During this summer, we have had three separate sets of visitors. Though each set had slightly different vacation preferences (our dolphin-swimming friend was adventure-seeking while M’s parents preferred wineries), we’ve ended up going to many of the same places. All three sets of people have now been to Muriwai Beach and two out of three went to Tawharanui Regional Park, some of our favorite spots in Auckland. My two friends were here for a few weeks and both wanted to go to the Bay of Islands, so we’ve now gone on two boat trips in as many months (no swimming on the second one, though). Our latest visitor is an avid hiker and so, in addition to the Bay of Islands trip, we also were roped into doing the Tongariro Alpine Crossing again. M and I had some traumatic memories from our first crossing, but we convinced ourselves that it would be much better now that we knew what to expect.
We arrived in National Park (yes, that’s the name of the town) the day before the hike. After coming directly from the hot Bay of Islands, I was a bit unprepared for the cooler alpine weather as I’d only brought shorts to wear. Luckily I had remembered leggings for the trek itself, which was fortunate as the day of the hike was overcast and chilly in the morning. We took the 8 a.m. bus to the trail head and started walking, along with a surprising number of other people. Our friend immediately set a much faster pace than my coworkers had, not stopping until we’d reached Soda Springs. After a quick breather, we started up the dreaded Devil’s Staircase. With much lighter packs and without the sun beating down on us, we made shockingly good time, reaching the South Crater with only one photo stop. Throughout the entire climb, Mount Ngauruhoe (a.k.a. Mount Doom) remained hidden behind clouds, and the flat crater floor had wisps of cloud skimming along it. The lack of a view was a little disappointing, but the overcast weather was making the trip more enjoyable.
I lagged behind M and my friend on the next uphill section but we all made it up to the Red Crater before noon. This seemed early for lunch, and the wind was coldly blowing across the summit, so we continued down the steep, loose slope towards the Emerald Lakes. It had rained yesterday and was threatening to rain during our hike, which meant the sand that had plagued us on our last trip was now well-packed and easier to navigate. We reached the bottom in no time and headed past the lakes. I wanted to stop for lunch at the Blue Lake, but the others had good momentum going so we started the long descent to the hut. When we reached the hut, we realized that we had a good chance of making the 3 p.m. bus, a very appealing prospect as the next bus was at 5:30 p.m. We ate our sandwiches quickly and started the final downhill section at double speed. Once we reached the forest, M sped up even more, scared of missing the bus, while my friend decided to take it a little easier and enjoy the rest of the hike. Her and I reached the parking lot at 3 p.m. exactly, where M was there holding the bus for us. We completed the hike in 6 hours 15 minutes, much faster than our previous outing!
After a shower, my friend persuaded us to head out into the park again before dinner. We were sore, but not as sore as last time, so we decided to go look for a whio, or blue duck. This bird was one of the increasingly few species we hadn’t seen yet, and lives exclusively around fast alpine streams like the ones in the park. We stopped at a few places where the road crossed a river but didn’t see any. Not feeling too adventurous, we headed off to a well-deserved dinner and beer.
The next day (which had perfectly clear weather), our friend drove off early to Wellington while we went to the local DOC office to ask about whio in the area. They recommended the Whakapapanui Walk, which paralleled the river of the same name. The walk was six kilometers long in total but we hoped to spot a duck long before then. We started the walk at the end, crossing a bridge over the river, then headed into the forest. Though the scenery was nice, it wasn’t the right environment for the whio so we turned around. On our way back across the bridge, M spotted something on a rock downstream. It was a whio, taking a mid-morning snooze with occasional preening. Another success!
We drove back to Auckland, nursing our sore legs and bug bites, and had a leisurely weekend. Before long, we’ll be planning our next adventure!