Tongariro Snow trip

31 July to 1 August 2021

Through trip from Waihohonu carpark to Mangatepopo carpark

This trip started with a full van of 12 but, with a late cancellation, ended with 11 and was a test of the van and its cargo of bods, day bags and packs. Boots and crampons were stowed in the polybins and packs on their side stacked in above, it all fitted in but not a lot of room if someone wanted something from a pack on the bottom ….! It will undoubtedly be better when the racks are installed to separate things.  Derek came down from Tauranga, we met him at Turangi and he followed us to the trip start.

Arriving at the Waihohonu carpark, about 25km down the Desert Road, at around 10.30 we found the carpark pretty much a bog, very inappropriate for the entry to a 5 star hut. The whole party trooped to Waihohonu hut (palace) and consumed lunch alfresco in the sunshine  on the tables on the spacious decks. The A party bade farewell to the B’s and set off towards Oturere.

By now the cloud that had lingered on Ngaruahoe and Tongariro had lifted and a warm afternoon made a pleasant stroll while taking in the vista’s and photographic opportunities. Arrival at Oturere hut about 4pm meant that we could look around. The water cascade in the northern gully was eyecatching, along with views to Lake Taupo, the Desert Road and the Kaimawawa ranges. Firewood was in plentiful supply and the hut people had a good fire going so we settled in. Was good to have time like this as often at the end of the day arriving and preparing a meal is pressurised a bit. Present were those from S Africa, Germany, Korea and all were quite chatty with other inhabitants.

We aimed to get away 7am Sunday but did so at 7.10 for the route up to the base of the Emerald Lakes ridge, on the way taking in the alpine shrub colours which are at their peak at this time of the year, as well as the rock gardens to go through. Quite an unusual and surreal scene as with some  imagination, many rock pillars could become statues and animals etc.

   At the base of the ridge we found a reasonable slope of firm snow to practice ice axe  arresting -especially for the three new alpine members, Paula, Jo and Simon. It had been a good alpine frost overnight which fortunately gave firm snow to save plugging in the soft stuff. Soon we were at the Emerald Lakes with lots of photos taken as usual and taking in the vista especially for those three who had not been there before. Then the firm snow trudge up the ridge to the top of the Red Crater, and again, the views clear all around. Our Korean friend took a group photo at the top.

As the snow going down the ridge to the South Tongariro Crater was quite icy it was time to don crampons, primarily for practice for the three needing this. After wandering around on flat, we then ventured a little way down the slope to get the feel of using crampons in earnest. Back to the top, packs on and down we went. It was very firm iced snow which was predictable, being in the shady southerly aspect, and likely would be even harder lower down near the rock pillars near the bottom.

I was so pleased to congratulate the three on how well they had done, taking their time in a new environment and experience. Simon commented that it was among his greatest experiences. I was rightly concerned about the potential even for glass ice conditions there , as I had struck this on a club trip years ago, so had for that reason carried 45 metres of rope, a harness and belay etc in case . It was still a bluebird day which was just so magic.

Just inside the south crater entrance is a sign that questions travellers as to whether they are up to the challenge, or if the conditions are poor, to turn back. In pleasant sunny conditions we stopped here for our lunch break. All that was left was the crater crossing of just on a kilometer, down the staircase to the Mangatepopo valley, past the hut and to the carpark at 3pm, to the waiting club van and the B party. In a short time we were sorted and in the van, so lucky to have had clear weather as by now cloud had suddenly descended and blanked out everything above the South Crater.

Due to the time now, a hot pool at Tokaanu was off the agenda so a quick fuel up at Mobil and we were on our way, back at Glenda’s about 7pm. Thanks for the company all round and especially to Murry who drove us there and back as well. The van got along effortlessly considering it had about 1000kg of bods and gear.

Walks in the Waihohonu and Mangatepopo areas

It was a blue sky day for our walk into Waihohonu Hut; although the mountains had covering cloud. The track from the Desert Road carpark to the hut has an ascent of 100 metres. The beauty of this is that Mount Ruapehu stood out in all his majestic glory. The track dips and at times scrub obscures Ruapehu but when he comes back into view it is truly a breath taking sight. The lack of elevation across the Rangipo Desert gives clear views of Ruapehu, Tongario and back to the Desert Road where the power pylons and white sided large trucks stood out.

Both parties had left the carpark at 10.45 with perfect weather with the first ¾ of an hour of the tramp being walked on soft volcanic sand. Twenty minutes into the tramp we crossed the Ohinepango Stream, the B Party were to see more of this more of the stream later in the day. Along the track there are a couple of patches of beech forest. After walking through one, I was just settling in for about another ½ hours walk when I rounded the corner and there was Waihohonu Hut. The sign post at the carpark stated it was 1 ½ hours to the hut and that was how long it had taken me.

After lunch we walked over to the Ohinepango Springs which are south of the hut on the Round the Mountain track; about 1 ½ km from the hut. These springs, from where they appear under a cliff, do not look inspiring but the volume of water coming through must be immense as the Ohinepango Stream has a good flow to it.

Before returning to the hut we visited the Old Waihohonu Hut, which was built 1903/04 and used as a stopover for stage coaches. This corrugated hut has been well restored and with its brick red paint stands out in the patch of beech in which it is set. The men and women had separate sleeping quarters with the only concession the ladies had was a mirror.

To say Waihohonu is a hut is a misnomer; it is a palace. Google describes Waihohonu hut as a guest house. Okay there are marae style bunks, with accommodation for 28, but the footprint is truly grand. As we were out of season we did not have the benefits of gas for cooking or hot water in the kitchen, but we did have on a timer solar lighting, in the kitchen/sitting area, which ran in for a period of 30 minutes. When this timed out the room would be plunged into darkness.

There were three other parties in the hut for the night, one of which included a 7 month old baby.

Saturday night’s evening sky was dulled with cloud. For those awake before sunrise, Sunday, saw the beauty of the southern night sky.

On Sunday we set off from Waihohonu at 8.30. There had been a frost overnight so it was rather crunchy underfoot. The beauty of the frost was that the mountains were now displayed, without cloud; a truly magnificent vista. 

We were back at the van by 10.00. Derek, who had come in his own vehicle, left us there to return to Tauranga. It was now the van party’s job to take the vehicle around to the Mangatepopo carpark in preparation to meet the A Party. We headed north up the Desert Road to Lake Rotoaira Road which we turned into and headed west to Mangatepopo Road. As it is not the season for the Tongariro Alpine Crossing; we were able to park in the carpark. To continue our abridged journey on the Tongariro Northern Circuit walked into Mangatepopo hut (again a description of guest house in google) with most, after lunch, walking on to the Soda Springs. That was three huts bagged in the weekend.

Party:   Paula K, Jo P, Colin J, Simon W, Anne C, John M, Murry A, Susan L, Janice L, Jude H, Derek B, Anne D