Trip Report TA: North Island pt6


The alarms go off and I blast off. I pass hikers who got up even earlier and soon I'm ahead of the pack. 10km(6mi) of road, then onto wet trail and ultimately a nicely maintained walking path for the ascent. The sun began to peek over the ridge and I was in heaven. I could see the North Island stretching off below me in every direction looking like a flat plane. I stood high above it all amongst the volcanic alpine plateau.

Morning in Tongariro Tongariro plateau

I went to climb up Tongariro Peak and had perfect views of Ngauruhoe(Mount Doom) and Ruapehu. I could even just barely make out Taranaki in the far off horizon. I descend back to the main trail and wait for my group to catch up. Felix, Chris, Brandon and Morgan want to summit Tongariro so I wait. Once they're back I get Brandon excited to join me for an attempt to summit Mount Doom.

Climb up Mount Doom

The climb up Ngauruhoe is steep and loose volcanic scree. With no path to be seen we take the direct approach and head basically straight up. At a certain point the ground beneath our feet is so sheer that every step brings us back almost a full step of sliding with the scree. Thankfully there is an another group of hikers climbing ahead of us and we follow them over to a stable rocky spine where we can make quick progress upwards. We reach the top and bask in the views. Ruapehu taunts me nearby with her crown of snow.

Steep climb

The descent is speedy, as we scree ski down. Continuing down the normal trail we take a detour by Soda Springs for a quick rinse off under the waterfall and then continue onto Whakapapa. The group manages to rent out the last cabin for the night at the Holiday Park. I hand wash my laundry in the public sinks and relax for the rest of the day. I meet an American hiker, Wild Turkey. Apparently we know each, he has a picture of me on my last day of the PCT!!!

Tongariro National Park

I leave in the morning alone to start my circuit around Ruapehu. There are still a handful of days I need to kill before I must reach Whakahoro and start my canoe trip. I plan on doing an extra 70km(44mi) and a summit of Ruapehu in the meantime. In the early morning I meet Dale going in the opposite direction and Felix and Chris catch up to me from behind. At midday while stopping at Waihohonu Hut for some water I run into Lucas and Lara and then Kingo and Grit!

Toward's Ruapehu

Turning off the popular Great Walk track and towards my circuit the landscape changes drastically. The nicely manicured footpaths of the alpine crossing disappear and ahead of me are massive gullies and land slips betraying the power of Ruapehu's past eruptions. At one point I cross over a lahar in awe at the raw force of nature and eventually make it to Rangipo Hut. A creeping fog rolls in and it sets a nice isolating mood for the evening.

Rangipo Hut crew
Felix, Lucas, me, Chris and Aaron

The hut is cosy and nearly full. Everyone is friendly and I chat up a Auckland local, Aaron, who is planning on a crazy trek to traverse Ruapehu's glaciers. Felix, Chris, Lucas and Lara arrive for the night.


The next stop today is Mangaturuturu Hut. The clouds slowly dissipate as the noon sun beams through. In and out of landslip valleys with occasional bits of boardwalk, everywhere one can look is stunning. We take a side trip walking up a stream to the base of Waitonga Falls and stare in silence as we pass huge berms of rock in the distance criss-cross with snaking streams and waterfalls.

Volcanic valley

At the hut I meet a day hiker who is a river guide on the Whanganui and he shares some tips for handling the specific rapids I'll encounter. I meet an Israeli TA hiker going the opposite way on the circuit, Irit. The group of us watch an amazing sunset descend down across the North Island that looks almost like the Eye of Sauron.

Around the mountain
Felix and Chris

Nearly at the end of the circuit already I start to drag my feet. I still have too many days to kill so I plan to hang around and attempt a summit of Ruapehu in the following days if the weather stays steady enough for clear visibility. I fantasize about the climb up all day as I stare at the mountain's belly, examining it's gullies and trickling glacier melt falls.

I meet Ella again, going the opposite way, and reach the hut early in the day. I say goodbye to Felix and Chris for now as they continue out of the park. I spend the evening chatting with a kiwi hiker, Peter, and a family with a handful of kids. They are very energetic and we play some card games. I'm offered their leftover Mac N' Cheese which I quickly scoff down. Nathan and Steph arrive in the evening planning on doing the circuit in the opposite direction tomorrow.

Today is a zero day. I have enough food to linger on trail and the weather is way too foggy for an ascent up Ruapehu. I spend the day reading on my phone and acting as an impromptu hut ranger. Laurel and Isabella drop in as they continue on the circuit. In the evening a section hiker from BC, Stella, drops in. We spend the afternoon with good chats and I convince her to join me tomorrow up Ruapehu. Aaron also shows up just after sunset having decided not to take his own route but just followed the circuit track.

