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Tongariro Volcano Hike


New Zealand

David and Raymond Coory 

February 2005

The three emerald lakes

 Account written by David Coory  


  • Strenuous, hot, climbing up barren steep rock and scoria
        mountain slopes with a pack.

  • Often getting puffed and having to pause to regain breath.

  • Sweating.

  • Drinking huge amounts of water

  • Teeming insect life all along the tracks.

  • Hot sun and welcome cooling breezes.

  • Looming, high, barren mountains.

  • Dramatic volcanic craters.

  • Dramatic moonscape’s, devoid of all plant life.

  • Flat, barren, brown, desert-like plains devoid of plant life.

  • Rugged lava and more lava.

  • Occasional delightful patches of native bush.

  • Cheerful song of sky larks in the sky.

  • Unusual alpine plant life.

  • Large circular areas of plants that look as if they were planted
        by a landscape gardener.

  • German accents everywhere, even a German hut warden.

  • Young girl trampers, hiking alone.

  • Noise of sleepers turning at night in the huts on creaky, crinkly,
        plastic-covered mattresses.

  • Hordes of exhausted hikers on the popular Tongariro Crossing
         section of the walk.

  • Seemingly endless steep rock and scoria slopes when climbing
         Mt Ngauruhoe.

  • Satisfaction of climbing a real 2.4 km 7500 ft high mountain.

  • Yuk tasting water from volcanic streams.

  • Welcome sight of a hut after a long day’s walk

  • Marked change in temperature and climate between top and bottom
         of Mt Ngauruhoe.


Tuesday 21st Feb 2005

The drive to Whakapapa village

After having lunch home at Tauranga, I drive alone to National Park. It’s about a 3 hour drive. I have been looking forward to playing my favourite CDs as loud as I choose, without Marie complaining. But only two of my six CDs play, and only two songs on those two CDs. The CD player has been a bit erratic of late. So I had to listen to the boring radio, or travel in boring silence. The trip seems to take forever. I miss Marie’s constant chatting.

(When I got back home I discovered that in my haste I had put two CDs in upside down. When I fixed that and ran a lens cleaner CD they all worked perfectly. A lens cleaner is a CD with a little tuft of hair glued to the surface which cleans the laser lens of dust as it spins.)

Mount Ngauruhoe rather dark and menacing

Soon after Turangi I turn off State Highway 1 on to Highway 47 to drive to Whakapapa village. Whakapapa is the Mount Ruapehu Ski Village up in the mountains. The ‘Tongariro Northern Circuit’ track that Raymond and I plan to walk begins in this village.

As I drive I can see the volcano Mount Ngauruhoe, that we also hope to climb, over to my left. It looks rather dark and menacing and enormously high with the cloud level less than half way up.

Volcano Mount Ngauruhoe in distance

The classy Chateau Hotel

I eventually turn off Highway 47 and I drive up Highway 48 to Whakapapa village.

Mount Ruapehu, which is also a volcano, and a 1000 feet higher than Mt Ngauruhoe, looms larger and larger. I soon see the classy Chateau Hotel at the entrance to Whakapapa village.

The Chateau Hotel and Mount Ruapehu,
 another volcano in the background.

The Skotel Lodge where we are to stay tonight

I find the Skotel Lodge where Raymond and I are booked to stay tonight.

The girl at reception tells me that Raymond has already arrived. She gives me a key to our room in a block of motel units on the far side. As I walk back out to my car, I see Raymond coming across the car park.

He directs me to where he has parked his car, behind the motel rooms, if you could call them that. They are solid wooden rooms running off a single corridor with a large communal bathroom across the hall. Cost is $60 a night for a twin shared room with all linen supplied.

The Skotel in Whakapapa Village where
 we stay the first night

Back of view of Skotel where we parked our cars

The DOC office in a Volcano and Skiing Museum

We leave our packs in the room and then walk down the road to the village centre and DOC (Dept of Conservation) office. The sun is shining now and it is quite warm. Whakapapa is a small village, mostly rental chalets, dominated by the huge mountain looming up behind.

