As we climbed the saddle between Ngauruhoe and Tongariro a vicious wind whipped all around us, knocking us to the ground. We struggled to our feet, careful lest we get blown off the narrow path, and end up tumbling down the side of the mountain.
We were doing a three-day tramp of the Northern Circuit in Tongariro National Park, on the north island of New Zealand. This hiking route - one of New Zealand's designated Great Walks - winds its way between three volcanoes: Mount Tongariro, Mount Ngauruhoe, and Mount Ruapehu
Ruapehu had experienced a couple of minor eruptions a week before we arrived. It last blew big time in 1996. Luckily no one was on the ski slopes at the time.
We set out under blue skies, but it quickly turned overcast as we climbed in the barren landscape, the perfect cone of Ngauruhoe to one side, and Tongariro to the other
Miraculously, as we reached the summit of the saddle, the clouds parted, and the sun shone down, just long enough for us to snap a couple of pictures of the Emerald Lakes
It was spring, and so we had to traverse a few remaining drifts of snow.
The Department of Conservation has built a number of cabins on the trail, and we were headed for the Ketetahi Hut. These rustic huts can sleep about thirty people in their bunks. Being off-season, the cabin was only half full. The DOC volunteer stationed there told us that in the summer there can be hundreds of people camped around the hut.
The cabins are heated, and have gas stoves for cooking
The second day found us tramping through a magical, misty landscape. We descended to a barren plain, littered with huge, oddly shaped boulders. It felt like we were walking on the moon.
That evening, as we were eating dinner, we were joined by a group of crusty old kiwi trampers. "A gas stove," they exclaimed in disgust. "That's not real tramping." They spent the evening complaining about the amenities of the hut.
Our last day brought another change in landscape. The bare ground and large rocks gave way to kilometres of scrub brush, moss and lichen. Which was all we saw for the entire day. The clouds had us completely socked in, totally obscuring the view of Ruapehu and Ngauruhoe, which we were presumably trekking between.
When our journey ended in the ski resort town of Whakapapa, we were just a little disappointed that Ruapehu hadn't blown for us.
Copyright © 1998, 2005 Paul Stockton. All rights reserved.
Last updated: April 6, 2005