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Published: January 23rd 2016
Day three of the Tongariro North Circuit is relatively short at only 8.5 kilometres and, according to the map would be relatively flat. As the weather was forecast to start overcast and turn to rain, we planned to get up early and attempt to make it to the next hut as early as possible. When we woke it was already drizzling so we had a leisurely breakfast instead.
We set off walking down the lava field we had traversed the previous evening. Soon this changed into a field of boulders "placed" with explosive force by the volcano. The boulders were generally small, and though haphazardly placed, posed little trouble. The path adopted a gentle downward gradient which was so much easier than the previous day.
The boulder field did suddenly get steeper though and dropped down towards a stream in the bottom of a valley. As we approached the valley we saw cloud forming below us. By the time we had forded the stream, visibility was down to about five metres and we could only just make out the luminous orange track markers. On the other side of the stream we crossed another boulder field until we reached another
stream. On the far side of this a very steep bank of pebbles impeded our way. Scrabbling up this was difficult and energy sapping. I felt that the weight of the pack would drag me back down the hill but I just managed to keep my balance. We scrambled upwards for a few minutes, really panting for breath, before the path started following a contour around the dome-like pebble hill. This then turned into a boulder field again before becoming a mixed boulder and pebble field, with the worst hazards of both.
As we reached this point, the cloud suddenly, instantly lifted and we could see a few hundred metres and even make out the shadows of mountains lurking behind the clouds behind us. As we walked through the pebbles and boulders the path rose and then flattened out. We found ourselves walking along an exposed ridge where there were only rocks for nothing could grow in those conditions. We must have walked about five hundred metres over this ridge. As we did so more scenery came into view as the last of the fog lifted. To our right, a vibrant green beech forest was clinging to a parallel
ridge. To our left was a wide flat expanse and behind us Mount Ngauruhoe was starting to peep out.
Abruptly, the barren wasteland just stopped with the appearance of many orange, red, yellow and green plants completely covering the rocks. Amidst this we saw the first trees we'd passed in days - hardy outliers from the forest on the opposite ridge. Beyond this clump of trees the path went steeply downhill until it dived straight into the forest in the bottom of the valley. After a couple of hundred metres we came straight to a beautiful fast flowing stream. We walked along this for a short distance and then crossed a bridge over it.
On the far bank the path climbed steeply uphill. This was quite a shock to us as it was the only long uphill stretch of the day and was quite demanding. After huffing our way to the top of the hill, the trees gave way to another barren ridge. We turned a sharp bend and below us, in an idyllic looking valley, was that night's hut. Even from a distance we could see the hut was of a much higher standard and more modern
design than the previous two.
The ridge started descending the bare hill we were on. The splendour of the views inspired us to praise God and we started singing hymns. The hill dropped further and on the lower slopes the path became forested again.
We soon tramped through to the campsite and continued up a few flights of steps to the hut. Here we treated ourselves to a lunch of hot soup and bacon and cheese sandwiches. Our walk over for the day, we spent the afternoon resting.
We took a twenty minute walk over to the Ohinepango Spring. We came to a stream flowing fast and crystal clear through the arid landscape. We crossed a bridge and tracked back up this to the source, a few hundred metres upstream. Here we bathed our tired feet and then drank the freshest water I have ever tasted. Sadly the water was too cold to swim in but it was refreshing to splash on us.
In the evening we met a Canadian guy who was going to walk our first three day's hike in just twelve hours the following day. We were impressed at his ambition and I
hope he made it as his schedule was driven by his bus to the airport.
The warden gave a very short hut talk, to our relief and then we went out to admire the sun setting over Mounts Ngauruhoe and Ruapehu which would feature prominently in our fourth and final day of walking.
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