Tongariro Northern Circuit: Whakapapa to Oturere
Trip Start Sep 21, 2006
228Trip End Jun 01, 2007
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This is what New Zealand means to me - setting loose in the great outdoors!
I'm on the only passenger on the 'early-bird' bus and on the trail from Whakapapa by 7am before the sun has risen over Ngauruhoe. The path launches through a wood of moss-covered beech trees, then opens out to a moor of pink flowering heathers draped in a morning mist. Dewey spider webs spread between blades of tussock grass. I take a short detour through a white rainbow where the tumbling Taranaka Stream turns into falls
At the turn off for Lower Tama Lake I discover I've been sent off on a path in an anticlockwise direction - not my original plan but one than explains the (enjoyable) absence of other people on the trail. Two hours in, it's too late to turn around. Lower and Upper Tama Lakes are two former explosion craters filled with mineral-rich turquoise waters.
After three-and-a-half hours I pass my first fellow tramper. Now the path rises and falls gently over mounds thick with heather, colours of rust, pale green and silver before joining the Waihohonu Stream. Old Waihohonu Hut sits beside a wood just off the track. This ochre-painted, corrugated-iron lodge dates from 1903 and is now preserved as a historical site, complete with early 20th-century chiselled graffiti, period skis and a cabinet of dated trail snacks.
I reach the new Waihohonu hut for lunch at midday after about 16km of walking. The weather remains clear, sunny, with a mild breeze, ideal. I press on to the next hut, three hours away. The trail leads through a magical (Hard to shrug off thoughts of Lord of the Rings) wood of silver and red beeches, hugged by grey moss and miniature ferns. Then the view appears bleak - open gravel fields, rises and troughs, an almost sterile, lava landscape
The hut warden, Antse offers a traditional Maori welcome to visitors, with story, song and haka. He explains the sacred history of the park's mountains that were given freely by a great Maori chief to be enjoyed by all. We, as visitors, express our pleasure that, especially compared to the first people in countries such as the USA and Australia, Maori customs and culture have survived to hold a great resonance over New Zealand.