Three Women and two Quiche Eaters go ‘Round the Mountain’
Easter Weekend Trip - Friday 21st to Monday 24th March 2008
‘On the mountains he found great joy.’ This was a young man’s epitaph at Mangaturuturu Hut on our trip.
Our experience was not quite like that! Here we were endlessly plodding in un-Easter-like heat through the Rangipo Desert on the first day of our ‘Round the Mountain’ trip - in my case, at least, seriously reconsidering tramping as a leisure option. The day’s highlight had been a fully-clothed dip in the Ohinepango Springs, shortly after our 9.30am drop-off on the Desert Road by Big Blue. At these beautifully clear springs, huge volumes of freezing water bubbled up through the pumice, and provided a much needed cooling off for three of five already hot, sticky trampers.
The low point was trekking all afternoon in Death Valley-like conditions. All we needed were the vultures circling to complete the picture. Near Rangipo Hut and before the gorge where the Whangaehu River rushes past was a sign warning us about lahars and advising not to carry on if we heard rumblings up the valley. We heard lahar-like rumblings behind us and, when we were unfazed, laments from Geoff and Athol that women were not as easy to fool these days!
By 4.00pm our energy had ebbed. As the hut came into view, our trailblazer, Jean, miraculously reappeared with water for us and we only had to trudge on for a few more minutes to our destination, perched high on the mountainside, with wonderful vistas over to the Kaimanawas and Waiouru in the distance.
DOC had said the huts would be full and we were carrying tents, but there were only a couple of welcoming trampers from Hawkes Bay staying. After a good rest it was time to put up the radio aerial which, once tied to the loo (all loos on our trip had smart tiled floors) and then extended with dental floss to the track sign, made for a successful sked.
That night, cosily tucked up on the porch, at about 9.00pm, I suddenly heard clump, clump, clump, coming steadily closer. A father and son had walked all the way from Whakapapa in a day, and, pleased that the hut was actually not full as they had feared, they fell gratefully inside, exhausted.
It was a lovely clear night and next morning, a beautiful sunrise. The mist below made the Kaimanawas look like islands in a sea.
Using subterfuge, Jean got the radio off Geoff and we set out at 8.00am for Blyth Hut via Mangaehuehu. We made good time over the lunar-like terrain and soon met with two trampers from the Alpine Sports Club. They said that 45 Whanganui Tramping Club members were staying at Mangaturuturu Hut that night to celebrate the 50-year anniversary of the building of this quaint hut. Even though we weren’t planning to stay there, we still said impolite and scathing things about DOC not informing us.
As the day warmed, poor Athol, clad only in a singlet (and shorts), found he was unable to reach his shoulders, so had to be subjected to two women applying sunblock to protect him from sunburn. The rest of the morning passed in an undulating traverse of desert-land with a pleasant lunch stop at Mangaehuehu Hut. That afternoon we enjoyed the shade of the beech forests and learnt about the differences between mountain and silver beech and by mid-afternoon we reached Blyth Hut, named after a local man who climbed Ruapehu 143 times. We were pleased that we had only taken 4 hrs 20 mins from Mangaehuehu, not the 6 hrs advertised.
There were three other trampers already at the hut and then a couple arrived with a 2-year old and a 4-year old girl. The older had walked all of the 1½ hrs in from the road. Not bad for a first tramp.
a radio had replaced a fire as a night-time ritual and it was good to talk to the other groups and get the forecast.
Easter Sunday dawned, and Geoff produced Easter eggs for an energy burst on the poled route up the hill behind the hut to the Ohakune Skifield and the Ohakune Mountain Road. As we reached the skifield and looked down on the huge empty carpark in middle of nowhere, ringed with about 30 snowmaking machines, we expected aliens to appear at any moment and transport us away. Unmolested, however, we walked out to the road and down to Wanganui Corner, where we descended steeply into the Makotuku Valley and, via the Cascades, into the Mangaturuturu Valley. This was the most scenic part of the trip as a mountain stream tumbled over a spectacular rockfall. The creamy white coating of the rocks is a silica deposit left by the stream.
We reached Mangaturuturu Hut and the aforementioned epitaph at about 11.00am but, alas, no Whanganui Tramping Club members. Apparently they had just come in for the day, perhaps not quite as ready to rough it 50 years down the track? So we owed some apologies to DOC.
After a snack and after reading the very rude ditty in the loo, we then climbed 258 steps up to Lake Surprise. This staircase was to protect the alpine plants, and Jean who had been there in November, said that she thought there were 60, so she wasn’t too far out. It was a quiet lunch at the top. Those steps had killed the conversation.
A long afternoon was then spent traversing river valleys and gullies, something you don’t imagine when you hear ‘around’ the mountain. We had made an 8.00am start and the last of us didn’t arrive at Whakapapaiti until 5pm. We really enjoyed our wash in the holes in the stream alongside the hut.
Then Geoff had to eclipse our arrangements of the previous night by climbing on top of the steeply gabled 5-6 metre-high hut roof to affix the aerial. I think he was ratty because we laughed at him when he kept using ‘ATC’ 31, not ‘AT’ 31 as the call sign the nights before. Athol lobbed the dental floss up to him for final adjustments. We did have great reception that night and were able to make our arrangements with the other two parties for meeting up the following day.
The next morning was an easy 2-hr walk back to Whakapapa and lunch at the café, with its pleasant faded décor, to dine on scones and jam, chilli mince, and quiche. A couple of hours after our arrival there, we were reunited with the medium-fit and easy groups, and had an uneventful trip home, including ‘Tea at Tiffanys’ in Te Kuiti. We weren’t even held up by the traffic.
A terrific weekend enjoyed by all.
Thanks to Claudia for being an excellent leader, to the rest of you for the fun and companionship, and to Carol and Athol for your driving.
Claudia Edwards, Jean Barton, Athol Berry, Geoff Fischer, Kay Willcocks (scribe).