This summer is a very fickle thing. It doesn’t really want to stay and only ever seems to show its face for a day or two at a time. That doesn’t make for a good start to my 2017 project to go on a multi-day walk every month.
By choosing a walk that would only take a maximum of 5 days but to have 8 days of time meant I would have plenty time to spare in case I got rained in.
Having walked both the Tongariro Crossing and the Northern Circuit before I was looking forward to revisiting this fantastic part of the country. I love the rough and seemingly empty volcanic landscape.
I chose the longer multi day walk, the “Round the Mountain” tramp, and the DOC description of it says: “It is ideal for those seeking solitude, magnificent mountain views and a back-country experience and is a more remote alternative to the popular Tongariro Northern Circuit.”
And boy it is all of those things!
I have been going hiking for longer than I can remember. As a little kid my dad would carry me part of the day plus the backpack. I remember it being fun seeing the world from above but I also remember how proud I was when I walked a whole day, without being carried, for the first time. I was 5 back then and stubborn.
Ever since I have done a lot of hiking mostly with someone else as it is nice to share the experience. But I have also always enjoyed walking alone at my own pace and reveling in the feeling of doing something nice by and for myself.
So I don’t quite understand why I found it difficult to start this time, but somehow it was hard to finish the packing and hop in the car.
Once on the road though I couldn’t wait to start walking. Starting at Whakapapa Village, I chose to go anticlockwise around the mountain, as it meant I could start the walk the same afternoon by going to Whakapapaiti Hut.
The 3.5h walk to the hut gave me a very good preview of what to expect in the days to come. I learned that carrying a pack with food and other supplies to last a week, plus a little bit of camera gear, is heavy and would take me longer than signposted. Also that the DOC description was right when it said it was a more remote walk.
Most days I only met a handful of people. Some days I met no one in 8h of walking. It is quite amazing how empty the tracks are considering only a few kilometers away there are dozens of people every day walking the Northern Circuit or the Tongariro crossing. I think it took me about two days to get into the groove of walking by myself, to find my pace and to allow myself to take enough breaks and to focus my thoughts on the walk.
Most of the people I met were visitors to NZ, mostly people who had either returned for a second visit or who were here for several months and therefore had the time to go on a longer trip. A lot of them were also solo travelers. It was fun hearing their stories of what they had seen and experienced in NZ and what lives they were living back home.
By walking anti clockwise around Ruapehu I got to first walk through amazing beech forest and over lots of board-walks always having some impressive waterfalls to admire. I had underestimated just how much water runs off that volcano! Particularly on the western side I was astounded by the many little streams and the wetlands. The volcanic rock only supports a limited amount of vegetation so a lot of the water coming from the high glaciers and snow fields doesn’t get absorbed.
I was informed by a fellow traveler that walking in NZ meant you had to get your boots wet in numerous river crossings and if you didn’t it wasn’t a proper hike. Well I have to disagree. I find walking in wet boots is just sheer misery and doesn’t hold any unique experience. For me there is only one solution - a second pair of shoes that can be changed into to cross the rivers and streams. Sure it did slow me down as some days I changed shoes 7 times but no regrets; dry and blister free feet are just better!
By the time I came around to the eastern side I was ready for the desert! I love those barren landscapes with big skies and views for many kilometers. And I was lucky there with the weather too. After a rest day at Mangaehuehu Hut partially for weather reasons but mainly to give my legs a bit of a break, I got two fine days of walking. Given that there is nowhere to hide and no shelter along the way I was glad to get two sunny and mostly still days :).
After 6 days of relative solitude the walk meets up with the track of the northern Circuit for one final day of walking back to Whakapapa Village and it took me some time to readjust to having lots of people around and a hut buzzing with over 30 people. So I was quite glad the the hut was booked out and I got to stay my tent.
Bottom line - I loved the walk! It is a great mixture of very different landscapes with fantastic views of the central volcanoes and far into the surrounding countryside. If you have 6 days to spare it is well worth it! All the huts are in good shape with plenty of firewood (at least when I was there). And I personally preferred it to the shorter Northern Circuit probably because its rougher terrain gave me more challenges and therefore a greater sense of achievement.
Things to improve? Fitness!!! I could be a whole lot fitter, not necessarily to be faster but to feel less stuffed at the end of the day. And also I need to have a hard look at reducing the weight of the pack for the next walk. This time I started off with about 24kg and that is seriously heavy after a few hours.