Te Araroa: Day 30 - 34
Day 30: Taumarunui to Owhango to 1094.2 (35.6km + 15) Lost! For the first time on this trip I went way beyond my limit, on a day that started rather easy.
Alex and I left the campsite at the canoe rental company at 7:30 am and planned to hitch 25 km to Owhango on the nearby road. After 45 minutes with barely any cars we decided to hike 5 km back to Taumarunui as we expected more cars taking the highway instead of the dirt road. It took some 15 minutes until a Kiwi father and son duo picked us up. We arrived at Owhango just after 10 am and started hiking on the 42nd Traverse Trail. The trail was - yet again - just a gravel road with some minor river crossings and quite a lot of up and downhill sections.
I followed that road for several hours and - based on a conversation two days earlier - I expected that road to bring me straight to my next destination. That assumption messed up my day. At 3 or 4 pm I missed a junction and followed that gravel road uphill. I didn't realise my mistake, as I knew that the official trail also led uphill. When I checked my GPS location I was already some 5-6 km from the junction. I stopped, studied my topographical maps and saw a forest track some kilometers ahead which should lead back to the Te Araroa trail. I therefore decided to keep walking in that direction and found that forest trail shortly after. The trail was very overgrown, but clearly visible. Once again New Zealand's forest showed no mercy and the fern cut into my legs and arms, making me bleed from several cuts again. After 1-2 km on that trail I reached a cliff with views on Mt. Tongariro and Mt. Ngauruhoe (Mt. Doom).
The trail should now lead in a "question mark" shaped combination of turns down from that cliff and back to the Te Araroa trail. Unfortunately the trail seemed to end here, no matter what my maps said. I spent 30mins looking for the next trail section, but just couldn't find it and I had to be really careful to not fall of that cliff as the edge was sometimes quite overgrown and hard to see. Bushwacking down that steep slope wasn't an option and so I decided to backtrack some 7 km, back to the junction I initially had missed. That detour cost me some 4 hours and a lot of energy. It was 7pm when I reached the correct junction again and I pushed hard as I still wanted to make it to the Tongariro Holiday Park Campground. The last kilometers on the trail were steep and muddy again and at 8 pm it started to get really dark in the forest. For the last kilometers in the forest I had to use my headlamp and decided that it wouldn't make sense to stay at the Holiday Park, as I wasn't willing to pay 25 NZD just to pitch my tent for a few hours. I kept moving through the night with some beautiful stars until I reached a campsite/carpark just 1.5 km from the Holiday Park at 11pm. Upon arriving I was so exhausted that I vomited. I had just finished over 50 km in roughly 11 hrs of hiking. Knowing that I had to eat to get some calories in, I jumped a fence, climbed down to the nearby river and got some water for cooking. I ate slowly and managed not to vomit again and fell asleep just before midnight. On the next day I would learn that Alex also missed a junction and lost a few hours.
Day: 31 1094.2 to Whakapapa Holiday Park (36km)
Surprisingly I felt pretty great the next day. My muscles weren't sore or stiff at all and I was pretty excited for today's Tongariro Crossing. By 8 am I had already finished another 8 km of roadwalk to the National Park and stopped for a second breakfast. The Tongariro Crossing Trail started with a nice forest section and some volcanic streams, which made all water undrinkable, until it opened up and allowed some views on the landscape, including lake Taupo.
At an elevation of 1500m it started getting cloudy and cold. Views were limited to some 100m and so I couldn't even see Emerald Lake. Just before the peak of Mt. Tongariro I met Alex again, we climbed the last few hundred meters with hundreds of tourists coming from the opposite direction. Most tourists opted for a 35 NZD shuttle, which brought them closer to the peaks. We had a short break at the summit, hoping for the sky's to clear up, but than decided to move on.
After leaving the peak it got slightly better and we got at least some views on the volcanic landscape.
At 1 pm we started the descent through a wide open volcanic field, followed by a 9 km hike through some wetland.
Due to the rough previous day, a challenging climb to the top of Mt. Tongariro and all my devices running low on battery I decided to pitch my tent at the Whakapapa Holiday Park and have a nice beef burger for dinner. Merry Christmas...
Day 32: Whakapapa to 1058.9 (30km)
It was only 20 km from Whakapapa to National Park Village. I therefore left rather late and had a nice and easy stroll through the wetland.
The first part allowed easy progress as wooden platforms made hiking easy. I flew my drone several times and finally reached National Park Park Village by about 2pm.
All businesses except for a small dairy were closed for Christmas and as the weather forecast predicted rain for the late afternoon, Alex and I kept on hiking for another 9 km.
There we found a lovely spot overlooking a valley. From here we enjoyed a great sunset and we could also see the thunderstorm over National Park Village, just a few kilometers away. Our tentsite was rather exposed, but we got lucky and had just a few raindrops that night.
Day 33: 1058.9 to Whakahoro (45km)
We had two more days until our canoes would be delivered to Whakahoro, but with only 45 km left, Alex and I didn't feel like having two rather short hiking days of some 20km each.
So we both left camp around 7 am and started a long day. The first kilometers were pretty, as the trail followed a valley with some great views and water sources, but changed into - yet another - gravel road quickly after.
The rest of the day was therefore rather boring, I put on some music and hiked reasonably fast, to get the day done. For lunch I stopped for 30 minutes at a War Memorial, refilled my water supply at a tab hanging on a fence and than took off, to hike another 27k to Whakahoro. I arrived there at 5 pm with some aching feet from all these annoying rocks on the gravel road, but felt good overall.
With yet another day until the canoe trip, tomorrow would be a rest day for us in Whakahoro, which has exactly one small cafe and a population of 8 people.
Day 34: Zero day in Whakahoro
Uneventful day, catching up with my blog in a lovely cafe without Wifi.