Te Araroa day 45 – Tongariro northern circuit side trip

January 16th 2017
Whakapapa – Ketetahi car park 
22.9 miles 
Total distance: still 656.1 miles

We packed up and our new friends, Donna and Dana, drove us to Whakapapa. They are doing the Northern circuit too, but they have booked into all the huts. It was about a 40 minute drive and I was feeling weirdly apprehensive on the way. As we drove through National Park, the mountains started to come into view, Mt Ngauruhoe (Mt Doom) and snow capped Mt Ruapehu. They looked awesome. 


We said farewell to our friends and started walking in the wrong direction, quickly realising our mistake we managed to get back on the right track and we were hiking on the Northern circuit by 8:30am. This part is nothing to do with the TA. We are doing it because we have a bit of extra time between now and the canoe trip so we thought it would be a nice thing to do. Our first goal was the Waihohonu hut which was listed as taking 5.5 hours. Julia was way off ahead of me, I felt sluggish after the day off and I kept stopping to take photos. It was all so beautiful, Mt Doom looked quite imposing and very high, we are supposed to be summiting that tomorrow! It was a really nice walk, a very well manicured trail, which it had to be with the volume of people walking it. I saw about 30 people pass me. 


My feet felt like they were being controlled by someone else today, I couldn’t get my balance and everything I stepped on was the wrong thing to step on. I tripped and slipped so often. The grip on my shoes is practically nonexistent which isn’t helping. Eventually the inevitable happened and I fell over. My feet just went from under me and I slammed my left bum cheek into the ground. It really stung for a while and I had to sit for a bit to let it pass. Despite all this it took me 3hrs 20mims to reach the first hut. This was a good sign for the rest of the day. 


We had lunch at the hut and moved on towards the Oturere hut which said 3.5 hours. There was a bit more climbing this time and I felt like I was moving so slowly. I managed to fall over twice more. But still it only took 2 hours to reach the hut. We had a little rest there and filled up our water bottles. The next goal was to get to Emerald lakes. We passed about 15 more people on our way there. The terrain got rockier and the trail wasn’t as easy as it had been, but it was very well sign posted with orange markers. 


The trail to Emerald lakes was the toughest bit so far, it was steep up through loose rocks and the smell of sulphur from the active bits of the volcanoes was really stinky. It was making me feel really sick. Last time I was really ill I was producing sulphurous burps and that’s what it was reminding me of. My stomach was churning and it wasn’t pleasant to breathe through your nose or your mouth. It’s like you were eating it. I took it slowly and just kept plodding on and eventually I got there. I was rewarded with the most beautiful looking lake which was so bright in colour from all the minerals being washed down into it. We stayed there for a while and took a few pictures. The sulphur smell was still overwhelming, and after taking a quick look at what we had coming up tomorrow – red crater and Mt Doom we walked up from the lake and we were then back on the TA and heading north. We will have to repeat these miles tomorrow so I’m not counting them today. These are just bonus miles. 


It started to get really windy as we passed Blue Lake so we didn’t hang around there for long. We were aiming to get to the Ketetahi Hut and assess our options from there. We heard the hut was closed but we were hoping there would be somewhere to camp near the hut so we didn’t have to descend a further 2000ft down to the car park. When we got there the hut was really dilapidated. It had been damaged during an eruption in 2012. The main part of the hut was open but the rest of it was locked up, it smelt of sulphur inside. It was very cold and windy outside and there was absolutely nowhere to pitch a tent. On the door it said for temporary shelter only, no overnight accommodation. We didn’t know what to do so we sat and ate something. I had my tuna wrap, crisps and a croissant. We could stay there stealthily, put our mats out on the floor of the hut, but it didn’t sit right with us. There was a sign saying not to be here overnight and we weren’t happy ignoring that. So, we made the very difficult decision to carry on descending to the car park knowing we would have to climb all the way back up in the morning. It was a horrible thought, but I felt better having made the ‘right decision’. It takes about an hour to get down but it feels like forever. The sulphur smell was really intense and my tuna was doing somersaults in my stomach. 


When we finally got to the car park, where we heard you could camp and know others have camped there, some people told us it was a no camping area and sure enough we saw a tiny no camping sign. We were annoyed because we had tried to do the right thing and we are still camping where we shouldn’t be! The people there advised us to be packed up and gone by 6am as that’s when people would start arriving. 

It’s 10pm now. I can barely keep my eyes open to write this and there are bunch of Germans being really loud in the car park. 

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I’m walking thousands of miles for Just A Drop because everyone should have access to clean water. Please donate here, every little bit helps. 

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