Our time in the Tongariro National Park – the spectacular dual world heritage site on New Zealand’s North Island – is dwindling to an end.
The four months we’ve spent here have been fabulous, and now that the end is in sight, with a new adventure on the way (more on that in a later post), we’re doing our best to finish seeing all of the sights in the area.
In the last couple of weeks therefore we’ve been swimming in a volcano crater, peered at the awesome Tama Lakes, explored some silica coated river rapids, and even ventured a little further afield into the stunning Kaimanawa Mountain Ranges. Here are the stories to accompany these adventures, with some phohotos to boot!
I’ve actually seen the Tama Lakes before – a pair of lakes nestling in some ancient volcano craters in the valley between Mount Ngauruhoe and Mount Ruapehu. At the time, I was standing on the top of Mount Ngauruhoe and peering down at them over the edge of a kilometre long drop, so whilst the view was good, I wasn’t able to get quite so up close and personal.
That has now changed, as we have now conquered the valley that the lakes lie in, on a 17km return trek that took us across sub alpine terrain, with short tussocks of grass, heather, and surreal white lichens our main companions.
The trek afforded another wonderful view of the mountainous scenery on offer in the Tongariro National Park, and as it wasn’t a part of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, it had the added bonus of being almost people free.
The lakes themselves, right at the end of the walk, were an almost iridescent shade of blue, with the towering mountains looming down on us. Quite magnificent stuff. If you are interested in doing this walk when in Tongariro, it starts at Whakapapa village, and the first part of it is along the same part of the track as the Taranaki Falls walk.
Another walk that departs from Whakapapa village, this one rambles through alpine forests of moss coated trees and along seriously gurgling streams before the view opens up onto the beautiful Silica Rapids. These are a series of, not entirely surprisingly, water rapids, dashing over the silica coated rocks of the stream bed.
The silica coating has been formed as a result of mineral deposits over countless years, with the end result being the sight of water dancing over a cream coated river bed. A worthwhile way to while away a few hours.
We’ve visited Lake Rotopounamu before, only the last time we went the weather was not quite as warm. This time we decided to go all out, and packed sun cream, books and towels, and ended up having an afternoon at the beach.
Yes, we may be living at least 150km from the sea in any direction, but we didn’t want to let that stop us from participating in this quintessentially summer time tradition before summer runs out.
So to the beach we went, and lie on the beach we did, and even swim in the not totally warm waters of the lake itself we managed. Despite the warming rays of the sun, this lake, sitting in a crater at an altitude of around a thousand metres, never gets exactly balmy.
Still, it’s been a while since I’ve had a good swim in a lake, even if this was a little on the brief side, and it was all in all, a jolly way to spend the afternoon.
Last on our list of recent explorations are the Kaimanawa Mountain ranges, which border the Tongariro National Park to the North East. These are a spiny series of mountain ridges, rising to around 1700 metres, which have been tempting me with their potential ever since we arrived in the area. We have already explored a part of their beauty with the magnificent Pillars of Hercules meander, now it was time to ascend into their peaks.
We chose to walk up the Umukarikari track, a five hour tramping track up Mount Umukarikari, a 1561m high peak in the centre of the ranges. This track is one of the many tramping tracks in the area, which also offers multiple huts for overnight sleeping and a multitude of multi-day tramps.
Despite all the incredible walking on offer, and the spectacular views across to the three peaks of the Tongariro National Park, we barely saw another soul on this walk. The previously mentioned Venice effect in full play here.
The walk itself was pretty tough, being as it was almost all uphill from start to peak. The first five kilometres were up through densely wooded forest, which we then burst out of before the final two or three kilometres to the peak itself.
It was these last few kilometres that really made the walk for us, with the range stretching out all around us, and the three peaks of Tongariro providing a stunning backdrop. We paused at the top to take it all in, before we headed back down, with some wonderful light accompanying us over the mountain as we drove home.
If you’re in the area, and thinking about exploring the Kaimanawa Ranges, the New Zealand DOC website has loads of information on walks in the area.
Well, those were four recent adventures we have undertaken. Our last major undertaking in the area will be the conquering of Mount Ruapehu, which at just over 2700 metres, is a bit of a challenge. That one will require a bit of luck in terms of perfect weather, but in the ten or so days we have left here, I’m really hoping we are able to get it done.