A ‘Great Walk’ evokes quite a few images to me. Beautiful/stunning landscapes. Unique structures and things that will remain in your memories for years to come. Good huts/campsites. My first Great Walk was a bit underwhelming in those aspects. The Tongariro Northern Circuit on the other hand was THE definition of a Great Walk.
For this hike I wasn’t going by myself, I’d met up with another traveller, Sara, from Italy. We would be tackling the circuit in 3 days, 2 nights, as well as doing some of the optional paths along the way. An ambitious plan but both of us were used to hiking, Sara moreso than I. We’d start at Whakapapa and headed to Mangatepopo Hut (at just under 1200m elevation) for the first night, complete the Tongariro Crossing part of the circuit on the second day and push onwards to the Waihohonu Hut, and return to Whakapapa on the 3rd day. All told it would be about 45km of hiking without any detours, including a challenging 2nd day of over 20km and at minimum a 650m climb then descent. It didn’t work out quite that way – the 2nd day ended up being over 25km and 1100m climbing/descending.
After a quick stop for a night in Napier I’m back in Taupo, waiting for the rains to clear. It’s rained now for 5 days straight – ever since I got here on Wednesday. I’m waiting because I want to do the Tongariro Circuit, and there isn’t much else left I want to do on the North Island anyways. So here I sit, waiting. Tuesday I should start hiking – I’ve already made my hut bookings for that day, based on a very favourable forecast next week. Naturally, that means lots of others have as well. I won’t be alone this time in a hut, they will likely be full when I make my stops for the night!
And so I wait. It’s Sunday here now, with a good forecast for weather tomorrow I should at least get some walking done tomorrow to get my legs ready for another 40+km of hiking.
In New Zealand, a series of 9 walks stand above the rest in stature. They are classified as ‘Great Walks’, and are New Zealand’s pride and joy when it comes to hiking. All of them are multi-day treks, and one is actually a kayak/canoe trip instead of an actual walk. 3 are on the North Island, 5 are on the South Island, and the 9th is on New Zealand’s 3rd island, Stewart Island. I touched on one already, the Tongariro Northern Circuit, when I hiked to Tongariro Crossing – the Circuit incorporates the crossing as part of a 3-4 day hike. All that being said, my direction was east, not south, as I went to the oft forgotten Lake Waikaremoana track for my first multi-day hike.
Having abseiled down some waterfalls, I might as well raft over others now. Certainly nothing like the monstrous 80m+ high waterfalls I rappelled down, but at 7 meters, the Kaituna River hosts the largest commercially rafted waterfall in the world. And you actually have a series of waterfalls through the whole trip. Even though I’ve rafted twice, I’ve never done waterfalls or a Class 5 before. This trip would encompass both.
The first set of waterfalls are sort of the ‘trial’ before getting to the big one. They still are plenty intimidating once you get to them, both being a few meters high.
Over the first falls we went. After lining the raft up we pretty much just hold on. I’m in the front left spot of the boat.
Before Aura left to continue her journey southward, we had one final activity to try together. Zorbing.
While you can do ‘Zorbing’ in a great many places around the world now, New Zealand, and more specifically, Rotorua, was the birthplace. And if you don’t know what Zorbing is – picture a human in a giant hamster ball rolling down a hill. That’s pretty much exactly what it is. It’s as silly and as fun as it sounds.
After the first small taste of volcanic activity in Rotorua, the next day Aura and I headed 30 minutes south of the town to the Wai-O-Tapu geothermal reserve, which has numerous volcanic lakes and pools, and on top of that, an active geyser. This was obviously a tourist area once we got here. I felt like I was at Sea World waiting for the whale show.
The interesting thing with Rotorua is that signs of volcanic activity are everywhere. Vapourous hot pools abound, with just a short (less than 5 minutes) walk takes you to several spots with water hot enough to need safety barriers.
First I started with Sulphur point, a place where numerous birds come to nest in the warm water area.
The seagulls were especially plentiful here. And protective of their area. Far less intimidating than magpies though.
I’ve been talking up the Tongariro Alpine Crossing for a while, hoping and waiting for a perfect mix of weather and time to do it properly. The forecast and my location was finally right to give the Crossing a go on November 15th.