. The bus company apparently doesn’t like to book one way fares so we ended up paying cash to get on. It all worked out perfectly in the end.
It was a short bus ride back to Whakapapa Village. After a quick shower it was to the pub for a beer and a snack which quickly turned into an early dinner. After a day in the sun the beers went straight to our heads and an afternoon nap was in need.
It was an early evening after such an early start. An incredible day on the trail and truly a once in a life time birthday experience.
Day 55 – Monday 10 December
Whakapapa Village to Whanganui
A rest day of sorts, today we would be travelling back down to Whanganui where we left the trail a few days earlier. I had planned to get up early and do a side trail, the 6km Taranaki falls loop wall but it wasn’t to be. I was still a little tired from all of the sun yesterday and opted for a sleep in.
There was much planning to be done this morning. We hadn’t decided what we were doing once we returned to Whanganui. I only realised after we had booked the bus that large stretches of road walking made up the next section into Palmerston North. We also had the Taurarua Ranges coming up, another weather dependent section of trail.
After checking the forecast and some deliberation we decided that after arriving in Whanganui we would hitch the highway from Whanganui to Turakina Beach and walk to Bulls from there. This approach will allow us to skip the allegedly dangerous 19km of road out of Whanganui whilst still enjoyingthe beach and the forest. It will also mean that we will get to Palmerston North in 2 days rather than 3. Ontop of this, my mum has a friend in Sanson, close to Bulls, who has kindly offered us a place to stay.
After a morning of decision making we jumped on the shuttle to National Park (the town not the National Park, we were already in the National Park) where we boarded the Intercity southbound. We had the same prickly driver we had on the way up. His demeanor instantly transported me back to my school years. I felt like I was at risk of getting into trouble if I didn’t put my bag in the right compartment or got caught eating lollies on the bus.
The bus had arrived late and it was clear that this bothered him. In his attempts to make up time our trip turned into a manic, windy, stomach churning 2 hour bus ride back to Whanganui. Thankful for my audio book, I put in my ear buds and closed my eyes. At one point I looked over at Adam and he had the same pained look on his face. Trying to sleep while focusing on not vomiting. I feel queasy just thinking about it now.
We arrived in Whanganui just after 5pm, walking a short way to our hostel. Our hostel was a converted school, it was an interesting old building and the people who ran it were lovely. They even gave us full sized towels!
Once we got settled in we headed off to the shops for a small resupply. We were excited to learn that there was both a New World and a Pack N Save in close proximity to the hostel. They both have incredible pick n mix collections and are equally our favorite supermarkets in New Zealand.
We had plenty of vegies and greens for dinner and headed to sleep for what would be a early morning for a big day into Bulls tomorrow.
Day 56 – Tuesday 11 December, 31km
Whanganui to Bulls/ Sanson
We were up at 6am to get packed and on the road for an early hitch down to Koitiata, the main town before Turakina Beach. The hostel was ghostly quiet at this time. It was unusual for a hostel. On the way out we ran into the owner who directed us to the best point in town to hitch from. It was only a couple of kms walk across the city. It was almost 7.30am and the whole city felt quiet. I was hoping to get a coffee on our way out of town but not even the coffee shops were open yet. Clearly people in Whanganui like their sleep.
We crossed over the big old vehicle bridge and positioned ourselves awkwardly on a corner near a stopping bay. There was plenty of traffic passing by but I was unsure people would stop with a short distance to pull over.
We weren’t waiting long when a car parked in the stopping bay flashed it’s lights and gestured for us to come over. I was a little hesitant but fairly certain he was waving at us. Adam was cautious ‘he couldn’t have seen your sign from there’. It turned out he didn’t need to see our sign, he knew exactly where we were headed. Craig Peters recognised us as TA hikers and very kindly took the time out of his morning to stop and give us a ride down to Koitiata on his way to work.
Craig has seen his fair share of hikers on the highway and knew a lot about the trail having walked sections of it himself. He was a lovely guy, super friendly and great to chat to. The conversation rolled naturally. We talked about long distance hiking, himself thinking about walking a long distance trail one day. It is great meeting people who get it and understand why we are doing what we are doing. Craig dropped us off at a coffee cart just past the turnoff to Turakina Beach. It was the perfect start to the morning. I caffeinated, ready for a big day ahead and we were off!
We decided to start walking down the road towards the beach and, if a car came past, stick out our tumb and try for a lift. It was only a couple of Kms before the first and only car came our way. A young woman on her way to visit her family. She was a little confused as to why we should be walking so far but was very kind and dropped us by the entrance to the beach.
