Tongariro Double Circuit - Part 2 - Round the Mountain
In the Tongariro National Park we combined the Northern Circuit with the Round the Mountain Track for an epic five day tramp all around the three massive volcanos. This post covers the days that we spent on the Round the Mountain Track. Infos about our first two days, which covered most of the Northern Circuit, are in the first blogpost about the Double Circuit.
Since a heatwave had been declared for the duration of our tramp in the Tongariro Park, and temperatures up to 34°C, we got up really early again before heading out into the “Rangipo Desert”. But the light was so beautiful that morning that we hung around taking pictures for quite some time and then went to get fresh spring water again at Ohinepango Springs so that we ended up in the “desert” when it was was already hot.
The Rangipo Desert is (probably) not a real desert, as per definition, but it is very impressive. There is hardly any vegetation, but rather brown and black sand on hills. With the heatwave it felt like a desert too. We walked through the very bare part of the desert very slowly, admiring what we had stepped into. It was unlike any other scenery we had seen in New Zealand so far, and showed that our extended Northern Circuit was absolutely worth it.
Further along the trail undulated across numerous hills and ridges, which was very tiring. Especially since we still walked through just rocky plains with no shade, and it was incredibly hot. Then we suddenly came across a sign warning that we were entering a known danger zone for lahar (volcanic mud flows). We didn't know quite what to make of that, but since we didn't see or hear any of the warning signs, we continued on. And stepped into a beautiful gorge with a spectacular stream. The sign had said not to stop in the area, but of course we had to at least snap a few pictures to capture what we were seeing before walking up the other side, and out of the gorge.
After that we really just wanted to finally get to Rangipo Hut to have some shade, and eat lunch. We had planned to continue on one Hut further afterwards, but the insane heat took its toll on us and once we arrived, we stayed. Even though it was still only early afternoon. In the hut we found a few books though, that kept us distracted during the remainder of the afternoon. Rangipo Hut is a really nice Hut with a great view, and once the sun set we were glad to have stayed - it was beautiful.
We had brought food for an extra day, but the short day to Rangipo made us rethink our section plans. We didn't want to just walk to the next hut today, but if we would continue on towards Mangaturuturu we were walking a stretch with a total time estimate of about 12 hour. That's a pretty long day, even after having tramped a lot during the last months. So we figured we’d just have to see how well our walking speed matched the estimates.
The beginning of the trail was more undulating through empty, rocky landscape, and we had had enough of that the last day - so we walked with a good pace. We came across a gorge spanned with a nice swing bridge and some other nice feature, but nothing quite as spectacular as the gorge we had seen the day before. Then the path led into shrubby vegetation again and we were soon meandering through forests again. In some places the trail was reinforced with boardwalks, to keep erosion in check. That made walking easy and fast. We ended up at Mangahuehu Hut after only 3 ½ hours instead of the estimated 5-6. Even too early to have lunch there. Of course we decided to keep going and soon we were on our way again. The next section towards the Old Mountain Road was really easy going, as it was mostly boardwalks and swingbridgeseading through low shrubs and forest. While walking, we came across a tramping club going the opposite direction - and were really glad we didn't stay at the last Hut, because it was most likely packed that night.
We did shortly think about taking a detour and staying the night at Blythe Hut, but we were still early and had enough energy to make it all the way to Mangaturuturu Hut.
The 3km road section that came up really made us question our determination. We had thought it would at least be mostly flat, but we learned that it was called "Mountain Road" for a reason - it climbed up the mountain pretty steeply. Of course there also was no shade, so it also felt like the hottets part of the days walk. Luckily it was "only" 3km and after less than an hour we finally saw another green DOC sign marking the entrance to the track down to Mangaturuturu Hut. And that track made it all worth it again.
It lead over old volcanic lava flows once again, by some beautiful rockfalls called "the Cascades" and then down a steep descent that was more climbing than walking down into the valley. On the way we also had a pretty special experience as we saw a spider weaving a cocoon around the prey it had caught. Faszinating!
Mangaturuturu Hut itself is a really charming Hut - it's not too big, not too small, and has quite a lot of interesting information inside. It's not a DOC Hut, but orignally built by a tramping club that ist still managing it together with DOC. It also has one of our favorite hut features: a stream nearby, so we could get enough water to really wash ourselves after this very long and sweaty day.
The bit in between Mangaturuturu Hut and Whakapapaiti Hut dragged on for quite some time when we started in the morning. Not only was the way constantly going up and down over ridges and through valleys, which is always tiring, but it was also the most eroded and washed out part of the trail. Here the DOC hadn't put up boardwalks yet, so we instead struggled through sections deeply cut into the soft, muddy ground and got our shoes and legs dirty in the process.
When Whakapapaiti Hut was finally visible from a ridgetop, it was of course not just a straight walk there. Instead, once again, the path first led down into a valley, through a stream, up the other side and then in a semicircle down to the hut. We arrived at the hut around noon, and had lunch. The hut is really nice and fairly new, with a stream nearby. So we thought about just staying there, our probably last chance for a night in a hut. We had ambivalent feelings about it - on one hand we really would have liked to stay another night, just because we could - but on the other hand we really wanted to get back to our car and drive on, so we wouldn't have one of these strange half-days tomorrow.
We did walk on in the end, but regretted it a bit. The backcountry huts are one of the most amazing things we experienced in New Zealand, the system is just so unique. We knew we'd miss it.
On the way back we suddenly came across signs with the Te Araroa Marker on it - so we did catch up with the trail again - which made us miss the time we had spent long-distance hiking even more. But we continued on and were still glad when we finally arrived at the carpark and could dump our backpacks in the trunk and let our legs rest.