Tongariro National Park

We’re back after a wonderful 8 days walking in the mountains of Tongariro National Park. Overall the weather was crap – so bad that we redefined our definition of a fine day to one where it only rains for half the day 🙂 Every day bar one we had rain, and most days we had hail stones and snow, but the beauty of NZ’s changeable weather is that every day we also had enough clear patches and views of the peaks to keep us happy. We walked along well marked trails in the park, which took us over tussock, lava rocks, sandy desert and through forest. The tussock in particular was gorgeous – fabulous shades of gold and burgundy with miniature alpine plants (so tiny due to the short growing season in that harsh environment), and the lava rocks were a jumble of stunning shapes.
While the weather was harsh, we were reassured by our gear and overall were warm enough. Although as Daniel pointed out, that was only as long as we kept walking! As soon as we stopped, we felt the wind whipping through us and froze (often we were walking in exposed spots and there were gale force winds). He thinks the clothing was a cunning plan by me to limit the photo breaks 🙂 but really it is that it would be impractical to carry the kind of gear that would allow us to idle around in 90km/h winds and be warm enough.
As we were staying in huts every night, we had a chance to dry off daily. Usually we walked in the morning and reached the hut sometime after lunch, allowing time for leisurely cups of tea and soup before even thinking of dinner. The huts were well equipped for cold and wet hikers, having a heater (either gas or wood), and clothes drying racks too. One of the huts we stayed in even had hot water (from solar panels), although that is possibly the only one in the country! There are over 900 such mountain huts here, used by walkers, climbers, backcountry skiers and hunters. Most are very basic – just 4 walls, a roof and a couple of sleeping platforms, but the ones we have stayed in so far are top of the range as they are on relatively busy trails. But even on these the bunks tend to be crowded together, so if the hut is busy you can have 10 or 15 people all sleeping together in a small room that is used for cooking, eating etc. Depending on who turns up at the hut things can definitely get interesting! One of the nights we had the world’s loudest snorer on the bunk right beside Daniel – she kept the whole hut awake and Daniel was still feeling the reverbations long after we had left the hut the next morning!
About half the hut occupants were foreign and half were kiwis, and most that we met were lovely. As we are in school holiday season, there were a number of teachers hiking as well as two separate father and son groups doing a 5 day hike, including a 12 year old lad who was fully equipped with his ice axe and crampons. However we also met a couple of spectacular idiots, all of whom were foreigners, and hadn’t a clue what they were doing in the mountains. One was wearing jeans and a cotton top (!) and looked every inch the stereotype of clueless foreigner that needs search and rescue when they get hypothermic or lost. And to make matters worse they didn’t pay their hut fees through the honesty system that is in place.
Speaking of search and rescue, we realised our own emergency plan needs an ‘upgrade’ (ie ‘development’!). Although the trails last week were fairly popular and well marked, we won’t always be on such trails and need to be better prepared in the event of an accident. We feel particularly exposed when hiking without our tent, which is usually the first step in our emergency plan. So last week we both had a similar feeling of unease should one of us fall and break a leg in severe weather, and will be better prepared for future trips (scenarios discussed and actions agreed in advance, exit route well known, emergency rations and first aid kit handy and we may also hire an emergency locator beacon). So Mom and Dad no need to worry 🙂
One thing which did work fairly well on this trip was food, and despite being constrained on quantity when carrying 9 days food, we were never hungry. We were amongst the few to have brought real food, as opposed to dehydrated food, and overall we were happy with what we had. Although we were out of town for 8 days we didn’t really have any food cravings, the way we did while walking in Coromandel. A hot breakfast of porridge with cinnamon and dried fruit was always eagerly awaited. Lunch (on the trail) was crackers with cheese or peanut butter, and dinner was couscous or pasta with sardines, dried veg and heaps of spices. Generally we both ate from the same pot, dipping our ‘sporks’ into whatever was in the pot at the time. Snacks we divided up, going bite for bite on a muesli bar, or dividing up our ration of 4 or 6 squares of chocolate, or handful of jellies. But one day after i opened a muesli bar, Daniel decided he didn’t want his share just then, so faced with eating half and putting the rest away, or eating the whole lot, obviously i chose the latter :-). That meant that Daniel was now ‘owed’ an energy bar and he duly put it in his pocket to have later. It was torture knowing he had a bar in there all for himself, and every time he moved and the packaging crackled my eyes were on him wondering if he was going to eat it then. I don’t know why he didn’t slink off outside to eat it in peace! I vowed never again to incur a food debt especially with something as precious as snacks! For our next trip we will bring more snacks, as much for psychological reasons as for physical. We will also bring fewer spices and dried peas, in an attempt to reduce our, ahem, flatulence … (that was our contribution to hut annoyances!)
Toilet paper was also pretty precious as the huts don’t provide any and we quickly realised that we didn’t really bring enough. However, it is amazing how little is ACTUALLY needed, and suffice to say that at our usage rate these past few days, each of you probably has a lifetime supply sitting in your bathroom cabinet right now. The trip was notable for a remarkably generous gesture whereby one of us handed over to the other 10 sheets of toilet paper from our personal stash (at that stage still in its original 2-ply form). Definitely something that will live in the memory, along with the need to bring more next time 🙂
Something else which we might bring next time is wine. We were startled one night in a hut to see a fellow hiker pull a bag of wine out of his pack. He kindly offered us some, but we declined out of shock (plus the fear that if we accepted we would need to offer him some of our chocolate :-)). We can definitely see ourselves with a glass of red with dinner by the fire, the question is whether we can see ourselves carrying it!
We are back in town for a day or two to wash and recharge our batteries (our own plus those of our cameras). And also to catch up on rest as our sleep was quite disturbed in the huts, and Daniel was also up several times a night checking night time photo conditions. After that we will be back to the mountains for 5 days. We want to complete a hike we didn’t get to do last week, and hopefully see views of another volcano 120km away that we want to hike around the following week.

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One thought on “Tongariro National Park

  1. Dia dhuit Clara Bhí mé ag léamh do email “Tongario National Park”- an shiumúil agus bhí mé abálta na pictiúirí a aimsiú freisin.Ceapaim go bhfuil níos mó báiste ansin ná mar atá anseo! Níl aon rud nua anseo- dull lives! Chonaic mé an speech a thug Steve Jobs i Stanford cúpla mí ó shin. Bhí Eoin ag léamh an leabhair agus dúirt sé liom mar gheall air. Bhí sé an maith. Tabhair díbh féin.deireann Bernard “hi”. Áine.

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