Tongariro Northern Circuit
13-15 October 2020
Although no one signed up for this trip, Chris and I went ahead anyway and we had a marvellous time. We started at Whakapapa Village and walked through to Mangatepopo Hut. The forecast had suggested that we might get wet but the drizzle stopped just as we set off, so we reached the hut in good spirits, in time to enjoy sunshine on the deck before cloud came down and smothered everything.
The forecast for the next day was for 50 kph winds that would ease off during the day so we did not expect to have an early start. However, we awoke to a perfect, still day so got cracking. The plan was to go up Hardman’s Ridge, which runs parallel to the main crossing track down in the valley. We took the path from the deck down to the stream, crossed it and followed the footpad that climbs just over 100 m onto the ridge. Already we had an interesting view of the lava flows from Ngāuruhoe and could see how they had impacted on the valley floor below.
The route along the ridge is straightforward until it sidles and climbs steeply for the last few hundred metres. We sidled too early and realised we were 100 m too low. It was a steep, slippery scrabble up scoria to gain height. It was a relief for the legs to reach the crest just under the top of Mt Tongariro, which we did not climb. The southern slopes were covered with snow. On with the instep crampons and with ice axes untethered we were able to descend the solid snow without worry.
Rather than continue along the crater edge to join the TAC track at Red Crater, we dropped down into Central Crater where we had lunch. It was such a beautiful day and as we trudged across the crater to the Oturere track junction we were entertained by the laughter and shrieks of the walkers descending the scoria slope from Red Crater. It had taken us four and a half hours to reach the Oturere turnoff, so it is a longer route than the standard track.
Weaving through the amazing lava formations down to Oturere Hut, we discussed what to do next. The forecast was for a rather vicious change to the south with gales and snow down to one thousand metres. After a decent break at the hut, with some reluctance we continued on the Waihōhonu Hut, so that we didn’t have an eight-hour day in bad weather for our last day.
We woke the next day to perfect stillness but looking out the window we were surprised to see at least 5 cm of snow on the ground and snow still falling. It was so beautiful. The snow abated while we packed up and in no wind we set off back to Whakapapa Village. We were tired from our nearly nine hours the day before and had agreed that we would just set a comfortable pace out. At times the track was hard to follow but the stark landscape was captivating and we were surrounded by threatening purple cloud which added to the feeling of drama.
As we crossed over the Tama Saddle, the wind started to build and before long the squawking of the snow under boots was accompanied by whistling blue poles and bothering wind. The wind was just starting to push us around as we approached the end, so it must have been terrible back on the track. What a contrast - sunhat and sunscreen followed by full storm gear! But a fabulous trip.
- Party members
- Peggy (scribe) and Chris Munn