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Tongariro Volcano Hike

Day three

David and Raymond Coory 

February 2005


Thursday, 3rd Feb

Noisy windy night

A noisy night last night, much wind, very strong at times, and the rattling of steel from somewhere. Sounded like gas cylinders knocking together. Also the usual tramping hut sound of people turning on noisy, crinkly, plastic-covered mattresses.

I found that one of my spare woollen socks, folded over one ear, with the other ear on the pillow, provided effective soundproofing and allowed me to get sleep. This simple method works better than the squishy-foam type earplugs, which block out very little noise.

No snoring heard at any time on this tramp. This reinforces my belief in the link between lack of fitness and snoring.

I awake early, as I am sleeping under a large window and the first glimmer of daylight comes very early on this mountain-top location, about four o'clock in the morning.

Half the people in the hut arise in this semi-darkness, and wearing headlamps, quietly prepare to leave. The light from the window seems to last for hours before an impressive sunrise.

Sunrise in the mountains


Hut at sunrise.

A valley of spectacular moonscapes

Raymond and I arise about 7 am and set off from the hut about 8 am. The rain and overnight wind has stopped and the weather is pleasant for walking, cloudy and still, with mist around the mountain peaks.

Our walk this morning soon becomes spectacular. We pass through a misty valley of sand and rock moonscapes. Totally unlike anything I have ever seen before.

These moonscapes have very little plant life, and the white mist hovering around the towering, craggy misty peaks around us adds to the surrealness of the scene.

Towering, misty peaks create a surreal scene.


Surreal misty moonscapes.


Quite unlike any other place I have seen before.

Next a valley of exotic plant life

We soon leave this valley and enter another mountain valley with exotic looking plant life and dramatic grey and blue rocks.

Greyscale rocks - this is a colour photo.


The other extreme - purple rocks.

 Here again are many circular gardens that look as if they have been planted by a landscape gardener with carefully chosen varieties of mountain fauna. I took some pictures of the plants.

These unusual round bushes are found in this valley.


Spiky mountain bush grass.


Colourful spiky plants.


White flower clusters.


Delicate mountain flowers.

A canyon of craggy rocks and old lava flows

The next valley, or rather rock canyon we come to, is full of extremely craggy rocks and old lava flows that have abruptly stopped, just like long trains at a station.

Mount Ngauruhoe, the high volcano Raymond and I plan to try and climb tomorrow, looms black and somewhat menacing in the distance, its peak completely covered in cloud.

The other peaks around us are surrounded in mist, but it is being burnt off by the sun which is starting to shine intermittently.

Rugged lava rock.


End of a long train-like lava flow.

The steep climb out of the canyon

It has been easy walking so far, but ahead of us, at the end of this canyon, is a long, steep, craggy mountain face, looking as if it is made up of an old dried lava flows. Obviously we are going to have to climb it, as there is no other way out of the canyon. I soon see the marker poles snaking up. This looks to be a hard slog with our packs on.

Over to the right of the track up the mountain face, a vivid white stream flows rapidly down the mountain from the mountain tops, foaming white like a waterfall, all the way down.

Foaming white mountain stream at the end of the canyon.

We pause at the end of the canyon for a drink of water from our canteens. As we do so, the sun comes out and stays out. I would have preferred some cloud shade on this steep climb which will be our longest yet, probably a kilometre long.

We can now clearly see that this mountain face is composed of steep, rough, black lava rocks and scoria. Dangerous if one should slip and fall.

No way out but up.

Well, off we go. Letís get it over with.

Very heavy going. We climb until we are breathless, which doesnít take long at these high altitudes, then pause to get our breath back and let our pounding hearts slow down. Then off again, one section at a time.

Whenever we stop for a rest and turn around and look back, we see spectacular views along the canyon we have walked through.

Part way up. Looking back down the canyon we
 just walked through.


Nearly to the top. Pant! Pant!

It's very hot climbing in the sun. There is no wind. I drink my canteen of water dry before I reach the top. Raymond is obviously fitter than I am and gets ahead of me.

