Sunday, January 19, 2014

Tongariro Traverse

On Friday we did our first Great Walk, The Tongariro Alpine Crossing.  The crossing follows the volcanic mountains in the area, some of which are still active.  It’s a beautiful area, like no other place I’ve been.   We got to the start of the track late in the evening after getting lost and saw this sign:

We had planned to stay at the shelter which no longer exists due to an eruption that happened 18 months before.  As a local later told us, when the volcano erupted (without warning) a boulder from it landed to top of the shelter, went through the roof, two bunks and landed 3 meters into the ground! Wow, I'm kind of glad we didn't stay there! We camped a few km back that night, waited out a storm and started the crossing the next day.  We had beautiful weather, although there was a wind left over from the previous nights storm that was unbelievably strong. At one point, when we were crossing over a ridge near the highest point (over 1800 meters) I actually got blown over! It had to be blowing at least 60mph.  We moved as quickly as we could through the area, because we truly couldn't stop.  The wind was too strong and it was so cold.  The whole traverse was beautiful, we passed near several lakes and through two craters which looked like we were on another planet.

Emerald Lakes and the Central Crater to left

                                                                  The Central Crater

                                Looking back to Mt. Ngauruhoe and the Alpine Crossing to left

Before the traverse we had some very difficult days.   We counted that in over two weeks we had only two days where it didn’t rain.  One day, we woke up to rain and started our hike into the Mahoe Forest. We had no idea what we were in for.  Soon the ‘trail’ disappeared and we were walking through completely overgrown ferns and bushes that were over six feet tall and took over the whole trail.  It was like walking through a car wash.  The ground was slippery and muddy and soon we were wading through almost a foot of water.  The trail continued for far too long like this.  It was so overgrown, I swear no one had been back there in years except the thru hikers, and even still it didn’t look travelled.  

                   The 'trail'hrough Mahoe Forest. If you look close you may be able to see Brazil Nut
A few hours later after the first set of rain had stopped, so did the trail markings.  Our maps and trail notes didn’t match up anymore, I think the trail was being re-routed so it was extremely confusing and frustrating.  We found our way back to the road/trail only to find the next day even more frustrating.  The map and trail notes once again didn’t match up and as we were trying to find the trail, a local farmer came by on an ATV.  He asked if we were hiking the trail and I said yes, but we were a little lost.  He laughed and gave us a ride several hundred meters to where we were supposed to be.  As soon as we got back to the trail we both wish we hadn’t.  Within minutes, the trail was completely covered in gorse that continued for a couple kilometeres.  There was no way around, it was so painful I was cursing the whole time and nearly in tears.  Gorse is an awful plant covered in small sharp thorns that sting and go right through clothing.  Needless to say, we both we're relieved to get out of it and opted for a road walk for the last few km into town because the trail was so bad.
  After leaving Hamilton we hiked through both the Pirongia and Pureora forests which were beautiful and a welcomed change from road walking.   We also came upon the first huts on the trail.  New Zealand has an incredible hut system,  with over 900 back country huts on the North and South Islands.  We bought a pass when we were in Auckland which gives us access to the huts and they’ve been wonderful.  It’s so nice to have shelter from the rain, or come in from the cold and take a break.  It’s been surprisingly cold already, we’re both thinking we may need some more clothing for the South Island!

                                                        The beautiful Pureora forest  

                                                  Trail near the base of Mt Pureora
In two days we’ll be heading to the Whanganui river for 5 days of canoeing.  The official trail is the  river initially, and then there’s an option to bike, road walk or continue by canoe down the river all the way to Wanganui where the river meets the Tasman Sea, so we’ve chosen to canoe the whole way, about 170km! It should be a nice change of pace for a few days and a good rest for our legs.
Sorry for the lack of pictures, this computer seems to longer to able to upload them.  We’ve had bad luck with computers so far (hence the lack of blog posts). Internet is very expensive and incredibly slow, especially since we’re in a lot of smaller towns.
 Happy trails and for now, happy paddling!
-Jetpack and Brazil Nut

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