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Hiking and High Tea

Monday 12th October 2015

rain 16 °C

We hadn't got any excursions or anything firm booked, but I was keen to explore the National Park a little more, and hopefully get some more views of the volcanic peaks. The weather forecast was predicting some cloud and possibly of rain. The visibility from The Tree House had deteriorated but we were hopeful that it might improve as the day progressed. After a relaxed breakfast we drove the 20 minutes or so to Whakapapa the location of the national park visitor centre and the starting point for many of the walks in the area.

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A quick visit there clarified the distance and the grade of the walk we were wanting to do which would take us to the Taranaki Waterfalls. We were also given advice as to the pros and cons of walking the route clockwise or anti-clockwise (we chose the latter as this made the ascent more gradual). The walk started at the back of the rather grand Chateau Tongariro Hotel with the first couple of hundred metres on a road with lots of holiday/ trekking accommodation. We shortly descended into a valley and through the woods. The ascent the other side was gradual and after about a kilometre or so a sign told us that we were entering the lava flow (long since broken down and covered in vegetation). We crossed a couple of streams and as we did had glimpses of the volcanic craters.

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Despite the fact that we were probably only a couple of kilometres from the visitor centre it felt very wild and remote, whilst the occasional other walker made it feel very safe and gave the opportunity to stop and chat for a few moments. After about 50 minutes we reached the top of the waterfall. It was a spectacular sight with views across to the Tongariro crossing to our right and to the top of the waterfall on our left.

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We stopped and admired the view for a bit and took some photographs and also chatted to a couple with a young baby in a back carrier. The dad looked exhausted having just climbed up the steep steps from the base of the waterfall to the top. The baby didn't sound very happy either and was crying loudly. The mother looked slightly happier as she was bringing up the rear and only had herself to get up the steep incline.

We then started to make our way down the steps as we were going the opposite way round as the young family. It seemed very steep at first with no handrail to hold onto, so I was questioning our decision to do the walk that way round. However the gradient declined slightly after a bit and there were a lot of steps (well over a hundred), so in the end I was quite relieved to have been going down at that point. Near the base of the falls we got chatting to a young woman from Alaska who was hoping to do the 'Crossing' during her short stay in the area. I passed on what I had heard being said about the wether and conditions when we were in the visitor centre. All indications were that the weather was going to be very wet with poor visibility tomorrow. Also I understood that at this time of year the top section required ice axes and crampons, which she had experience of using having come from Alaska, although she didn't have any with her. I suggested she might be able to hire them, and we then we wished her well and we all went on our way, she a little faster than us. The view at the bottom of the waterfall was equally beautiful, and having looked at the photographs since, hard to get a sense of the scale of the thing.

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We carried on walking along the track that had been clearly visible from the top, reaching another small waterfall a short distance away.

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We then followed the river for a while through the woods before having to climb up quite a few steps before reaching open heathland again, with views of the peaks and towards the Chateau Tongariro.

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We were getting a bit tired by this stage but with a last push we were back at the Chateau where we had booked a table for afternoon tea. After our walk we were pretty hungry so we pretty much polished off all the food we were served, although we decided afterwards that this was enough for the day and so didn't have an evening meal.

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Once we had polished off our tea we went back to the visitor centre to have a more thorough look at the information there and I also checked out the status of the road that went up towards the mountain from the centre. I was told that it was metalled to the top and the woman checked the webcam and said that it was a bit cloudy but that there should be some visibility.

On that basis Nigel was happy to drive up the very winding Bruce Road to the top. As he drove it became obvious that the cloud was thickening and that we were unlikely to see any of the peaks. We could see a short distance when we got to the ski chalets and lifts, but the cloud quickly closed in and it became hard to see anything much beyond the end of the car and the odd patch of slightly grubby snow nearby.

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We waited a while hoping that the cloud would lift again but it failed to do so and in the end we gave up and Nigel drove back down the mountain passed the lava field and the heather until we reached the visitor centre again. We continued driving north and then turned west and made our way back to our what had become our home for a couple of days. With no meal to worry about we just relaxed for a few hours. Just after 9pm I was sitting reading in the lounge and Nigel was in the loo when I felt the whole house judder. When he came out we both looked at each other in surprise and agreed that we had just experienced an earthquake. We researched on the Internet to make sure we weren't imagining things and to check out its magnitude. It turned out to be a 5.7 on the Richter Scale and a short distance from a place called Pongaroa, some 100 miles from where we were staying. It caused a bit of a stir for the rest of the evening and we couldn't but help keep checking for other seismic activity of which there was quite a bit that evening. Eventually we both got off to sleep and made it through the night safe and sound.

Posted by Gill's Travels 17:38 Archived in New Zealand Tagged waterfalls mountains tongariro volcano new_zealand Comments (0)

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