Tongariro in the mist – peak bagging for 8 year olds – November 2011

Everyone knows the Ruapehu Lodge is where you go for winter weekends; for snowboarding, alpine adventures and the like.  Summer?  What’s there in Summer?  Well, that was our mission: to find out.

I well know that the lodge is very comfortable for regular punters and families alike. It needs to be because snowboarding at Mt Ruapehu usually involves trudging up to the lodge in a blizzard, staying inside drinking coffee and relaxing while it sleets, snows and blows all weekend, and then grimly struggling back to the car and going home again.  At least in summer, we’d only get gales and rain!

Our journey began at 5pm sharp as we set off.  It’s never a good idea to start a trip to Ruapehu at 5pm on a Friday, but needs must.  We met up with Simon, who was grabbing a ride from us, and collected Toby, our son, who was at after-school care, and off we went north along SH1, along with half of Wellington.

Sure enough, we met the queue for the Waikane lights at the outskirts of Paraparaumu.  It was walking speed from then on; must have taken a good hour or so.  Sigh.  Not unexpected.  Once we’d cleared Waikanae it all got a lot faster, although we didn’t make the famous Bulls kebab shop for dinner: Levin McDonalds was as good as it got for us.

The fuel light came on just out of Taihape, which was fine.  My game plan is always to fill up in Waiouru.

But I learned something that night:

You can’t fill up at Waiouru anymore.

We pulled into Waiouru and tried all the petrol stations, one by one.  Caltex – gone.  BP – gone. Shell – going: there was a digger parked on the remains of the forecourt building.  All replaced by truck stops with diesel and fuel cards.  Disaster!  We definitely didn’t have enough petrol to make the lodge.  So there was nothing for it but to drive all the way back to Taihape to the BP that’s there, and open 24/7.  My new game plan is to fill up at Taihape!

(Since March, Z have built a shiny new petrol station so you can get petrol in Waiouru again.  But I still don’t trust it.  Once bitten…)

On the way, my wife Angela started texting about the terrible earthquake and tsunami in Japan.  So we sombrely listened to the news on the radio.  It certainly brings you down to earth when these things happen.

So between the traffic, the dinner and the backtracking, it was 11pm by the time we got to the lodge.  Six hours!!  An epic trip (but not ‘epic’ in a good way).  Next time I will definitely take an hour off work, or even work an hour later.

When we got there there were still a lot of folk up and about, and we talked about the next two days’ activities.  The original plan was some fairly easy 4 hour walks, plenty of stops for jellybeans; normal family tramping fare.  But the two ‘normal family tramper’ families had not been able to make it, leaving Ally and Beth who were intending to have a great weekend being lounge lizards, and Rene, Tom and Vincent who were going to go hard to train for bagging Mt Taranaki the following weekend.  So what to do?  Nothing for it but for Toby, Simon and I to go hard with Rene.

Ally suggested a great route into Tongariro: head up to Mangetepopo Hut and then head up the ridge opposite the Tongariro Crossing route which takes you straight to the top of Tongariro.  This sounded really good and pretty easy to find, and so we decided that was for us.

So to bed we went, with me checking the news and texting Angela before I went to sleep.  Angela’s parents were holidaying in Hawai’i and there was a tsunami forecast for 3am!  All was good in the end though.  Hawai’i is well set up for tsunamis so we knew it would be, even if it was a major one.

Ruapehu 1It was an early start the next morning and off we drove to the Mangetepopo road end.  It was a quick, easy jaunt to Mangetepopo Hut.  I even heard that it wasn’t uncommon for folks to overnight there if they were driving from Wellington to Auckland: easy to get to and free with an annual hut pass!  Great idea.

Now we had the first test for the boys: the face up to the opposite ridge.  They tackled it with minimum complaints and lots of running back and forth.  There were some little slips with smooth mud faces that proved irresistible to bum-slide down.  By the time we got to the top of the ridge, we had three fairly dirty boys with us!

Ruapehu 2Once we hit the ridge it was a gentle up and down wander, with just a little bit more up than down.  The boys wandered along chatting about whatever young boys chat about, and the adults pestered them to go faster.  They mostly acceded.

Mt Tongariro was visible in the distance and it steadily got closer.

After a couple of hours the ridge turned into a spur and got steadily steeper.  Now things got a bit more serious.  The gravel track turned into a scree face, and the walking turned into a slog with one step up and two steps back.  Hard work!  Toby scrambled up with Vincent in hot pursuit. The two of them were light enough to mostly skate over the scree.

