Early on the morning of Wednesday the 2nd of February we were picked up in the heart of Auckland, by Kath, our tour leader. We were setting off on a hiking tour of some of the National Parks in the North Island.
Our first stop was the supermarket in Rotorua where we bought the food for the next couple of days. then it was off to the Wharangi Forest and our first experience of walking in the rainforest.
The first part of the walk was easy along a made path but soon things got more interesting.
As well as the trees getting more exotic the path became less well trodden and developed the habit of crossing the stream at regular intervals. And it was not an insubstantial stream.
The technique for crossing was to select a partner and each hold on tight to the others shoulder strap. And hopefully, prevent each other from falling. This worked very well for the most part, but occasionally a hole would be found in the bed of the river and ones parts would be wetted.
But eventually we got to our camp site, where there was a break in the trees and someone had dug a hole for a toilet.
The camp site was actually quite comfortable and we were able to cook a good meal which we enjoyed round the camp fire.
Thursday’s trek started as Wednesday’s had ended – walking up the stream valley and crossing the stream at frequent intervals. and here is a photo showing how it should be done.
Eventually we got to where the trail leaves the stream and heads for the hills and the Mangamale Hut. Walking uphill means that your feet don’t get quite so wet but it is still hard work.
But when you get to the top you can stop, have lunch, and enjoy the view.
We then set off for the Central Whirinaki Hut which involved quite a long walk through the rain forest. And lurking in the forest is something called Devil Grass, which likes to spread its seeds by way of hairy legs, especially mine!
There was also the requisite mileage in the river – a different one this time – but still wet.
Eventually we got to the hut and settled in, cooked supper and went to bed. Chris and I took our mattresses out onto the verandah and slept there where it was rather cooler.
Next morning we set off to walk out of the Whirinaki.
Our path was along the Whirinaki River.
We were now on a good path although recent rains had washed it away in places. The trees in the rainforest can be very big and impressive. There was a battle with forestry interests to get the remaining rainforest protected and protection was only won in the 1980’s.
The forests are a wonderful resource – they are so beautiful and enclosing.
Eventually we reached the car park and were whisked off to a commercial camp site, via a swimming spot where a cold river met a volcanically heated hot river; with care one could get just the right temperature! This was near Rotorua.
This was a rest day and most of us spent it by kayaking on Lake Tarawera.
Lake Tarawera is a volcanic caldera with hot springs entering it at various places. It was rather nice to sit in places where the hot water came out.
In all we paddled 18km on the lake and found, rather to our surprise, that we enjoyed it!
After sending most of the day on the lake we set off for our next campsite which was on a dairy farm – and was one of the nicest places we stayed! We were on the banks of the Waikato River
After our day of rest we set off for Tongariro by way of Lake Taupo. On the way we stopped at the Huka Falls – actually more a set of rapids with a drop at the end – a short distance along the Waikato River from Lake Taupo.
We lunched by the shores of the lake and collected pieces of pumice from the beach.
Our goal was to walk in the Tongariro National Park. We would camp by the side of the Ohinepango stream, just outside the park boundary, walk into the park and continue to the Otorere hut where we would spend a second night. Then we would walk out of the park via The Emerald Lakes, The Red Crater and with an option to climb Mount Ngauruhoe (Mount Doom in the film Lord of the Rings).
Even from the road the park is spectacular.
And once we had left the bus, Mount Ngauruhoe became prominent.
After a short walk we came to our campsite – a sandy terrace above the Ohinepango stream.
This was a completely wild camp site, without even a hole in the ground for a toilet – a trowel was provided! But it was a wonderful place to stay.
Next morning rewarded getting up by letting us see Mount Ruapehu.
After clearing our site we set off and before long were entering the National Park.
We then trecked across the park to the Otorere Hut, crossing desolate plains,
admiring Mount Doom,
but pausing to have ones photo took.
Eventually we arrived at the Otorere Hut
And from there we went to a nearby waterfall where one could sit in the pools just above the falls – a magical place of which I do not have a photo. However John Watts, one of our fellow walkers, took one and here it is.
And here is my photo of the falls from near the hut.
The weather looked quite reasonable when we set off for The Emerald Lakes, Red Crater and the Tongariro Crossing.
Most of the party were looking forward to a good day.
But then the way ahead began to look cloudy and steep.
And after that it just got worse. I am told that we went close to the Emerald Lakes and the Red Crater and passed the route up to Mount Doom but saw precious little of any of them. After one photo of an Emerald Lake I put my camera away and just slogged my way over the mountain.
We got over the mountain, met our mini-bus and went off to a house owned by the trek company in a village near Manunui. This gave us a chance to dry off and wash some clothes – we needed it!
Today we travelled to the west coast and we had a lot of miles to cover. But we did stop in the Waitomo valley and visited a cave which was most definitely not a commercial one.
We walked up the stream and saw stalactites.
It was sometimes a bit of a squeeze but it was well worth it.
At the far end of the cave we saw lots of glow worms. With our lights out they looked like the night sky. Unfortunately such things are not photography friendly so you will have to take my word for it.
We reached our final destination at Waikawau beach, having paused to collect firewood, and discovered that access to the beach was via a tunnel.
The beach was a black sand one backed by cliffs of golden sandstone.
And since we were on a beach we had to have a barbecue, New Zealand style – a Hangi feast. This involves setting a fire in a hole to heat large stones. When the fire has died down place the food, wrapped in aluminium foil, on the stones, cover with wet towels, cover in sand and leave for 90 minutes. Uncover and serve.
At the end of the 90 minutes we admired the scenery as the sun set.
Then we got on with the feasting.
This was our day of travelling to Mount Taranaki (formerly Mount Egmont) so we had to drive many miles. We stopped in Mokau for elevenses and Chris had a whitebait fritter – a local delicacy.
But our main objective was Taranaki and eventually we got within sight of it.
But then we had to climb to the Kapuni Lodge hut. As you climb you can see the edge of the National Park which is almost a perfect circle with a radius of 6 miles centred on Taranaki’s summit. Once upon a time the whole area was covered in forest, now only that in the park survives.
It was a hard slog but eventually we got to the hut.
Once in the hut we settled in and made preparations for the morrow.
The plan was for the tigers in the party to get up before dawn and ascend to a subsidiary peak to see the sun come up. Chris and I were not made of such stern stuff and only got up at dawn.
Dawn was quite good but what was happening behind us was also worth seeing. Taranaki was changing colour as the sun rose.
And that was that. We went down the mountain, drove to Wellington and dispersed. But we had had a wonderful experience, seen many things we would not have seen otherwise, met many interesting people and done things we did not think we were capable of. And had a great taste of New Zealand.