Camping high in vicinity of the Emerald Lakes with a possible Ngauruhoe summit was the plan; a windblasted dash past Red Crater and a good proportion of the Tongariro Northern Circuit was the reality – a great post-snowcraft introduction to alpine trips for me!
Chitchat over fish and chips in Bulls produced several alternatives to our original plan. Given the forecast of high winds and a fair amount of precipitation it was unlikely we’d be camping as high as we might have hoped. Said chitchat also revealed that two amongst us had never tasted L&P which nicely provides this trip report with hydration-related sub-plot number 1.
Arriving at Mangatepopo Hut sometime after 11pm, we stumbled over our final punter (Tony) who had set up camp on the veranda (or is it a deck?), then headed straight to bed. In the morning, we managed to contain our excitement at the discovery of electric lighting in the hut, and our horror that one anonymous party member had forgotten their teabags (hydration-related sub-plot number 2), just enough to make some arrangements for the van to find us at one of our exit options sometime around Sunday lunchtime. We didn’t fancy walking back to Mangatepopo straight into the forecast 70km winds.
Our party of five, with teabag supply for four, left the hut in pretty murky but mild weather and headed up the solid track that forms the start of the Tongariro Crossing. We were passed by two runners in just shorts and trainers who momentarily made us look rather over-kitted.
We stopped after an hour or so to don crampons in the South Crater, which made tackling the slope up to the Mangatepopo Saddle and the ridge along to Red Crater in reasonably strong winds achievable. We were now glad we had more kit than those two runners! Another hour later we stopped for a jelly bean boost on the sheltered side of the ridge having decided not to attempt Tongariro summit in the cloud. And cloud there was, although every now and then it cleared just enough to taunt us with the landscape we might have seen had it been clear. We headed south-east skirting the Emerald Lakes and continued down towards Oturere Hut where we’d decided there would be time for tea and decision-making, reaching it around 1pm.
Decisions, decisions…Tony’s campaign trail would march us on to Waihohonu Hut for the night, then back to Whakapapa the next day, while Rowena was keen for us to keep the weekend wholesome by steering clear of luxury Waihohonu and instead staying at the more modest Oturere Hut, before heading back up and over to Ketetahi on Sunday. Not much between them in terms of exposure or time. Marie declared herself neutral, and Fiona and I were game for either option. Others arriving to stay at Oturere chipped in with their preference for us to stay put to help keep them warm. In the end we opted for making the most of what was turning into a nice afternoon and heading on to Waihohonu.
We broke the 2.5hr tramp with a 20min rest on a very comfy and colourful bit of tussock, sunbathing while we rested our legs. Both Ruapehu and Ngauruhoe made appearances through the cloud to provide a stunning backdrop to the afternoon.
Waihohonu Hut was all the palace the campaign slogans had promised…with only one other group of four to share it with. We got the fire going and the temperature inside soon hit a tropical 23 degrees thanks to the insulation – far from the cold night camping we had anticipated.
Time for more tea and the discovery that a second anonymous party member had left their teabags at the previous hut. Sunday morning brought wind and some rain, but nothing as bad as we thought we might get – more of concern was the dwindling supply of tea – some leaves were on triple-dunking duty! After a brief visit to the historic Waihohonu hut with its separate male and female quarters and photos of women skiing in wide-brimmed hats and skirts, we marched on towards the Tama Saddle – the motorpathway took us directly under a beautiful rainbow…or at least that’s how we tried to make it look in the photos.
Just before the real rain came in we took the 10 minute detour up to the Lower Tama Lake where we paused for some discussion on why the lake levels were SO low – was it just the dry summer and lower snowfall this season – and whether they would ever recover. The last hour or so back to Whakapapa village was pretty grey and wet. We met several day walkers heading up to the lake looking particularly miserable in their emergency ponchos. I think we were all pleased to see the van.
On the journey home Marie got her first taste of L&P and we declared her probably the first person in history to describe it using the words “it tastes just like the chocolate!” I can’t comment as I have also yet to try the liquid stuff. A fantastic trip – with all the options discussed, my list of adventures to be had in this area has just increased about three-fold!