A Tramp through Tongariro

Down to the Desert
  |  Gorp.com

The pre-snow plan had been to dive left over Central Crater, past Blue Lake (the Maori name for this slips neatly off the tongue: Te wai-whakaata-o-Te Rangihiroa) and down to the Ketetahi Hut. This has achieved cult status among backpackers and trampers for being almost within touching distance of natural hot springs, fed by an underground reservoir heated to 200-250 degrees Celsius. Sadly, they have been damaged through overuse and access is now denied. But the snow has thrown a curveball: We're running out of food. So instead we cut right and scramble down an old lava flow into the Oturere Valley.

This is the weirdest monochrome moonscape, of jagged lava, black sand, and clumps of gray tussock. It is New Zealand's only desert and is a silent, eerie place where the wind whispers through the honeycomb rock and kicks sand over telltale footprints. Like any desert, it seems to eat your energy, refusing to let you gain ground, shoving another grain of sand—which looks remarkably like the one you just stepped over—under your boots. If it weren't for the route poles placed at irregular intervals, you'd think you'd landed on Mars. It's strange, but it's an exciting, unusual place, and it is almost disappointing when Oturere Hut, with its wood-burning stove and pigeon-free water tank, appears round the edge of a giant lava block.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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