We knew today would be long and hard so B and I were up at 0500 to get sorted for 0610 departure. We ended up having a 12.5hr day (including breaks), walking around 36 km, with over 1600m of ascent and 1100m of descent! GPS data for the day can be seen at:
The first 7.5km was along SH46&47, including the last km up the gravel access road to the Ketetahi carpark. There was a slight mix-up with Franziska's bus so she arrived about 10 minutes after us. After a short break there we set off up the"hill".
A number of you will have done the crossing before. Our last time was 2008 and it's fair to say we noticed some significant improvements to the track in places. It was also a different perspective doing it "in reverse"! Climbing out of the tree section we were soon into the familiar open alpine environment. Most of the horrible old steps have been replaced with matting on inclined paths (with occasional new steps) - which made for much easier walking than we would have had otherwise. We wended our way up to Ketetahi Hut and stopped for a rest and refuel before setting off again. We had seen our first northbound walkers before the Hut and there were several more there by the time we left. After that the numbers increased! Not quite an ant trail but very busy anyway!
Our next stop was a lunch break out of the wind (westerly) at Blue Lake. The day was fairly fine but not too hot, with a fairly cool breeze (up to 45 kph) at this stage. Next on the list was Emerald Lakes and the climb up the infamous shale slope to the Red Crater peak. Even this has been engineered by DoC so that it is a slightly more even climb, and not as loose a rubble surface as it used to be - but still a challenge, especially going up rather than down! A lot of people here including a group of schoolkids.
At this stage the misty weather rolled in and the temperature dropped. Heading down the narrow ridge we couldn't see the drop off on either side! Going across the plateau after this you could have been anywhere on earth - or the moon. Eerie - even hard to see the next marker pole. When we were last here in 2008 they had just started an eastern bypass track around Devil's Staircase, so the new route was easy tracks and steps rather than an old fashioned rock scramble!! When we stopped at the bottom for refreshments we showed Franziska where the track used to go.
The boardwalks across Soda Springs lead to an improved track down to Mangatepopo Hut. Rather than this being close to the end, if we were just doing the crossing, we now had another 9km to get to Whakapapa Village. We soon found out why a guide we chatted to at Red Crater referred to it as "the ditch"! While some of it was OK walking, much of it was wet, muddy heavily eroded track where water simply follows the pathway, causing deep ruts over time. Pretty challenging after a long day, part of the reason we don't have many photos of the worst bits! A fair bit of scrambling through deep drops and the occasional waterway crossing was included!
Belinda and Anthony (aka Tony) Hadfield made a decision, in their late 50's, to do something a "bit different" and walk New Zealand's 3000km Te Araroa Trail over summer 2015/16 - although updates will now tell you that this plan will take longer now!!. As the old saying goes - "don't leave home 'til you've seen the country"!!