Monday, October 21, 2013

Hiking Around Tongariro National Park

Hiking around Tongariro National Park has been a pretty cool experience!  Hiking around volcanoes, active thermal vents and craters has been quite surreal.  It's been great being so close to the park. We have had to drive anywhere from 2 minutes to 40 minutes to get to the hikes around here. 

Tongariro is the oldest national park in New Zealand, and the area holds many sacred Maori sites along with some active volcanoes. For the skiers out there, this is also where New Zealand's largest ski area is located on Mount Ruahepu below!  The ski season here usually runs from June to the end of October.  

Lower Tama Lake with Mount Ruahepu in the background. It has very little snow on it right now! 

It's interesting because the trails are all really well developed and maintained, but the touristy, commercial part of things was less so.  I came here with my Canadian Rockies bias expecting a sort of 'Canmore' and 'Banff' type towns to be established here, but that was not the case! Don't get me wrong though, Tongariro National Park is a popular destination for Kiwis and international tourists. There are tour companies, and a variety of accommodation options, but it all seems so minimal when you are used to the Rockies!  

One of the best parts about hiking around here are the signs and trail markers. The trails here are marked with poles when things get confusing.  At trailheads and trail junctions, there are signs that tell you where to go and how long it will take you to get there! It's amazing!  Never be confused again!

Dave and I also went into one of the backcountry huts we passed by and they look so cozy! I've never been in a backcountry hut in Canada, so I have nothing to compare it to.  This one was on the Whakapatiti Valley trail.  They also collect rain water outside so there is always a freshwater supply somewhere. You still need to filter it though!  

In the nicer huts on the Great Walks, there are hot showers, flushing toilets, and gas stoves that you can use. You obviously pay more, but, yes, you can have a HOT SHOWER in the backcountry. Crazy talk! I know!

Twaihai Falls - A short 20 minute walk, and a LOTR set location! 

If you are a Lord of the Rings fan, like I am, you really get the feeling that you are in Rohan and in Mordor. Peter Jackson did an amazing job showcasing New Zealand's natural beauty in the movies. Dave and I went on a hike to Twahai Falls (above), and didn't even realize we were at one of the set locations! 

A lagoon we encountered in the middle of a Ohinetonga Walking Track. 

 One distinct track we went on was called Ohinetonga Walking Track. It's only four kilometers, and has very little view, but the forest you walk through is breathtaking. It was so dense, and lush...two words that don't really do it justice, but it was just amazing and beautiful.  It was also the scene of a rather dramatic pond crossing...but you can ask Dave about that one!

Ohinetonga Walking Track

Ohinetonga Walking Track

That being said, if you are planning to go hiking in New Zealand, here are a few tips from me to you:

  • Be prepared!! Check the weather. Ask questions at the info center. Bring the right gear!
  • Do not ignore the warnings and track closures you come across. Dave and I have learned that the Department of Conservation does not sugar coat things nor do they over exaggerate their warnings.  
  • The weather DOES turn on a dime here, and you can just assume that it will rain. If it doesn't rain, you will probably be hiking in a cloud at some point, so bring your rain gear anyway!  If it just rained, bring your gaiters. There will be mud and puddles, and it will be slippery.
Bring your gaiters!

Hopefully this has given you a nice taste of what Tongariro National Park has to offer.  I can't wait to explore the mountains on the South Island!  

Hiking in the rain.

View of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing from Mount Nguaruhoe

Happy tramping!

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