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Tongariro Volcano Hike

Day two

David and Raymond Coory 

February 2005

 

Wednesday 2nd Feb

Our hike begins

I slept reasonably okay last night, despite a hard mattress. Woke up hot in the middle of the night, and also several other times, due to the hard mattress.

About 8-30 am Raymond and I set off with our packs. We leave our cars parked behind the Skotel by arrangement. We have a long 8 Ĺ hour to walk today. My son Jaredís 30th birthday today.

Start of the Tongariro Northern Circuit track.

 

Track noticeboard.

The weather is mild, partly cloudy and partly sunny with a refreshing cool breeze.

We start by walking mostly out in the open, on rocky gravelly ground with low shrubs and tussock grass. Typical Desert Road type scenery.

Typical Desert Road type scenery at first.

Tastefully arranged alpine plants

But soon we climb higher and begin to notice distinctively alpine plants everywhere, all growing low on the ground, often in circular plots, or on rocks, and in tastefully arranged combinations, as if they had been planted by a landscape gardener. Lots of flowers.

Tastefully arranged alpine plant combinations.

Really quite beautiful. Marie would love this.

We are starting to sweat a little as the morning warms up. For a short while we walk through some patches of native bush, cool and refreshing, but otherwise it is all out in the open. We stop for a short break and have something to eat.

Time for a snack. The rock is volcanic lava.

Detour to beautiful Taranaki Falls

We carry on again and soon we do a detour down to a beautiful waterfall called the Taranaki Falls. There are steep steps descending down into a valley where the falls are located. It is so refreshing to stand in the pool at the bottom and feel the cool spray on my warm face as the water roars out of a cleft in the rocks above.

Taranaki Falls

A steep climb back up the steps to the track. Should have left our packs at the top. However we both seem reasonably fit, Raymond slightly more so.

Bright green beetle

A little further on, while we were exploring a deep rift in the ground I find a bright green beetle. Raymond cannot identify it from his book. He takes a photo of it, it gets buried in loose dirt before he can get a good one.

The bright green beetle.

We hike on, climbing steadily all the time. No more trees now, just ground-covering alpine plants and mosses. There is a lot of sand, which would be volcanic ash, all colours from beach white through to dark red and black, fine as beach sand. Much of this section of the track is boarded and staked crossways every few metres to avoid washouts. Looks as if torrential rain occurs here at times.

Detour to Lake Tama

About an hour later we do another detour, this time to a lake called Lower Tama. The water level is very low. Highly exposed to a strong wind here.

Lake Lower Tama. Very windy spot.

On the way back to the main track we meet a blond, middle-aged woman about 40, tramping alone. She didnít reply to our greeting but looked German.

Back on the main track, which is marked by poles, due to the snow cover in winter.

Poles mark the virtually undefined and often snow-covered track.

Devilís Coach Beetles

Soon we come across a dead seagull, which seems unusual up here in the mountains. Raymond turns it upside down by the corner of its wing, and several large black beetles scurry out from underneath. Raymond then shows me a picture of one of these beetles in the booklet he has brought along called "Common Insects of New Zealand." They are called Devilís Coach Beetles.

Photo of coach beetle (off internet).

Evidently in the old days, in the UK, some people thought these beetles were devils, as they were often found in decaying human corpses and appeared to come from nowhere. Their role is to help in the decay process.

Raymond and I also wondered how these beetles find the carcasses of birds and animals that have died, which must be a rarity, especially way out in such a lonely, barren area such as this. The beetles donít appear to have wings, at least not at this stage of their cycle.

A little further on we come to a dead hare that somebody has perched up on a bush. Later a hut warden told us that there are quite a few hares in the mountains around here, and that they eat the mountain daisy stalk, after nipping off the flower.

The dead hare perched on a bush.

Hares eat the stalks of these mountain daisies, after nipping off the flower.

Skylarks

As we walk on further we hear a beautiful song from a bird flying in the sky above us. It song trilled on for about 45 minutes.

On looking up we could see the bird, but could not identify it, even when looking through my lightweight binoculars. Raymond thought it might be a Skylark. I didnít think Skylarks were found in New Zealand.

