The adventure started before the trip even began. Heavy flooding stuck Wellington the day before, closing offices and stranding commuters. There was some concern that the road north might be closed and that even if it wasn’t driving in the direction of the weather we had just experienced was foolhardy at best. These concerns were largely unfounded.
The drive north was relatively uneventful. A detour over the Paekakariki Hill Road and subsequent stall across both lanes of SH1 aside, we made good time as the traffic out of Wellington was light. Driving through solid rain with the prospect of pitching tents in it, our esteemed leader assured us that it would be fine once we got past Waiouru. This turned out to be the case, and on arriving at the Waikoko Campsite we quickly had tents up and the prospect of a bit of a lie to look forward to.
Saturday morning started relatively slowly, as is befitting an Easy Medium trip, and by mid-morning we were at the road end well fed and ready to go. The plan was to hit the trail and head along the range towards Waipakihi Hut via Umukarikari Peak. We would then retrace our route out the following morning.
We made good progress and soon enough cleared the tree line to be rewarded with fantastic views of both Ngauruhoe and Ruapehu.
We also got a good look at the front coming in from the south which was bringing strong winds, ice and eventually a bit of snow our way. Cold weather gear was equipped and we made a somewhat slow and steady push through it, past Umukarikari and along the tops.
We arrived at Wapakihi Hut a little on the cold and wet side after just under 6 hours of tramping. The Hut, clearly a favourite for local hunters, was well stocked with fuel and we quickly had clothes and boots drying in front of a fire. We were joined by the medium fit group shortly after, and shortly found ourselves tucking into a delicious carbonara pasta with shiitake mushrooms.
An early start Sunday morning saw us back on the tops for spectacular views across Lake Taupo and round to Ruapehu. There is one small river to cross about 5-10 minutes from the hut. Those who had dried their boots and then waited till after they crossed the river again before putting them back on had the best time of it. Those that did not were treated to some quality blisters.
The walkout was a little easier and good time was made, completing it in closer to five and a half hours despite a couple of us, who were a little worse for wear, taking it slow towards the end.
In summary, a great route with excellent views and well worth the extra time in the van to get there. The route itself was fairly challenging for an easy-medium grade walk, especially with the cold front pushing through. I’d suggest the best time to attempt it might be in the summer, where the weather would be a bit nicer and fewer layers were needed.