Tongariro Holiday Park 1094.4km to National Park 1112.6km.
The hail felt like little acupuncture needles pricking my face. I couldn’t see where I was going. My gloves covered my unprotected eyes, not that there was anything to see when I was hiking in the clouds. The 70km/h winds made hiking difficult and I was starting to get cold. I was 200 meters from the top of the trail. What on earth was I doing here, I thought to myself, I have nothing to prove. I gladly turned round and made my way down to safety. Done days it’s better to retreat and hike on another day rather than take the risk, today was that day for me.
The Te Araroa trail follows the most famous and arguably best day hike in New Zealand, the Tongariro crossing. On a good day it’s world class alpine scenery with several active volcanoes and multi coloured lakes. On a bad day, its deadly. Two people have died on the trail since I arrived in New Zealand a couple of weeks ago, thankfully not TA hikers. More search and rescues occur here than any other part of New Zealand. I was wary, it is an alpine area that one should not take lightly.
Earlier, I woke to strong wind which buffeted my tent in the holiday park. I ate a huge breakfast and set off hiking. There was no cell phone reception in this part of the world, in fact the last weather report I had was from 2 days earlier. I set off into the relative unknown of the weather.
Several kilometers of roadwalking and I came to the start of the trail. It was quiet. Too quiet. No cars, no buses and no people. I set of up into the mountains. A 1100m (3600ft) gain in altitude lay ahead. A car arrived just as I started hiking, possibly I wouldn’t be alone.
The start of the trail went through forest that sheltered me from the wind. Within an hour the wind was gale force as I entered the alpine area with its stunted shrubs. Rain was approaching from my right and clouds shrouded the mountain peaks. Already it wasn’t looking fun.
10am photo below
I reached Ketetahi hut in pouring rain. I was glad to get out of the weather. It’s not my first visit to this hut. I slept here 20 years ago when I did a hike called the Tongariro Circuit. The best and most famous overnight hike on the north island of New Zealand. Now the hut is falling apart. But not from neglect.
In 2012, Mt Tongariro erupted after being dormant for over 100 years. It spewed lava bombs up to 1 meter across over parts of the trail I was hiking. 3 of these lave bombs crashed into the hut. One landed on the bed in the bedroom. Nobody was there but as a result, the hut is now closed to all but the wet hiker seeking short term respite.
I waited 4 hours in the hut to see if the weather would turn. Any longer and I would run out of daylight to complete the hike to the next campsite. At 2pm there was a short break in the weather and I went for it. Not long after I made the prudent decision to get off the mountain. The stinging hail, low cloud, cold and wind made it unsafe.
I hitch hiked to the nearest village called National Park. A bed, shower, laundry and a beer felt oh so good. I felt good with my decision, even though it messed with my plans to go canoeing. I’ll work that out later. Now I rest and wait for a weather window. Fortunately, I will not have to wait too long to return to the mountains. Looks like fine weather is coming in a couple of days. I’ll give the crossing another go in good weather, stay tuned.