We try to capture itís melodic song on Raymondís camera, but there was too much background noise from the camera to hear it clearly. Soon the bird was joined by a second bird, also trilling away. Quite a memorable sound. Later in one of the huts we find a wall poster about the birds. They are Skylarks, introduced by European immigrants, who in their new land, missed its attractive song. I can understand how they felt.

The musical Skylark.

The old Waihohono hut

It is now lunchtime and we are nearing the Waihohono hut where we plan to have our lunch. There is a fast flowing river and some forest in this area. However before crossing the river to the new Waihohono hut, we take a short detour through some large trees to the old Waihohono hut.

 

Historic Waihohono hut.

This historic hut was actually on a horse and wagon tourist route that ran all the way from the Wanganui River to Lake Taupo to the north of us. There is no sign of a wagon track now, nor can I imagine how a horse and wagon could travel over such steep and rugged country.

We have a look inside the hut which has double timber and corrugated iron walls, with the cavity in between filled with pumice sand to protect against the cold, (see photo below). 

The hut is separated into mens and womenís quarters. There is an atmosphere inside the hut that seems to reek of history.

Example of the double, sand-filled walls

This hut is surrounded by large trees which look similar to the famous Lebanon Cedars, but finer leaved. I think they may be called Mountain Beech in New Zealand.

Mountain Beech, not unlike the 'Cedars of Lebanon.'  

Lunch at the new Waihohonu hut

We then cross the fast flowing river, by the bridge provided, and climb the steep ridge track to the new Waihohonu hut. Becoming quite warm now, especially in this sheltered area. I have been drinking a lot of water.

Bridge to the new Waihohonu hut.

There are a group of young German trampers outside the hut, who soon leave. There are Germans everywhere on these famous NZ tracks, probably two thirds of the hikers are Germans or have German-sounding accents. Some are Dutch or Austrian.

Inside the hut are a nice young English couple, Graham, a Webpage designer and his partner or wife Vicky. We find them very friendly. They are touring the world for three years looking for a nice place to settle.

They lend us a pot for Raymond to heat some water. Unlike the huts on the Heaphy Track these Tongariro huts do not provide pots.

We have our lunch here. I have my raw porridge mixed with warm water and some peanuts and raisins. The porridge is a mix of regular oatmeal porridge, ground Spelt wheat, ground Flaxseed, full cream milk powder and dark brown sugar. Really tasty, much nicer than cooked porridge. It is also very light and compact to carry. 

All that is required to prepare is to three quarter fill a plastic mug, add water, stir, and then eat with a teaspoon. It can be eaten cold, but tastes much nicer when warm. 

I also have raw peanuts mixed with raisins and an orange and apple for each day.

As I mentioned earlier, I have decided to eat only raw food on this tramp as an experiment. Many natural health experts swear by the benefits of raw food and I want to find out for myself.

Raymond has one of his dehydrated meals. These are contained in a tinfoil bag, to which you add boiling water, then eat from the bag. They cost about $10 each.

We then share an orange, from my tree at home. It tastes heavenly. I then lie down on one of the mattresses and relax for about 40 minutes while Raymond studies his insect book.

As we leave the hut, the English girl is outside on the grass giving Graham a foot massage. She offers us the use of her white cosmetic sunscreen. We take advantage of this as the sun is shining hotly now. I put some on my nose and then put on my Oz hat. (Later that evening I find that my nose had reacted to this sunscreen and had come up in lots of little bumps, like a strawberry. But it had mostly settled down again the following morning.)

Steep, hot and rocky

We first of all walk uphill through some very attractive native bush, but soon we come out again on to barren mountain slopes. We will not see any more forest until the end of our tramp.

The last forest for two days.

We can now see for many miles and sun is very hot, so is the air. Almost no wind. The track becomes very rocky and climbs relentlessly. It soon becomes a hot, sweaty slog with our packs. The mountain and valley scenery is quite dramatic in places. Mount Ngauruhoe, that we plan to climb in two days time still looms dark, high and silent.

Mount Ngauruhoe brooding in the distance.

I am sweating a lot and drinking a lot. My small canteen does not hold much. I have refilled it up to now from streams, but they are getting fewer and fewer.