We come to a thermal area

As I finally near the top, I see steam billowing from huge yellow sulphur patches, high in the side of Red Crater mountain to the left of us. There is also a strong Rotorua smell in the air.

Steaming sulphur cliffs. Smells like Rotorua.

When I am almost at the top of the mountain face, I see another stream of clear water flowing out of black craggy rocks down the left of the ridge we have been climbing. Raymond is down at the stream, so I climb down also to have a closer look and fill my empty water canteen.

I fill my canteen and take a long swig, but the water tastes yuk, so I donít drink any more. Raymond points out a cream-coloured slime on the bottom of the stream bed. The water is probably high in sulphur and other minerals.

Beautiful, emerald-green crater lakes

Finally we stand on the top of the mountain face, which turns out to be a crater rim. We are very high up. Looking back the way we have come we can see impressive views for miles, out toward the Desert Road.

Ahead of us, we look down and see a beautiful, emerald-green crater lake, a few metres below us. We climb down to the lake edge to have a closer look. The lake water is very clear.

When we lift a rock from the bottom, large numbers of bubbles rise to the surface.

 The colour is perhaps more of a turquoise colour, but it is called Emerald Lake.

Beautiful, emerald-green crater lake.

We take off our packs, sit on a rock, and have something to eat. Feels good to relax after the arduous climb.

The lake water is very clear.

Then we once again shoulder our packs and press on.

Soon we come to two more emerald-green crater lakes.

The second emerald-green crater lake.

We explore these and also walk around one of them to a steaming thermal patch of rocks.

Steaming thermal patch of rocks.


Raymond takes a closer look.

We reach the main Tongariro Crossing track

Ahead of us we can see the main Tongariro Crossing track coming down an incredibly steep scoria mountain face from the top of Red Crater Mountain.

We can also see some of the day hikers on this popular track making their way down the mountain face.

We leave our packs below and climb part of the way up this steep track so that we can see all three emerald lakes at once. We will be coming back this way tomorrow, but today we will join the hikers on the main Tongariro Crossing track and stay in the Ketetahi Hut. We also want to see the Ketetahi Hot Springs which are near this hut.

After regarding the steepness and great height of the scoria track up the side of Red Crater mountain, I'm not particularly looking forward to the climb up tomorrow. Almost makes this morningís climb up the previous mountain face look like a Sunday stroll.

All three Emerald Lakes.

We walk back down to our packs and join the day hikers walking the 8 hour, day trip called the Tongariro Crossing. This walk is incredibly popular and attracts about 14,000 hikers each year from all over the world. An average of about 200 a day during the non-snow season. Even more some days with school groups.

We hear a lot of German and pommy English accents.

We follow the Tongariro Crossing track to Ketetahi Hut

This next part of our walk is along the brown sandy floor of a wide valley, a flat barren plain, rather like a tidal mudflat.

Nothing grows here. The ground is a bit wet and muddy at first but soon becomes dry brown sand. On our left, about three metres high and 300 metres wide, is a huge black rock lava flow. You can see it on the right of the photo below.

As I walk across this flat plain my neck starts to ache for no apparent reason.

In the distance I see another steep climb coming up, to take us out of this valley.

Walking with a groups of people on this track reminds me of walking around the Mount.

Looking back along the Tongariro Crossing track.
Arrows mark the track coming down Red Crater Mountain.

Finally we reach the steep climb out of the valley. Another hard slog, more so for some of the other hikers who did not appear as fit as us. (Although tomorrow I would realise what they had already been through.) The thin air makes it worse. We are about one and a half kilometres high, (about 1500 metres or 5000 feet). On these steep 45į climbs we need to stop about every 20 steps to regain our breath.

As we climb out of the valley my neck ache disappears as quickly as it came.

When we reach the top we see another lake, much larger than the others. This is called Blue Lake.

Blue Lake.

We pass to the left of the lake and the track now descends through steep-sided mountain ridges of tussock grass and red scoria. The next stop is the Ketetahi Hut where we plan to stay tonight. This part of the walk takes us about two hours.

