A Tramp through Tongariro
Too soon to stop! We wander on, gobbling in full frontal views of Mount Ruapehu, looking over our shoulders at Ngauruhoe poking its snow-crowned head into the bluest sky. That night is spent at the smart New Waihohonu Hut, watching stars ping into life over the mountains and listening to birds in the native bush.
We have companyAndrew and Donna from England, who, like us, have rejected the popular trails of the South Island, the well-known Milford, Routeburn, and Heaphy tracks, and focused on the North Island during their New Zealand holiday.
"It's great, it's so quiet and so beautiful and there is so little traffic," we tell each other.
But all good things must end and the next day we walk back toward the national park headquarters, via the Ohinepango Springs, Tama Lakes, and the Old Waihohonu Hut. This is a brilliant piece of make-do on the part of the early New Zealanders: the oldest building in the park, it has red-painted double walls filled with pumice and chunks of light, porous lava, as primitive insulation against the winter snows.
Homeward bound, the track climbs in and out of streams, up and over lumpy grassland, descending to the Taranaki Falls and smooth-edged walkways. "Why, look!" marvels a tourist, pointing at Duncan and me as we descend by the foaming fall. We look behind, unsure if we are the attraction or if the stream hurling itself off the 25-meter lava cliff is the butt of her wonder. We give the waterfall the benefit of the doubt and squeeze past her, hurrying through the beech trees, heading for the village.
This final part of the walk is an exercise in surrealism: As we duck through beech woodland and spidery tussock, the realization dawns that the magical world of hot rock, steaming craters, and crystal lakes is behind us.
Tonight hot water will come from a tap . . . the good news is that cold Kiwi lager comes the same way.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication