Weekend - November 2013 (3 days)

Early on a glorious Saturday morning, Big Blue was expertly driven up to the transmitter station on the Tukino Road. The expanse of blue sky held a few wisps of cloud, with golden sunlight on the Rangipo desert. A ribbon of metaled road - our path - disappeared up into the arid landscape. The locked pipe gate was our only obstacle. We walked up and around, or squeezed through, or climbed over, according to one’s height, pack size and inclination. The lodges of the Tukino ski field were five kilometres up the road. Here we stopped and gazed at the jumble of rocks and bluffs rising above us. The onward path led us up to the ski tows. Our party turned sharp left, negotiating a narrow rocky route onto the ridge. Meanwhile the summit party continued up to the Mangatoetoenui glacier high above. We ascended steeply, crossing snow-filled gullies and rocky ridges before descending to the Whangaehu Hut, sited on the edge of the bluff high above the Whangaehu River gorge. This N.Z.A.C. hut had been recently renovated, with double-glazed windows and insulation and an entrance designed to allow for the shedding of wet gear before entering the living/sleeping area. Brent kindly recorded our sparsely-poled route on his GPS, in case we were faced with whiteout conditions the next day.

After lunch, Sue followed Brent, plodding up soft snow slopes to the Cathedral Rocks. We looked down on the tent camp of some keen snowboarders and across to the line of six ATC trampers zigzagging their way up the face of the Mangatoetoenui glacier. It looked like hard work. That evening we dined al fresco in perfect conditions of warm sunshine. There were magnificent views across the Kaimanawa Mountains, including the lake on the Army land. Above us towered the Pyramid, Cathedral Rocks and Te Heu Heu, all features of the mighty Mt. Ruapehu.

Sunday dawned fine, crisp and clear. So crisp that the cheese left in the outside snow "fridge/freezer" had to be chipped out of the ice. Crampons were strapped onto boots and with ice-axes in hand, we climbed the frozen-hard snow slope behind the hut. Tackling the short rocky sections required care. When the snow softened sufficiently, crampons were removed, but not before one crampon-induced face-plant into soft snow - fortunately no damage done. When descending the rocky arête, our advanced guard reconnoitered a safe route and guided us down the chaotic mass of rocks on its flank.

We were soon back at the bus and heading north. At the Ketetahi car park, we observed the Te Maari fumaroles sending dense clouds of steam and ash high into the air. In contrast, the plume of steam rising from the nearby Ketetahi hot springs looked very small. And to think that just a few years ago we had camped in the valley behind the Te Maari craters!

We called in to the Whakapapa Visitors’ Centre to see whether the Waihohonu party had arrived and, not finding them, we continued to the Iwikau village at the Top of the Bruce where Carol was enjoying the sunshine. Terry’s intrepid traverse trampers soon arrived. Once sorted, we returned to Whakapapa, arriving just ahead of Tony’s Waihohonu party.

Many thanks to the drivers and leaders and a particularly big "thank you" to Brent. He missed out on the summit plateau traverse trip because the bus needed to be driven from Tukino to Iwikau on Sunday. The weekend activities could not have proceeded as planned without our ultra fit driver who’d agreed to join the slow party.

Party: Sue Grant (leader and scribe), Brent Rose, Mike Stringer and Andrew Holden.