Tussock grass and red scoria mountain ridges.

The red scoria soon ends and we come out onto a high steep grassy mountain face. There are fine views for miles to the north as we are still well over a kilometre high. We can see several lakes, even Lake Taupo in the far distance.

Lake Taupo in far distance and Lake Rotoaira nearer.

We can also see the Ketetahi hut, further down the mountainside below us, but as the track is formed in huge zig zags down the steep hillside, it takes ages before we reach it.

When we get to the hut there are lots of day hikers resting and eating and talking on the balcony of the hut. However none of them except a girl appear to be staying the night.

They are still faced with a two hour walk downhill from the hut to the road where they will be picked up by shuttle buses.

Inside the Ketetahi hut.

We have lunch in the hut, then Raymond and I walk further down the mountain to the Ketetahi Hot Springs and have an explore. Not a whole lot to see.

We do however find a spectacular yellow, hot volcanic sulphur outlet.

We then return to the hut.

Ketetahi hot springs. That's me in the Oz hat.

Hot volcanic sulphur outlet.

After 2 pm no more hikers come by.

The lake views from the hut, which is located well over a kilometre high, are quite spectacular from the balcony.

Lake views from the hut balcony.

Joel and Rebecca

The only ones left at the hut now, besides ourselves, is a blond American girl, Rebecca, aged about 23, from the state of Maine, and Joel the volunteer hut warden. Joel is also aged about 23, and American. He is from Portland, Washington State on the West Coast of America.

I eventually introduce Rebecca to Joel, as I thought they would make a nice couple. They appear to have similar interests.

They seem to hit it off and talk for ages. Rebecca evidently tells Joel about an Australian and New Zealand programme called WWOOF which stands for ĎWilling Workers On Organic Farmsí. She has worked in this program in Australia. Joel apparently showed a lot of interest as he is looking for a way to stay in New Zealand when his hut warden job ends.

Raymond and I afterward have a talk with Joel. He is unsure what to do on the rest of his holiday in New Zealand. He thinks he will look further into the WWOOF program.

He shows Raymond and I his small room which is built into the hut. It has gas cooking facilities, the new curly type, low-wattage light bulbs which run off a battery recharged by sunlight, and a radio telephone to receive weather forecasts.

Joel needs to be there at 6-30 pm every night to receive the weather forecast and write it on a notice board in the tramper's hut. Also to check the tickets of those who are staying the night. The only other job a hut warden does is basic hut and track maintenance.

While we are talking with Joel, a helicopter clatters in and lands just behind the hut. Joel thinks it is coming to clear the toilets and grabs a spade. But it turns out that the helicopter is just dropping off some containers which are used to fly in rock track-surfacing material.

Helicopter pilot walking towards the hut.

Thatís Joel with the hat on.

As the helicopter swoops dramatically back down the mountain, I say to Joel what a thrill it would-be to fly one of those things. Joel agrees with me and says that he has been for a few rides in that one.

Rebecca is lying out on the balcony in the hot sun reading a book. She tells me that she has studied Botany at University. This leads to a long discussion on soil minerals, and the lack on them nowadays in crop-growing soils and farming. I suggest she might like to specialise in this area and she shows a lot of interest.

We talk so long I get sunburned on my face before I think to put on my hat.

I also try out her double trekking poles. It definitely seems better to use two rather than a single one, but hers have rubber ends and slip on the stony track. Most poles have tungsten steel points on the end.

Points seem better on the end of trekking poles.

Raymond and i have our evening meal, although I donít feel hungry.

Through the hut window, outside on one of the hillsides we can see a giant teddy bear face.

Giant teddy bear face in hillside.

Only Rebecca, Raymond and I are staying the night in the hut. Joel will be staying in his room.

We spend the evening reading and talking.

As I lie in my bunk tonight, my face is hot with sunburn. I donít feel at all sleepy.

Our bunks in the hut.


 Next day Friday 4th Feb

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