The fates align, the sky is crystal clear and blue when I wake. With a hoot and a holler, Stella and I blast off for higher altitudes. She follows my "expert" navigational skills as I lose the polled route and instead make my own meandering way up the side of the volcano cone. The going is fairly easy and I keep pace with Stella to the top. A Belgium couple we passed at the base also decides to follow my random path and I feel a bit guilty.

View from the lip Summit Plateau Crater Lake

We reach the lower lip of the mountain range and a expansive snow covered plateau stretches out in front of us walled in by distant peaks. Stella is beat so I continue alone to get a view of the crater lake on the other side of the plateau. I have no words, and I'm resolved to go back and force Stella to come see the sights. I find Stella hidden amongst some rocks taking a rest and start trying to get her amped up to follow me back to the lake. The Belgian couple arrives at the lip now so the group of them follow me across the snow fields to the boiling crater lake.

Here comes Stella Dome overlook

Pictures are taken and small words are shared to try to express our feelings in the moment. Another Swiss hiker apparates from where the real trail was and joins us. For the descent I try to get onto the proper track but that doesn't last long. After a few moments Stella and I are again tracking our own paths and glissading down snow patches.

We arrive at the ski lodge one third of the way down the mountain hoping for some food to refuel ourselves. Instead of paying Stella spots a number of leftover baskets of French fries and a savoury pie. She gets stopped by some staff as she reaching for some half-eaten hot-dogs. The head chef eventually comes out to reprimand us, I apologize to him and he threatens to kick us out if we take more leftovers. What a waste of food.

Stella with saved chips

After a short cat nap we head down back to the hut. A quick skinny dip into the nearby river and few hand wrings of my clothes to get out some dust. Back at the hut there is kiwi a trail runner and her mom who are chatty. The trail runner is planning on doing the TA South Island next year and I get some advice on side trips from her. New TA hikers arrive, Isaac from Britain and Jessica from Italy. I briefly chat with a Japanese day hiker and then settle in for the night.

Goodbye Sunset on Ruapehu

The morning is spent chatting with Stella and working on a crossword puzzle she has with her. We are the last to leave from the hut but eventually we make our way to National Park. Stella is not feeling so good but we still make a decent pace along a nicely cut trail.

Upon hitting the highway we hitch into town for resupply. Stella is unsure what she wants to do and I feel a bit sad to have our paths split up. I take a walk over to the nearby youth hostel to check prices. It turns out they have a climbing gym inside the hostel! I rush back and share the news with Stella, who is a prolific climber. Easy enough we head over and book rooms for the night. We climb for a few hours and then she makes us a gnocchi dinner.

In the evening I meet some kiwi hikers and Kez! I can't believe my eyes! We catch up and he tells me how he recovered and been making he way down the trail ever since I last saw him. There is another German hiker, Teresa, who had completed the South Island the year prior and is finishing up the North Island this season.

Road sign

The morning is bittersweet as my schedule pushes me to reach Whakahoro today and I have to stay goodbye to Stella. A little more cross-wording and then I'm off for 52km(32mi) alone. The day is mostly gravel road walking and I pass the time listening to music. Upon arriving at Whakahoro my spirits lift as all my hiking friends are here: Laurel, Mikki, Isabella, Felix, Chris, Michael, Nathan, Steph, Arjuna, Irit, Isaac and Jessica. The peace is broken only by the incessant demonic screams of sheep in the valley who had just been sheared. Isabella hosts another yoga session for us and I sneak a night in the nearby hut.

Whakahoro sign Stuffed ferret(?)

I'm glad I stayed inside as it starts pissing rain all night. It doesn't let up as the canoe company shuttle arrives with Clay, Morgan, Brandon, our canoes, and food barrels. The river is swollen and mud brown but we proceed regardless. I pair up with Laurel in a canoe and we set off.

Mikki in a kayak
Laurel in a canoe

The weather can't bring me down as the river pulls us along at good speed. I keep making mistakes as the oarsman but Laurel is forgiving. We only spin out a few times but no tipping! The rain eventually dissipates in spite of the weather forecast saying it would be constant for the next few days. Our arms can rest most of the time as the flooded river sweeps us along, so we spend the time relaxing and chatting.

Lunch break
Arjuna, Laurel, Felix, Isabella and Mikki

We arrive at the John Coull campsite fairly early and grab spots to pitch out tents. There are a fair number of people on the river so we have to be diligent. Jessica and Isaac camp near me so I spend some time with them before heading down to my other friends for some cards. Tomorrow the plan is to partner with Arjuna in the canoe.

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