Tongariro National Park & surrounds…..
Before heading to our Airbnb accommodation in the small ski town of Ohakune, we popped into the Tongariro Visitor Centre. Hoping to walk New Zealand’s most popular day hike, the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, we knew we needed to organise the logistics. Its a point to point hike rather than a loop, so we needed to ensure we had organised a shuttle. Following a conversation with Melanie, one of the friendly staff, we established that our easiest option was to have them collect us outside our accommodation and drop us off afterwards. This would save worrying about parking – they have limited hours due to the popularity of the walk – and meant we didn’t have to drive the hour home after a long walk. As Melanie was from Ohakune, she told us about a few walks there that we could do the following day (Saturday) and we booked our transfers for the Crossing on Sunday. Before leaving the area, we did an easy 2-hour hike to a nearby waterfall to stretch our legs after a day in the car.
Enjoying our home in Ohakune…..
Our final night at Dawson Falls, we still didn’t have any accommodation for the following night, so had to battle with the dodgy wifi there to try and book something. We ended up finding a lovely looking home on Airbnb so locked it in. Only once we’d booked did we realise it didn’t have wifi. When doing things on the fly, wifi has become one of our necessities, so this little mistake felt like the end of the world! When we arrived and saw the gorgeous place we were staying for the next 4 nights, all concern went out the door. It turned out to be a large couples retreat with huge windows opening out to views of the lavender in the garden, surrounding paddocks and out to Mt Ruapehu. There was a full laundry, kitchen and bathroom with huge bathtub. The king size bed on the mezzanine level was the most comfortable we’ve slept in and in addition to the views already described, had a skylight providing views of the stars!
Ohakune itself was small and quiet given the low season, but there was a New World supermarket for all our supplies and a couple of decent coffee shops for our caffeine fix (and wifi). Just outside the centre of town was Carrot Park, a little park dedicated to the farmers of the area, including the large Chinese contingent that had been part of the development of the community.
Taking a trip back into New Zealand’s rail heritage…..
On Saturday, after a slow morning and breakfast, we took a short drive up the road to the start of one of the popular walking and cycling tracks nearby. Ohakune Old Coach Road was used to carry passengers and goods between two railheads on the North Island main line before they were linked in 1908. The Hapuawhenua Viaduct was one of the final components of the railway and these days can be crossed on foot or by bicycle. We enjoyed an easy day traversing fields, exploring tunnels and passing over the old viaduct. The evening was quiet, with bedtime soon after dinner, knowing that we would be up early the following day to tackle the arduous Tongariro Crossing.
Taking on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing…..
The nigh on full moon was still bright in the sky as we left the house to head down to the end of the driveway to meet the shuttle that would be taking us to the start of our hike. As we stood waiting, the dawn started breaking and we had our first view of the summit of Mt Ruapehu – it had been shrouded in mist since our arrival. We could hear the birds waking as well as the cows, but still no sound of our transport. Just as we were about to check tickets for a contact number, we spotted the bright lights of the small bus coming down the road. Whew, they hadn’t forgotten us.
After a couple more stops around Ohakune, we were on the main road back to the Tongariro National Park. The bus was full of Brits, Swiss, Germans and Canadians. There were no other Australians on board. We really haven’t come across many Aussies during out travels in NZ at all, particularly not on any of the hikes. Walter was grateful not to be driving as we would’ve had to leave earlier (in the dark) and it was very foggy.
Within an hour, we were at the carpark, well briefed by the driver on what to expect and on our way on the track. The first part was flat and easy, the only challenge being the narrow parts where passing was difficult. We did know this was New Zealand’s most popular day hike but wow, so many people! And the track is so well built and maintained that it’s a bit like a highway!
Soon we reached the “Devil’s Staircase”. As the name implies, a very steep path up wooden stairs…up, up, up! As we ascended, we moved above the fog and the views opened up. Reaching the South Crater was our first achievement and it was a treat walking through the huge expanse before starting our next ascent.
The next climb wasn’t quite as well paved, with a little rock hopping and scrambling required to access the Red Crater. It was worth every step, rewarding us with views of the Emerald Lakes, including steam rising from the walls. After joining the throngs of people sliding down the scree slope on the other side (we didn’t join some of them in falling), we took a break alongside one of the lakes to nibble on the pizza rolls we’d brought for lunch – even though it was around 10:30am (we did have breakfast at 6am).
Walking through more craters filled with old lava flows was surreal. Soon after our final crater walk, we descended into the mist and for a few kms, the switchback track was somewhat boring.
The sighting of steam rising out of the Ketetahi hot springs was a welcome distraction before we reached our next snack stop at the Ketetahi Shelter overlooking Lake Taupo. The vista was lovely but the grandeur reduced by the amount of mist shrouding the valley.
The final few kms were through a forest following a stream. It seemed to carry on longer than expected but eventually we came out of the bush straight into a buzz of activity….all those that had already completed the hike were waiting for their shuttles. We would have a long wait for our transport as we had completed the walk in a little over 5 hours and the first shuttle was due after 6 ½ hours. It was fun sitting watching others finish amidst the hive of activity.
Only 3 other couples from our morning bus were finished by the time our vehicle arrived, so it was pretty empty and quiet on the way home. The others would have to get one of the later trips.