It was a dark, gloomy day with rain threatening. the conditions made Turakina beach look all the more spectacular. The black sand was scattered with petrified driftwood, bright against the brooding sky and dark sea. Turakina felt like the anti- beach. As if she was giving the finger to all of those white silica beauties of the world. It was imperfectly perfect on such a dark day. The lagoon was throwing reflections of the sand dunes as black swans and sea birds floated mystically across its surface.
We crossed the dunes and made our way up the beach, passing a whitebait fisherman with his tractor.
There was one stream to cross on the whole beach and as our luck would have it, as we stood at its edge, assessing whether it was a shoes on or a shoes off crossing, a lady with a FWD full of dogs came driving towards us. She flashed her lights as she approached. I thought she was telling me to get out of her way so I made my way down towards the waters edge. The car veered towards me before stopping. As it turned out this angel of a woman was only trying to save our feet from getting wet! I jumped in the front seat with my pack, Adam on the tow bar and she reversed the car back over the little stream. Her dogs thought it was hilarious to have a smelly stranger in the car and flooded into the front seat to check me out. This woman had a great vibe about her and I could tell she would be a blast to chat with had circumstances allowed. I was blown away by the timing of it all. The only car on the beach and she was there, at the stream at the same time as us. This angel lady appeared to be working with a man in a tractor who was collecting large chunks of driftwood from the shore. My brain likes to think that they are artists who create furniture out of reclaimed wood. I keep telling Adam that I have a inate sense for assessing people and piecing together stragers lives. I need to put this talent to good use.
Our time on the beautiful beach went by quickly and before long the trail ejected us into a pine forest. Even though it’s plantation I don’t mind walking in pine forest. The smell is so beautiful and the trees are so grand and tall and straight. The symmetry of it all wins me over every time.
Out of the forest and back on the road it was 19 km into Bulls along a combination of highway and footpaths.
Bulls is a cute little town who’s residents really get behind it’s name. The puns were everywhere you looked. Even the police were in on the theme.
After a big day on our feet we hobbled to the Foursquare where I phoned my mums friend Wendy who would so very kindly be putting us up for the night. She was close by in Sanson, so it was only 10 minutes and she was there greeting us with a hug (despite our smell). It was lovely to have a warm bed and home cooked meal for the night. They spolied us with a BBQ, wine and wifi. We were very greatful.
Day 57 – Wednesday 12 December, 22km
Bulls to Palmerston North
Wendy’s husband Kevin offered to drive us into town this morning. It was a very generous offer as it would have been an hour round trip for him. It was tempting to take him up on it, the rain was falling outside and I really don’t like road walking in the rain. Safety dictates that you should walk towards the traffic when on a road so in the rain you end up being spayed directly in the face when large cars and trucks come screaming past.
We decided to walk the highway into Palmerston North. It was off trail and a 16 Km haircut off the normal trail but it was a compromise and a happy medium between getting a ride in and walking the full trail. Adam’s feet have been playing up again with blisters and sore soles so he wasn’t keen for a 38Km day from Bulls to Palmy. I was also comfortable with this decision although a little unhappy about the rain.
Rain happens and I should be used to walking in it by now but it always makes me a little sad inside. I hate walking with the hood of my jacket on. It feels stifling. The way I feel when it’s raining, particularly when we are highway walking, is how our little old dog Simon used to look when you forced him to wear his rain coat. I could never tell if it was the rain or the raincoat he disliked, maybe it was both.
Walking in the rain is inevitable in New Zealand so on we tramped. It was 22Km straight up the highway to Palmy. We passed farms, a good deal of smash repair places and war memorial but there was nothing notable or memorable about the walk.
On two separate occasions ladies had pulled over to offer us a lift into town. I felt so bad declining their offers. It slowed their trip and they had to fight to get back into the traffic. The second lady in particular almost forced us in the car. She then apologised for not having any water to give us because she was in a replacement car from her mechanic. We weren’t anywhere near needing water and only an hour out of town. I assured her we would be OK before closing the door for a second time. We were walking on the left side of the road because the verge had narrowed on the right hand side. From that point we made a conscious decision to cross the road and walk against the traffic so we didn’t have to turn down lovely caring kiwis.
The highlight on our afternoon was hitting a Wendy’s on the way into town. We visited a Wendy’s for a float on our way out of Hamilton weeks ago but their softserve machine was broken. It only seemed right to make up for it now. The sugary goodness was exactly what I needed.
We had opted to stay in a hotel in the city that night. A little sad that we would be missing out on staying in Palmys urban hut but it made sense with the amount of admin we needed to do. I was in desperate need of new pants and a pair of rain pants before we hit the Tauraruas and we had a bounce box waiting for us at the post office. It was nice to be able to have a bed, washing machine and place to spead out for the night.
What’s up next up on our adventure? We head into the Tararuas for our first taste of New Zealand’s mountains!