New Zealand North Island Road Trip- Tongariro National Park and Taihape


“The journey is the destination”

So after stocking up on supplies from the local ‘Countdown’ (our equivalent of Asda), we hit the road towards Whakapapa Village. The drive took us along Lake Taupo which was very pretty and then heads on into the Tongariro National Park itself- North Islands showpiece National Park and World Heritage Site. It really is beautiful with lots of Alpine forests and snow capped peaks. On our way to Whakapapa Village we stopped off at Lake Rotopounamu to do a 1 1/2 hour loop trail around he lake. However we couldn’t complete it as the beach sections were flooded due to the heavy rain. We set off anyway through the forest, the trail lined with giant Rimm and Beech trees, and got level with the lake. But as we couldn’t get onto the beaches to actually see the lake, the walk got boring fast so we headed back, had our sandwiches, then finished our journey to Whakapapa. We arrived late afternoon and really felt we were in a NZ that we hadn’t seen yet- 1100 meter up and definitely in alpine ski region. We re-taped our tent poles an erected the damn thing, glad that it would be the last time we had to do it!  Neither of us slept well that night as this place is FREEZING! When our alarm went off at 6am the next morning we were awake anyway!

So January 18th and the day of the world famous 1 day ‘ Tongariro Alpine Crossing’ (“an extending trek over steep and exceptional volcanic territory”). We got picked up at 7am and taken to the start point 20 mins away at Mangatepop car park. Our driver gave us a safety and logistics briefing and sent us on our way saying that the weather was meant to stay dry with cloud clearing in the afternoon. However Tongariro weather is fickle- cloud can burn off in minutes but return just as quick- as we were to experience first hand in this 19.4km 1 day trek!

So the ‘Crossing’ – we started off from Managatepop car park (1150 meters) at 7.40am and followed the river up the Mangatepopo valley to Soda Springs (1400 m). The weather was overcast but with spots of bright, hot sunshine. At Soda Springs was the last loo stop until Ketetahi hut 4 hours away so we definitely took the opportunity to use the facilities! Our trek then took a sudden incline to the South Crater between Mt Tongariro and Mt Ngauruhoe, up steep steps which they call the devils staircase and it definitely felt devilish come the end!

South Crater is at 1550 m and as we got higher it got windier and freezing so all the layers got put back on as we walked across the South Crater which a long flat barren land in the shadow of Mt Ngaunhoe. Or for those Lord of Ring fans- Mt Doom from the films. Not that we could see Mt Doom (or Gollum, Frodo or Sam!) as it was foggy as hell…really felt like we were walking into an abyss!

Next was the scrabble up to the tracks highest point- Red Crater- at 1886m- a still active and steaming vent. You could definitely see the red rock of the crater and when the cloud cleared you saw a great view of the valley. We almost saw the peak of Mt Doom from up there but not quite!

We then the scrabble and slide down from the top of Red Crater. I pretended that I was skiing at this point and hoped for the best as I slid down the loose scree! We stopped half way down to have our sandwiches overlooking the Emerald Lakes. These lakes were very beautiful and we had a fantastic view of them as the cloud cleared (and yes you guess it, came back again!) But in the sunshine the emerald lakes glistened a beautiful light jade colour. After lunch we slid down the remaining hill and walk around the 3 Emerald lakes and then skirted past Te Wai-Whakaota-o-te Rangihiroa (or Blue lake in English!). We were at 1650 m now and there were ice pockets which hung to the hills behind the lake.

There was one last uphill stepped section and then we were on the descent to Ketetahi Hut. We were back in the cloud again and the route wrapped and weaved itself down the mountain so you never really knew if you were making progress! But we finally made it to the hut at 1400m and chilled out on the wooden veranda to wait for the cloud to clear to get a glimpse of Lake Taupo. Oh and use the loo of course- phew! The cloud cleared after a while and we got a goof view of Lake Rotoaira, Lake Otamangakau and massive Lake Taupo beyond them.

We then made the final descent down to Ketetaki car park back at 700 meters. The final section is through native forest and feels like it goes on forever! But the river sections of that bit are cool and you have to go up and over tree roots which breaks up the monotony of just forest. Eventually we made it to the end point at 2.15pm and sat in the sun to wait for our pick up back to camp at 3pm. So it took us just over 6 1/2 hours which isn’t a bad pace so we were quite pleased with ourselves. Although our legs and feet were aching terribly. But nothing the hot shower back at camp didn’t fix. We drove to the nearest shop, 20 mins away, at National Park Village and picked up some burgers for a mini BBQ. That with a couple of ciders marked the end of a great day. Although it was super cloudy on the crossing, we were still really pleased we did it.

So the next day we put down the tent for the last time- yey! We had heard back from Jackie from Adventure Capital and she was going to charge us anything saying it was something wrong with the poles and not us- phew! And we headed off on Route 1 south towards Taihape. It was a bit of a long detour from where we needed to get to that night (Whangamomona) but eventually we got to Gravity Canyon, 20 mins south of Taihape, around noon. We paid up to do the ‘Flying Fox’ and walked the 15 mins up to the launch pad 175 meters above the river. So the ‘Flying Fox’- it is a 1 km zip-line where you fly at 160 kph down and along the canyon. You look more like a flying squirrel than a fox with a blue bib which they hoist you up into lying position. The lady counted down 3, 2, 1 and then we were off for maybe 10 seconds really fast down the canyon. I screamed all the way…naturally! The then pull you back up to the launch pad quite slowly so you can get a good look at what you’ve just zoomed past. It was really good fun and Hedd’s back was fine. It is quite addictive though and you wanted to go again. But alas our budget doesn’t allow for such whims, so we grabbed some lunch and then headed back on the road heading North West towards the Forgotten World Highway and our stop for that night- Whangamomona.

Tongariro National Park and Taihape in a snapshot:

  • Weather= Cold and crisp as every alpine area should be, but shame about the cloud.
  • Trek snacks of choice= Fruit chews for Hedd; Yoghurt covered raisins for me
  • Drink= Water
  • Invention of the year= ‘The Front Cape’- your rain coat put on front ways (cos you can’t be bothered to take your day bag off when walking!)
  • Outfit that I will be sporting next RCRC ball= ‘The Flying Squirrel’ (see pick above)- that’s right, goggles and all!

Hedd’s words of wisdom:

Well that was a fun day trek, plenty of mist and freezing wind, steep slopes and thankfully very little rain. On the one had it was a shame we couldn’t see much at the top and we couldn’t climb Mt. Doom due to the low visibility but it was still cool climbing up and disappearing into the mist!! All in all a great day of hiking, followed by a BBQ and some cider, what more could I have wanted!!

They wouldn’t let me do a cliffhanger swing in Taupo because of my back, which was disappointing and the reason we drove a 200k round trip out of our way to do the flying fox!! It might be the most extreme thing I get to do on this trip because of the bloody back and it was certainly fun. No matter how securely they strap you in, its still quite nerve-wracking standing 175m above the ground about to be released, but apart from the first drop it was more like an intense roller-coster than anything and well worth the money.


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