We woke up early the next day. I had wanted to catch the sunrise, but then, in classic Richard fashion, ended up needing to use the toilet and missed it. It seemed like it would be another day of great weather, and we were excited to get on with the last portion of our hike. Today we would be traveling east, passing between Mt. Ngauruhoe and Mt. Ruapehu. A number of other hikers in the hut were just starting out on a trek around Mt. Ruapehu.
We were on the western side of the mountain, so it was still a bit dark when our hut warden called everyone over to a map in the center of the room. He was holding a flashlight and a bunch of face masks as he told us that Mt. Ruapehu, the big mountain to the south had been raised to activity level 2, meaning that there were signs of activity, but it was uncertain what they meant. With that in mind, we would all leave as a group and travel back around Mt. Ngauruhoe the way that we had come. So those of us who had come that way would have a 12 hour or so hike back to the car park instead of the 4 or so had we going forward on the trail, and those who were planning to hike around Ruapehu would have to cancel their plans.
Everyone, even the warden, seemed a bit nervous. He said we should gather all our things and then meet outside to head out together. “What time is it now?” he asked. Some people nervously checked their phones or watches. It was almost 8:00. “And what’s the date?” he asked next. Then it slowly began to dawn on everyone. He had done such a good job acting that no one had realized it was just an April Fool’s joke! I was impressed that he managed to pull it over on the whole hut. It was a very well done prank.
After we had all calmed down we had our breakfast. I opted for a bagel for expediencies sake. Alana tried a bagel as well, but it was just too much for her jaws to handle that early in the morning. After a few nibbles she gave up and made some oatmeal. After I finished her bagel and she her oatmeal we set off on the last leg of our journey.
The hike started out very similar to the previous day, though thankfully the ups and downs were a bit more gradual this time. The scenery was similar to the previous day as well, though with a higher concentration of shrubs, bush, and grasses. After a period of ups and downs we made it to the Tama Lakes intersection in about half the posted time. We dropped our packs at the intersection and made a quick side trip up to the lower Tama Lake. The upper lake was another 45 minutes from there, so we opted to skip it.
We passed through another series of hills and valleys with views of Mt. Ngauruhoe and Mt. Ruapehu on either side, and soon enough we crested a hill and caught sight of the gaudy Chateau Tongariro, a ski lodge that seemed completely out of place in the otherwise scenic natural view. We could see our destination, but there was still about an hour left in the hike.
As we were walking down there was a blanket of clouds over the lowlands in the distance with a single mountain peak sticking up in their midst. There is something really cool about walking above the clouds. Of course you can see clouds from above on an airplane, but there’s something different about it when you’re still standing on the ground. It’s almost like you could keep walking right off the mountain onto all that white fluff (not that I would actually try it, just the idea you know?). I think it’s probably one of my favorite sights when hiking in the mountains.
We made a slight detour to see the Taranaki Falls. They were very beautiful and as you approached them the terrain changed, much like it had in the grove of trees the previous day. Only this time there was also a huge influx of tourists as well. Taranaki Falls is a popular short walk from Whakapapa village. There were streams of them, clad in flip flops and t-shirts and smelling of perfume and Axe body spray, heading past us to see the falls. Were they aware of what they were missing out on by only taking this brief little trip into the park?
We passed a sign saying it was only 20 minutes to the trailhead, but unlike the past few days the renewed vigor was completely absent and this last 20 minutes seemed to stretch on forever and contained a maddening amount of uphill trail. We eventually made it though. Then we packed everything back in the car, got some super overpriced gas at the only station in the area, and set off for Auckland for our one month reunion.
It was interesting being thrust back into civilization so suddenly. They really were two different worlds, even more so than the different landscapes we encountered on our hike. Perhaps because when you’re on a long hike the walking and the scenery consumes all of your focus and mental energy, you are truly living in each and every moment, that time seems so much longer, every day fuller. And being back in the city it suddenly all feels like so long ago. Only my sore legs and the pictures I took remind me of the natural world that was my entire life for the past 4 days. It was so simple, but so difficult. In my post about Auckland I mentioned that the city gets talked down a lot. I can now see why the outdoor crowd (which seems to be a large portion of the population here) dislikes Auckland so much. It does seem crowded, cluttered, and unnecessarily complex by comparison.