Trekking poles

The track becomes even rockier and steeper. I try out Andrewís trekking pole that Raymond is carrying. I find it a slight help going uphill. Most people who use these use two. They are even sold in pairs now. They evidently take 10% load off each knee, and also give the upper body a workout. They are a bit of a nuisance to carry however, and add to your total weight. However many of the over age 50 trampers use them.

Trekking poles.

We soon come to the top of this steep uphill section. At this stage I decide to take off my tramping boots and try out my light weight running shoes instead.

However I find that they are a bit tight with my heavy woollen socks, and my toes bunch up going downhill. My toes soon become sore, so after about half an hour I put my boots back on before blisters form.

Spectacular long sandy plains

The scenery has now become desert-like and quite spectacular. Long sandy plains. Still the circular plots of mountain flora here and there, and in tastefully arranged combinations. The sun has clouded over giving relief from the heat.

Desert-like spectacular scenery.

It begins to rain

On the last quarter of our afternoonís hike, about an hour before the Oturere hut where we will stay the night, it begins to rain. It has been drizzling on and off the past hour, which has been quite refreshing, but now this is wet rain. We try to shelter under a rock until it stops, but soon we are getting really wet. So we decide to put on our wet weather gear.

Quite a hassle to get my rain gear (leggings and light weight Parka) out and put it on. I have to take my boots off to put on the leggings. Raymond just has a raincoat.

No sooner had we got underway again, when the rain stopped, the clouds cleared and the sun came out. This happened at the steepest section of the track yet. We had to climb a cliff rock face. It became so hot that we stopped and took off all our rain gear.

We continued on a little way, then it clouded over and started to rain again. Typical changeable Tongariro weather, just as the DOC track guides warn you about.

Unusual rocks

So we stop again and put our wet weather gear back on again. At least the rain makes for cool walking, as we climb another steep cliff rock face. The scenery here is quite dramatic. Mostly steep with huge rocks, then sandy sections. Some unusual shaped rocks. We even come across an area of white marble. But we are becoming quite weary, having walked eight hours today.

White marble in a stream bed.

Unusual triangle rock.

Steep rock faces. The track goes up
 to the left top of the photo.

Craggy volcanic rocks everywhere.

The Oturere hut at last

Suddenly at last, we see the Oturere hut ahead of us. A welcome sight.

The Oturere hut where we stay the night.

There is quite a crowd in the hut, about 16 people, mostly Germans, and lo and behold. I supposed it had to happen sooner or later. A German DOC Ranger, or Hut Warden as they are called. These are mostly volunteer positions, for eight weeks at a time, although some Hut Wardens are full time, fully paid DOC employees.

I later find out that these voluntary Hut Wardens are paid $20 a day for their food, plus a private room to sleep in, usually part of the hut. Hut Wardens are one of the few paid jobs that the NZ immigration authorities permit a tourist on a holiday visitor visa.

It is a bit embarrassing for Raymond, as this hut has no cooking pots either, whereas all the Heaphy Track ones did. (This particular hut has no toilet paper either.) However a middle-aged English tramper, with a scruffy two day beard, loans him an aluminium pot to boil water for his dehydrated meal.

This English tramper is a schoolteacher. He previously lived in New Zealand after immigrating from the UK, but took his family back to the UK for family reasons. But he still loves this country and even had his family with him on this tramp. I now wish we had taken photos of the people we met on this tramp.

I use some of Raymondís hot water to warm my raw porridge. However tonight my porridge tastes over-sweet for some reason. It tasted fine when I experimented at home, and even at lunch time today it was OK.

The weather forecast for tomorrow, which is written up on a board by the hut warden is for thunderstorms and poor visibility. But I am not too concerned. Marie and I have prayed concerning the weather on this tramp, and it has been as good as can be expected of the area today.

It is quite warm inside this insulated hut, with all the cooking and people. An Oz tramper has dragged his mattress out to sleep on the outside verandah. "Too hot and stuffy in there," he said.

Had an interesting talk with the English schoolteacher and his wife.

Cellphone battery flat

I had planned to phone Marie tonight if we had cellphone reception. She had given me her cellphone to bring. However I find that her battery has gone flat, after only two days, just like on the Heaphy Track. Marie said it should last seven days.

 

Next day Thursday 3rd Feb

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