Ruapehu 3The top of the spur slowly, painfully, got closer and closer and eventually… we popped up to the top and discovered we were within 100m of the summit!  We found ourselves looking into big Tongariro crater, with the summit, which is really just the highest lump on the crater wall, off to our right.

Unfortunately, a bank of cloud chose to move over Ngaruhoe and Tongariro just at this time, after the brilliant blue skies we’d had on the way up.  So the view from the top wasn’t quite as good as it should have been.  We got there in time to see the Tongariro craters and the view out to the east before it clagged in.

Ruapehu 4After the obligatory photos and celebrations and jellybeans, it was time to head down again.  Our plan was to follow the crater rim back town, and then take the Tongariro Crossing track in reverse, back to the Mangetepopo car park.

So we sauntered back down the crater rim, and took a quick detour to glance across to Red crater.  It looked pretty ethereal; our only real look at a strange volcanic stained landscape (if you don’t count Ngaruhoe looming over us constantly, that is).

Ruapehu 5Now we were back on the Tongariro Walk, steadily passing the straggler loopies in their jeans and cotton tops, wondering how they would get home now they’d missed their transport out by over an hour.  The clouds were also closing in and a very light rain was falling.  Some of these folks were in for a pretty miserable time as they got wet and cold as they hiked along to no ride at the other end.  Oh well.

The children were getting pretty tired by now, even a steady supply of jellybeans was starting to wear off as an incentive.  Chocolate was still working though.

Ruapehu 6Tom was very inventive with his chocolate, carving it slowly with his teeth until it looked exactly like a chocolate fish.  A work of art!  It certainly made his chocolate last a lot longer than anyone else’s.

Ruapehu 7Meanwhile, Toby was complaining about sore feet.  I told him to stop moaning and just get on with it.  Eventually – eventually! I thought I should maybe see what he was on about, and fished out some big lumps of gravel from the front of his boots.  There were angry red dints on the front of both his feet.  Hmm, maybe I should take notice of Toby’s ‘moaning’ a bit more often!

By the time we made it back to the cars we’d been walking for 8 hours, ascended (and descended) about 700m vertical, and had three very tired boys with us.  They’d kept up a fantastic pace, it’s certainly the longest and hardest daytrip that Toby’s done.

Ruapehu 8We headed home to well earned dinner; thanks to Ally for cooking it for us!  The boys soon perked up again with a few calories inside them, and played a fairly complex game of tag with the younger kids that seemed to involve cross dressing and stress balls and leaping from chair to chair.  It all made perfect sense to them at least!

Meanwhile, us adults sat outside on the deck (must be one of the very few times that’s possible at the lodge!) and watched a wonderful sunset.  Bright orange sky with Mt Taranaki silhouetted between two banks of clouds.  Magic.

Two climbers, Pete and Ian, came in and stayed for the evening, so we chatted to them.  Hopefully they weren’t looking for a peaceful, quiet lodge to stay at!  They left pretty early the next morning for another day on the faces around Tongariro.

Next morning we were up (somewhat) early, and soon cleaned up and packed up and said goodbye to the lodge.  To justify the two days away, we felt we had to hit another track today, so we headed off to  Tuapapakurua Falls track.  I’d been here on a ‘regular’ day walk a year or so ago and loved it. It’s a real hidden gem.  We found the access road much improved; it used to be goat track barely driveable with a 2WD car, but they seem to be putting a cycleway in so now it’s a really good gravel road.  To get to the start of the Tuapapakurua Falls track, you head to the north-west corner of National Park, cross the railway track on Carroll Street (sealed), drive 2km or so up Fisher Road (gravelled), until you reach a road end just before a big wooden gate (the size of a deer fence).  This looks to be the start of the new cycleway.  The track heads off to the left, just past the road-end and before the big wooden gate.

The plan was to race to the falls, but after yesterday’s exertions and with Wellington beckoning, no-one was quite so keen!  So instead we did a quick jaunt up to the ‘Taranaki lookout’, which promised a stunning view of Mt Taranaki.  We got to see the clouds that hid Mt Taranaki; a more normal Mt Taranaki view.  Oh well.  That made it time to go back to our cars and take our weary bodies back to Wellington.

This trip just confirmed to me how great the lodge is as a place to hang out even when there’s no snow about.  Whether you want to sit about and enjoy the view, do a gentle bit of wandering or biking from a great central base or go hard and climb something impressive, the lodge is the place to do it from.  It’s great for parties as small as 4 and as big as 30+, and in ‘summer’ mode you don’t have a head-scratching list of water valves to open and close when you get there either.  See what it’s got to offer this summer!

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