Day 42. Whakapapa Village – Rangipo Hut. 27km.
Yesterday evening I wasn’t sure if I would be able to hike again today. But I totally am, my body seems to recover pretty fast now. Or is it just my mind who wants the body to work again today? I get up at 5.30am as I am awake but take it easy, drinking tea and checking mails etc. Around 7.30am I leave, Robin and Chloé are already ahead and Liz from the USA will come later. The trail is super easy to walk on, first gently up, then down for 3.30h to the Waihonunu hut. I visited the old Waihonunu hut on the way, built in 1904. So small, men and women were in different rooms but only the men got a fireplace while the women had a tiny cold space! People went skiing from here.
It’s 20 minutes to the Ohinepanga source, a 10 minutes return detour. I want to take my lunch break there, it’s 11.30am and after this the desert section is waiting for me. I get to a beautiful little spot in a forest with crystal clear water coming out of a source. Perfect, I can hide from the sun, drink plenty of water and relax. I drink at least 1l of water and fill up my drinking blader. I have toast, cheese, peanut butter and dried apricots for lunch and want to sleep a little but the flies are too annoying.
So I continue into the volcanic desert, a unique setting! The sand (or ash?), stones and rare plants of this arid landscape is in strong contrast to the snow white Ruapehu mountain. There are numerous (empty) riverbeds to hike through in a constant up and down, under the burning hot sun. I still love it as it is so different from everything I have seen so far!
The highlight is the impressive gorge crossing on a swingbridge. A sign warns that this is an extremely dangerous lahar zone (volcanic mud flow) and that the next 400m should be crossed quickly. The water below me is squeezed through a small space between two rocks, making a strong sound, but only if I am standing right above it, the rocks protecting from the noise once you are off the swingbridge. Hiking across the bridge itself is pretty scary for me, even after all the swingbridges I had to cross in Nepal I still don’t like them.
After all that awesomeness I crash my camera… I often put it on a rock to take a picture of myself, this time I didn’t place it well apparently as a sudden wind blows it down. The screen is smashed but it still works. At least it’s not completely broken! Soon after I reach the Rangipo hut which has a perfect view on mountains and the valley. Robin and Chloé are already there plus another couple who prefer to sleep outside in their tent. There is plenty of space in the hut, even when Liz and 3 others arrive we can all have our place to spread gear and relax well with the wonderful view. There isn’t any firewood but it’s perfectly warm anyway.
Day 43. Rangipo Hut – Ohakune. 21km. Everything can change in a minute. First, I don’t want to miss the sunrise from the hut. Second, we know bad weather is coming and the morning will be better, too heavy rain could mean we cannot cross the river. Two reasons to get up at 5am and prepare my breakfast outside with the view of the slow sunrise. Just before 6am I already leave. It should be 5-6h to the next hut and 4h more to the hut I plan to stay at. There are dark clouds behind me and it’s windy but not too bad.
There are more hills to climb and rivers or empty riverbeds to cross this morning before the trail leads into alpine forest and through several beautiful rivers and a gorge.
Suddenly I see a toilet and wonder why is there one, but then I see the hut. It’s just past 9am! I didn’t expect to be here that fast! Also I expected a difficult river crossing that wasn’t yet happening. I take a short break before continuing, happy I may be rather early in my hut today and have time to relax. I hike on through the very windy day on easy trails, often there are boardwalks installed. After a last river crossing I can see a beautiful waterfall before the last stretch to the road.
It was raining in between already but just when I reach the road it starts to be completely covered by clouds with heavy rain and storm. I have to hike only 3km on the road followed by 3km trail to the hut. I can do this. I fight my way uphill on the road. There are no cars but the wind almost blows me away in some instances. It is a big fight and I am completely frozen now. How quickly the weather can change from a burning hot sun yesterday to freezing cold! I manage somehow to reach the trail entry but I cannot hike over the ridge to start the trail. The storm is too strong and the trail very steep. I hide behind the trail description panel and consider my options. There is no shelter up here to wait and see how the weather evolves. It’s too dangerous to continue now. Also, this is a side trip I wanted to do by pure pleasure, right now this is the contrary. A car comes down – first one I see on the road – and my decision is taken. I stop the car and ask them to take me down to Ohakune. The driver is very careful as the wind is so strong that even in the car it feels dangerous. But the further we get down the better it gets. In Ohakune I almost think I have taken the wrong decision, but looking up I can see just white and no mountain. And when I reach the hostel it’s raining again. After a hot shower and with freshly washed clothes I already feel much better. What now? The Whanganui river journey is coming next and I thought I would do it with Liz but I don’t even know where she is now. I call Quinn to see what my Canadians have planned. They are at National park now, hike tomorrow and Sunday the 52km to the Whakapore landing where they get the Kayaks delivered for the 5-6 day journey to Whanganui. I totally want to join them but I am in Ohakune and have to hike still the 20km stretch from Whakapapa Village to National Park first (plus hitchhiking to Whakapapa village in the morning). I don’t think I can do all of that in two days. I tell Quinn I’ll think about it. Again today I need to consider my options. 1) Starting very early tomorrow and hopefully be lucky hitchhiking then do 36km, the day after another 36km. It’s going to rain the next days and my body is pretty tired from all the effort of the last days without any easy or short day. 2) Take a day off and see if Liz calls in or if I find someone else. But then it means spending a lot of time together with people I won’t know. 3) Screw that 20km, hitchhike to national park and hike 26km tomorrow and 26km the day after and then enjoy 5-6days of kayaking with my hiker friends. We will have so much fun. The decision is made!
Quinn gets everything organised for my I just need to book the first DOC campsite online. The, already bought their food in Taumarunui and left it with the kayak agency, I will have to buy it here in Ohakune and carry it. Bummer, I was looking forward to good stuff for once! But Quinn promises to share the wine!
Off I go into the town, it’s 3km but I can take a bike. I buy myself for the first time Fish n Chips and do some Wi-Fi. Then supermarket and ATM (the kayak will cost 250$!!!). Another expensive day. I am happy to find some underwear in the supermarket as I forgot mine this morning in the hut! I hang them up to dry and as I left while it was still dark I didn’t see them and completely forgot them. How embarrassing. Possibly Liz took them but I don’t know where she is now! Almost no other shop is open, it’s mainly a winter tourism place.
I end up being on my own in the dormitory, how nice!