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Published: March 31st 2009
Amongst the list of things I really hate, right up there with parking tickets in front of your own house and hot cross buns, is the animal game. Or the animal game disguised as something else. It's just not that entertaining to think of every animal (or band or insert other topic here) you can beginning with a certain letter on long journeys. It's especially not entertaining when you play against people whose repertoire of remembered animals includes the cookie-cutter shark, but I suspect that just illustrates that I don't like to lose. Luckily, given Justin and Whitley are of the cookie-cutter mould, they only insisted on playing in the car on the way there and back, and we had 4 lovely animal game-free days hiking the Tongariro Northern Circuit.
The circuit is a 50km trek, a small part of which is the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, which is New Zealand's most popular day walk. For us, that was the second day of our hike - a 9km stretch from Mangatepopo Hut to Ketatahi Hut, which takes you up the volcanic rock Devil's Staircase, along the South Crater, up over the Red Crater, down to the brilliant Emerald Lakes, past the
Blue Lake before the descent down to the hut. The route is steep and tough in parts and can be pretty wild in inclement weather, a fact that was clearly lost on a lot of the day hikers. We crossed the exposed crater rim in 60km/hr winds that threatened to blow you off the side, with visibility of not more than about 10 metres in spots. More than once, I was very thankful for my thermals, beanie, warm jacket and sturdy boots, and was amazed to see people making the crossing in such hiking essentials as hot pants and strappy shoes. The visibility was much better down by the lakes, which are probably the highlight of a stunning area.
Huts in National Parks in New Zealand are a cut above most other places I've hiked - big, well-kept, with clean toilets and fantastic huge gas stoves and ovens. The cooking facilities are hugely superior to the trusty Trangia and mean you can thing about cooking things other than the usual camping pasta and rice staples. We were lucky enough to score some left over cheese sandwiches from one of the other hikers, and the resultant jaffles probably rank among
my favourite unexpected camping moments.
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