We find the DOC office located in an up-market Volcano and Skiing Museum. We buy our hut passes from a petite and bright Asian girl. Cost is $20 a night each, $120 total for three nights,

We then tour the small museum which is quite well done. In the centre of the floor is a 3D model of the whole mountain area. Mt Ngauruhoe looks imposingly large and steep.

Scale model of the area in the museum

We drive up to the ski lifts

We then decide to drive up to the ski lifts, higher up Mount Ruapehu. Raymond drives us in his car.

On the way up we see a water reservoir made from wooden planks, rather like an old fashioned barrel. No sign of leakage.

Water reservoir made from wooden planks

Much improved road up mountain

Excellent wide smooth road. I remember the last time I brought the children up here about 18 years ago, it was a dangerous gravel road. We could only get so far in our stationwagon before the wheels started to slide in the ice. The only other alternative back then was to pay for a ride up in the big commercial four wheel drive buses.

Road up Mount Ruapehu to ski lifts.

Cream-coloured, moss-like plants everywhere

Very impressive scenery as we climb higher. We see thick, cream-coloured, moss-like soft plants growing everywhere on crinkly lava rocks. We stop the car and have a closer look. Raymond says that these are called ‘vegetable sheep.’

Thick, soft, moss plants growing on the lava rocks.

Signs of flash flood erosion

We also see signs of what look like heavy scouring and erosion from giant flash floods. The mountain is so steep that I would imagine heavy summer rain would cause flash flooding. Winter rain would of course fall as snow.

Signs of heavy water scouring.

The nearest mountain peaks look extremely craggy in the afternoon sunshine

Craggy Ruapehu peaks

Snow-making machines

Next we pass an impressive line-up of snow-making machines, parked in lines on a large flat tar-sealed area. They appear to be just powerful fans with lots of high pressure water jets. They are electrically powered by huge thick cables. Again we stop to have a closer look.

Snow-making machines

Raymond has a closer look.

The top of the road – large ski chalets

We soon reach the top of the road. This is where the ski lift takes skiers higher up the mountain. The ski lift is closed for the summer months and the whole place is deserted.

All around us, perched on the barren rocky slopes are large ski chalets, nearly all of them named after New Zealand towns.

Ski chalets at the top of the road.

Mysterious volcanic lahar humps

We drive back down again to Whakapapa village, and Raymond buys some more food for his tramp.

We then drive further down the road, back towards the main Highway and decide to stop at a signposted short walk to a lahar hump.

Lahar’s are debris and water flows from volcanoes. The humps are mysterious small round hills or humps that dot volcanic landscapes where lahars have been known to occur. There are all kinds of theories as to what might cause them.

We walk along the track in the shrubbery to this particular signposted hump and climb to the top. In the distance we can just barely discern other lahar humps. Not particularly impressive. (Did not show up in a photo.)

We peep inside the Chateau

We then drive back up to the Skotel, leave the car there and walk back down to the village. We peep inside the plush and old world elegant Chateau. My original plan was to stay tonight in the Chateau, until I found out that the price was $160 per night, per person. We see well-dressed waiters and hotel staff everywhere. They are also adding on to the building at the back. Raymond takes a photo while I sit on the lawn.

The plush and 'old world' Chateau.

Peppery hot pizza, Raymond’s homemade
 muesli bars, and Mum’s fruit cake

We then walk on further to a pub, and share a large, peppery hot pizza. We seemingly have to wait forever for it to be cooked.

When we get back to the Skotel we try Raymond’s homemade muesli bars. However the grains seemed to have a strong, burnt-scorched taste and smell. Raymond tells me that the recipe calls for the seeds and grains to be lightly scorched in the oven. I suspect they have been overdone. I believe the recipe has great potential however. Raymond likes them as they are now. We also have a piece of Mum’s fruit cake.

My all-raw food diet test

This will be the last cooked food I will eat while on this four day tramp. As an experiment I want to try out an all-raw food diet. Many healers swear by this for excellent health.


Next day Wednesday 2nd Feb

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