Around the Mountains

While there is a difficult 4-5 day hike called ‘Round the Mountain’, which takes you all the way around Mt. Ruapehu, I wasn’t going to be trying that hike during my stay here. Instead, I opted to hop in the car and see a few things in the region I had yet to see and circle the three major mountains on the North Island – the weather was beautiful and I was hankering for a hike. I ended up doing 5.

The circuit of driving was about 200km – this is a BIG area. My first stop was the hike to Lake Rotokuru. Unlike the rest of my hikes today, this was a lush green forested area.

On a clear calm day, Mt. Ruapehu is reflected in the lake. I’ll settle for just clear – it was very windy. Still a nice view on a quiet lake. The lake is considered sacred to the Maori people, so no eating, fishing, or drinking is to be done near the lake.

Sitting and picnic areas are available at the lake just to the south, ‘Dry Lake’. A silly name for a lake with water in it if you ask me!

After that warm up hike (it was only about 40 minutes return), I continued along the circuit to New Zealand’s desert – the Rangipo Desert. This isn’t a desert in the true sense as it sees quite a bit of rain  (1500mm+, while deserts have 250mm or less). That’s more than any major city in Canada actually… So we’ll go with the poor soil conditions giving it the appearance of one and Kiwis simply ignoring proper naming conventions.

The whole area is the NZ Army playground, no trespassing allowed!

This is a barren, mostly flat area, with spectacular scenery of the 3 nearby mountains. The NZ government provides a rest-stop, opposite a giant bluff that would give great vantage points of the surrounding area…and then say ‘you can’t go there’. Ya, that isn’t happening. I followed the well-worn trail past the ‘Entry Prohibited’ sign to get pictures. Like the previous shot of the desert, and the next few.

This would be Mt. Ngauruhoe with the perfect conical shape. If instead of snow you picture it, you would have ‘Mt. Doom’ from the Lord of the Rings. To the right of Mt. Ngauruhoe is Mt. Tongariro. And to the left of all of them is Mt. Ruapehu:

And finally, all three in a panorama.

As you can see, Mt. Ruapehu is quite massive in size compared to the other two, even if it isn’t overly taller than the other two. I’ve been around Mt. Ruapehu for over a month but haven’t spent any time with the other two. That’ll change if I ever get a good day to do the Tongariro Crossing, a hike that cuts between Ngauruhoe and Tongariro. The reason I didn’t do it today was gale force winds in the mountains. When you are walking 19km, you need good weather!

Anyways, I continued my drive after that trespassing hike to my main destination for the day, Whakapapa. This is the other major ski area of Mt. Ruapehu. The ski fields are closed now due to the lack of snow, which means the hikes are in great shape. So I took on of the more major hikes in the town to Taranaki Falls.

This is also a small part of one of New Zealand’s Great Walks. There are 9 GWs in total, 3 in the North Island and 6 in the South. While I doubt I will do them all in their entirety, I hope to do at least 4 (Milford, Routeburn, Kepler and Abel Tasman). After this walk today, I’ve added the Tongariro Northern Circuit to that list. The hike was *fantastic*. Well maintained (though I’m sure it gets harder away from the day-walk area), and outstanding views.

The circuit incorporates the Tongariro Crossing into the 3-4 day hike, so I’d be killing two birds with one stone that way. I just need the weather to smarten up really, then I can attempt it. I probably won’t be able to until I return to the region later in November or early December though. My time of employment is nearly at an end and the weather forecast isn’t good right now.

After 40 minutes, I made it to the top of the falls.

Shot from the side:

And finally, the base of the falls, where I enjoyed my late lunch of Caramel Cookie square thingy (my current addiction, found at the ski lodges).

From there it was an enjoyable 35 minutes hiking back to my car (thankfully a circular route too, always new stuff!), and I gave one final look to the mountains.

Two hikes remained. The first was a fairly short uneventful hike that ended at a short but wide waterfall.

The last hike of the day was the shortest at only about 10 minutes round trip. It was call the ‘Mounds’ track. The surrounding area was dotted by these odd little hills (the Mounds), which were believed to be large boulders left over from a huge avalanche/landslide that ran down Mt. Ruapehu and continued for kilometers. The hike ended one top of a mound, giving one last great panorama. You can see some mounds in the foreground.

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