The sun rises at 6:19am. The Hut warden advised us that the weather would be clear and that the sun rises across the valley. With people going the counter-clock direction of the Circuit (I was going clockwise), people started stirring at 5:15am. I bolted awake at the sounds. It is a surreal experience. Normally, I am the only one awake in the morning, and seeing *everyone* awake at 5:30 was pretty interesting. Today is supposed to be a short day, only three hours of walking, so I do not have to be awake so early. However, with the promise of a great sunrise, and being a morning person, I got out of bed, and started my day.
With the skies clear overnight, the weather was cold during this late January summer (… which is still weird to say honestly). I walked out to the ridge, dotted with tents, and in the valley below, some low clouds hung beneath. In the distance, a line of mountains with clouds seeping in between them, like caulk in a brick wall. The other trampers were beginning to come out and gather to see the sunrise, and impatiently, I actually moved away, further along, the ridge to sit on some rocks.
The morning was still, and the conversations of the trampers wafted over to me. For the first time on the entire trip, I decided to take out my headphones. Normally, I listen to music while I walk, but over the last two days, I wanted to conserve battery and focus on the walk itself. But now… I had a particularly appropriate song for this moment. I search for my Spotify tramping list, and quickly find the song. Time was approaching, and I flipped on the song and took out my camera.
And… Here comes the Sun.
This moment was honestly an emotional one. So many thoughts washed over me. I have seen many sunrises in my life, but the location, reflecting on the last year of my life. Thinking about family who are gone… tears welled up inside of me and spilled out. Frantically taking photos while the rapidly rising sun… I felt both sheepish and proud of the moment.
Finally, I put the camera down and just watch the morning unfold before me, and soon, the other trampers were moving out, beginning to start their day.
I went back to the hut and had some breakfast. Yogurt and muesli was on the menu and once again, it was surprisingly good. Perhaps it was because it was the third day of eating freeze dried food, but I contend it was good anyway.
I ended up heading out right at 8am. The sky still clear and the weather warming quickly. I set out for the next hut.
The path was rolling. I thought to myself “Today’s word is Undulating” as I walked over the lava fields. There were few shrubs as I headed to a far ridge full of trees. The path was quiet, with a few people walking the other direction. A couple more Germans and behind me, a woman who was training for an Ironman, running with a full pack. Eventually, I got close to the ridge when two trampers, The German and the Russian couple caught up. We traveled along a bit and headed into the sudden forest at the base of the ridge.
By 11am, I made it to the campground and quickly set up my tent. I found a nice place near the river.
Now it is 11 o’clock and I am done for the day… so what to do? The Waihohonu Hut is at the crossroads of the Tongariro Northern Circuit and the Ruapehu “Round the Mountain” walk. People on the trail refer to it as “the Palace” and it was the nicest hut I saw on the trip. I walked into the hut and met up with the people who were slowing coming in from around the park. Soon, I fell into a group of trampers. The German and Russian couple and a solo Italian tramper from another trail and we decided to head off to find a Natural spring a couple of Kilometers away.
Soon, we were out and chatting, and getting to know each other. Being a solitary walker, I found this quite a change to my normal mode, and surprisingly, I really enjoyed it. The Italian man was in New Zealand for a year working at a Cheese factory and soon we were talking about the right way to make mozzarella. The German and Russian were fashion photographers and soon we were talking about cameras and the crazy world of photography. I talked about my life as a trainer, and how I came to live in New Zealand. Soon, we made it the spring, and filled our water and went in for a swim.
I have to tell you. The water was honestly, the coldest water I have ever tasted. It was amazing. Fritz, the German, was crazy enough to go and take a swim, and we laughed as he roared like a bear at the sheer magnitude of the freezing water. We moved a little down the water source, and laid out to enjoy the water where possible, and enjoy the day. Soon, a larger group of Germans we had met yesterday had arrived, and more people descended on our spring. It was a really relaxed and fun time, and again, I felt that I belonged. While I was walking solo, I wasn’t alone.
Eventually, the skies started to darken and we headed back to the camp. We talked and met more people who were coming in, and soon, the place was filled. The Hut warden, nicknamed “Horse” came in, and once again, we were given a great history lesson of the area, and in between rain showers, I retired to my tent. Despite the short day, I felt that this was my favorite part of the trip. The walk, the friends, and the walking without a huge pack was great. I nodded to sleep with the insects buzzing in the night and the waxing moon peaking out from the clouds. Tomorrow, I head home, I am excited, but also a little sad that this journey is about to end.