I count raising kids who love the outdoors as one of my big parentings wins. The kids even have have their own tramping goals! At the start of last weekend, Dan (9) couldn't have been more excited - he was going to do his first Great Walk! Less than 24 hours later, he was crushed with some bad news about the weather and his first lesson in respecting the conditions.
Let's rewind. In attempt to reach Dan's goal of doing his first Great Walk, we booked the 3-4 day Tongariro Northern Circuit, which includes Tongariro Alpine Crossing. You can do the Northern Circuit from either direction and we opted to go clockwise from Whakapapa so we'd be doing the Tongariro Alpine Crossing in the classic way from the Mangatepopo carpark. We'd trained, packed, and prepared.
This was the plan, now known as plan A.
Tongariro Northern Circuit:
Day 1 - Whakapapa Village to Mangatepopo Hut - 9.4km
Day 2 - Mangeopopo Hut to Oturere Hut via Tongariro Alpine Crossing - 12km
Day 3 - Oturere Hut to Waihohohu Hut - 8.1km
Day 4 - Waihohonu Hut to Whakapapa Village - 15.4km
Before hitting the trail, we checked in at the Department of Conversation (DOC) Office and found out that Tongariro Alpine Crossing was "Not Recommended" that day. The track to Mangatepopo Hut is quite sheltered and considered safe so we set off in hope that by day 2, the winds would die down and the clouds clear so we could make it across the Tongariro Crossing. On arriving at Mangatepopo Hut, we met with trampers doing Northern Circuit from the other direction. They had stayed at Oturere Hut the night before and been unaware of the DOC warning that Tongariro Crossing was not recommended. They shared tales of crawling on hand and knee along the scree slopes to avoid being carried away by the gale force wind and visibility so poor they could not see the track or the next pole marking the route. Some of them were unprepared wearing jeans and flannel shirts. All felt grateful to have made it safely and urged us to heed the DOC recommendations.
Our group included Dan and I, as well as friends, Inga and her son Leigh (10). All of us are experienced trampers and we really, really, REALLY wanted to do the loop. After a good night's sleep in the hut, the DOC warden came into give us the morning forecast. The winds at the top were 85km/hr with gusts of 150km/hr. He told us that as a fully grown adult, he wouldn't consider walking with a full pack in winds above 45km/hr along Red Crater. As the warden spoke, I saw the meaning of his words register on Dan's face. Dan who never cries, Dan who finds a solution to every problem, Dan who got 4 wasp stings on the track yesterday and made us keep on going - Dan's eyes welled up, he set his jaw and went stone silent. Meanwhile, Inga and I had visions of our children being swept into Red Crater.
We really had no other choice, but as we headed back to Whakapapa Village with sunny skies and light winds, it was hard to feel good about our decision to turn back. Could it really be so bad at the top?
But like always, there was another, better adventure around the corner - or in this case around the mountain. At the Whakapapa Visitor's Centre, DOC refunded us for the rest of our journey and we put the money towards hut tickets. And instead of heading around Mount Ngauruhoe, we headed around Mount Ruapehu.
Here was plan B.
Tongariro Northern Circuit + Round the Mountain Track
Day 1 - Whakapapa Village to Mangatepopo Hut - 9.4km
Day 2 - Mangatepopo Hut to Whakapapa Village 9.4km + Scoria Flats Carpark to Whakapapaiti Hut 3km = 12.4
Day 3 - Whakapapaiti Hut to Scoria Flats Carpark 3km + 1 hour drive + Ohakune Mountain Road carpark to Mangaturuturu Hut 3km = 6km
Day 4 - Mangaturuturu Hut back to carpark - 3km
Having already walked the 9km back to Whakapapa Village we were on the hunt for a short tramp to one of the backcountry huts on Mount Ruapehu. From the Scoria Flats carpark, we walked the short and more rugged track to the Whakapapaiti Hut. Whakapapaiti Hut is an old favourite of ours and we were lucky to have it to ourselves again! That wouldn't have happened in a Great Walk hut in the summer months! The next morning, we walked back out to the car, then drove around Mount Ruapehu to Ohakune Mountain Road and walked the Round the Mountain Track to Mangaturuturu Hut.
While the weather was a bit horrid for the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, the rest of New Zealand was experiencing a heat wave and Mount Ruapehu was no exception. This section of the Round the Mountain Track is quite exposed so the sun beat down and made our packs feel heavier. The highlight of this section of the Round the Mountain Track are the Mangaturuturu Rapids. The trail follows along and through the cascades and photogenic rocks before heading briefly down into the trees. There's a river crossing, a board walked section of the track, and voilà, the hut!
Exactly the opposite of the empty hut the night before, we arrived to a hut overflowing with five generations of one family. With all the bunks taken, we set up our sleeping bags on the floor of the porch. Then, reeling from the heat, we set up a picnic in the trees, cooled down with a dip in the river, and the boys built a fort with the fallen logs. At dinner we sat on the bench outside the hut to watch the sunset on Mount Ruapehu. Who knew plan B would beat New Zealand's most popular hike?
By most standards anyway. Dan is still hanging out for a good weather window so he can finally do his first Great Walk.