20.02.2011 - 22.02.2011 26 °C
Julie and I wake with clear skies and one thought on our minds, the Tongariro Crossing. We have come to realize that when the weather is good, just get out and hike, no matter what. After talking to Bowman, he encourages us to head to the mountain and make up the wwoofing hours the next day. So we make a quick stop at the grocery store for lunch supplies and hit the trail head by 9:45am.
The sky around the summits of Mt. Doom and Mt. Tongariro are cloudy, but Julie and I chant together that “it's going to clear off”. The tramp starts at 1100m and its like another world as the vegetation is stunted and clearly has adapted to cope with the harsh climate at this elevation. A stream flows along the trail tainted orange from minerals. I'll keep the descriptions of the surroundings brief and let the photos do the talking.
The Crossing is NZ's most tramped day walk and the trail is packed with other keen tourists. After a stop at Soda Springs, a beautiful waterfall cascading over volcanic rock, we start the ascent to the South Crater (1650m). We briefly consider making the two hour side trip to the summit of Mt. Doom, but figure today's 20km hike to complete the Crossing will be loads. We cross the barren South Crater floor and head up the rim of the Red Crater to the highest point on the track (1886m). The clouds have lifted and the hot sun feels even hotter in this desert-like landscape. From here we take a side trip half-way to the summit of Mt. Tongariro to get away from the packs of people on the main trail. We sit down, using volcanic rocks as chairs and a table, and eat lunch while taking in 360 degree views. Lake Taupo and Lake Rotoaira sit far off to the north and the mountains of the Kaimanawa Forest Park lay to the east.
After a nourishing meal we start the decent down loose scree terrain to Emerald Lakes. The lakes are brilliant green in colour from the minerals leaching from the adjoining thermal area. Sulphur fills the air from vents around the small strange lakes – evidence that the crater is still very active!
Before heading on the Tongariro Crossing, signs advise us to be prepared for quick changes in weather on the mountain. Thankfully we had come prepared. We notice large black clouds closing in behind us as we make our decent. We throw on our rain jackets for about an hour until we sneak low enough in elevation to elude any further saturation.
Julie needs a pee break and Ketetahi Hut is the perfect stop. Most tramps have ample places to relieve yourself in somewhat private areas, but this is not the case in this barren landscape. As we follow the winding trail down the sloping mountain, the vegetation gets larger and larger until we are shaded by a lovely podocarp-hardwood forest. The forest canopy provides a dark cool environment to end the hike, perfect after the long hot tramp out in the elements.
Since the Crossing isn't a loop, it is now necessary for us to hitchhike back to our car around the other side of the mountain. (We hitchhike to avoid paying the ridiculous fees most tourists pay for a shuttle). We walk along the quiet stretch of highway, without any results for nearly 45 minutes. Finally, an elderly lady visiting from the UK stops to help out two very worn out trampers. She drops us off at the gravel road that takes us to the car park where our car is located, another 7km away. So we keep walking, until a family from Spain squeeze us into the back seat with their son and drive us to our car, finishing off our journey.
Back at Awhi Farms, no one is around, so Julie cooks up a quick dinner in their shabby outdoor kitchen before the guys return from an afternoon selling pizzas. Our day was full-on and we are ready to head to bed but first we water the gardens for about an hour at Bowman's request. Afterwards, Julie hits the hay, but it's Alex's last night at the farm so the party is on. I stay up late with the guys and we have a grand old time getting acquainted.
The morning brings big wwoofing tasks for us. I help with the earth bag building that is being constructed on the farm, and Julie is working on some data entry. We cool off after the long hot day by jumping into the crystal clear waters of Tongariro River from a tree high up on the river bank. The water is frigid and the river is moving really fast, but it is great to hang out and wind down with the guys. Julie opts out of the polar bear dip to take some action photos of us.
Later in the evening we cook up a curry dinner with Urban. We chat late into the calm darkness about our future dreams, the future of Awhi Farms, and vent some frustrations about the Farm. He is 21, from northern California, and already has a good idea of the path he wants to take in life. We have some great conversation before calling it a night.
We say goodbye to Awhi Farms in the morning for reasons of lack of proper accommodations and facilities, but it was still a very rewarding experience. The Farm has a lot of awesome projects, some have been completed and others are planned for the future. One completed project is an outdoor shower with hot water warmed by coiled pvc pipe buried in a big compost pile. The earth bag structure was also new to us and an eye opening way of building. These eco-friendly projects are things that would be amazing to incorporate into our future property, tweaked for the Canadian winters of course!
From Awhi Farms we stop at the Tongariro National Trout Centre to view the process of raising and restocking fingerlings. Trout were introduced into Lake Taupo in 1898 with very successful results. I have to try my hand at catching one, so as we drive north along the east coast of Lake Taupo we pull off to fish in one of its tributaries. With my first cast I reel in a gorgeous rainbow that really put up a fierce battle. The remainder of the afternoon was relatively slow, only catching a tree branch and loosing a lure and my temper.
Further along Lake Taupo, which is actually a flooded crater, we stop at a beach and notice it is made up of pumice stone. I throw one in the Lake, showing Julie that there is such a thing as a floating rock. Julie is more impressed with using the stone to exfoliate her feet. At the north end of Lake Taupo, we pull into the city of Taupo, a touristy joint with plenty of adrenaline pumping sports on hand. There are unrestricted views south across the Lake to the peaks of Tongariro National Park. Lake Taupo spills out through a 10m wide, 15m deep chasm and over the Huka Falls to form the Waikato River, NZ's longest river. It's a raging torrent of water, very powerful to watch. We spend the night at Reed's Farm, a free campsite donated by a local farmer and located upstream of Huka Falls. I put the rope swing to use plunging into the clear cool water before resting peacefully for the night.