The decent off Tongariro was again difficult, but after the scoria section, it felt like a breeze. The ground was hard and rocky as the trail wound its way down the mountain.
Soon, I was let out on a lava plain/desert are with giant boulders strewn around from previous eruptions. The broken landscape felt chaotic as if a large child haphazardly left their toys after losing interests. The flies here were almost overwhelming, with the constant buzzing in your ears, and flashes of them around your periphery. Here, away from the crowds, I was given a bit more space to think and contemplate. I came upon a couple of the Kiwi Family, an older couple. The man walking with a walking cane/stick, and the woman walking with a knee wrap. They were having a little bit of a time with the decent. We ended up walking for a bit, talking about our backgrounds and our lives. She was quite quiet, focusing on her walk, but he spoke about his travels around New Zealand, and his aversion to large cities. He felt that Hamilton was still a bit too big for him, but he is mostly used to it. These trips helped him get away from the crowds.
They decided to rest a bit, and I continued into the broken landscape. Crossing dry river bed, and climbing over rocky rifts. The sun beat down and while clouds were building, they seem to dodge the actual sun, making sure it beat down on me harshly.
I began to start seeking out the Hut. Hoping to see the hut like last time in the distance. I would see each rise and hope that once I reach the top, I would see the hut in the distance, giving me that extra motivation with each step. The trail seemed to mock me however with only showing my the next signpost. Again and again, I had my hopes dashed. I turned a corner in between two rises, and suddenly, I saw it. Well… I saw something.
Along the trail, there are trail markers that lead your way. In many areas of the Circuit, there is no discernible trail, every 50 to 100 meters there is a marker sticking out of the ground pointing you to the next marker. Normally, they have a simple orange triangle pointing you along. This time, however, in addition to the pointer, there was a 1KM sign. That’s it. But it was enough. Despite not seeing the hut, and having no other sign than this vague hope that in 1 km, I will be done. I picked up my pace. Up and down over the rocky plain, and suddenly, as I turned a corner, there it was. The hut was small, and in front of it, a wide area leading up to the edge of a ridge where the tents were staying, the view swept out east into a valley. Behind the Hut was a low ridge to partially protect the hut, but also a wide expanse where you could see Mt. Ngauruhoe and Ruapehu in the distance.
A good part of the Kiwi Family was there having their lunch. I checked the time and saw that made it to the hut in just under 6 hours. While the day wasn’t my most strenuous looking back (My Birthday walk was longer and had greater elevation), I felt the most accomplished by far in my tramping in the last year. I walked inside and saw that the hut was smaller than the last one. The place felt homey with one large area for cooking, eating, and about a dozen or so beds, and two side rooms: one for people who snore, and another room for 6-7 people. The Kiwi Family wasn’t staying at this hut tonight, so I was one of the first people to get to the hut for the day. I quickly took a bed in the private non-snoring room.
After dropping off my things. I started to explore the area. About 300 meters away was a waterfall bringing water to the valley below. The water’s roar was inticing after two days of sweaty walking, so I grabbed my towel and jandals and wandered down to the falls. When I arrived, I found out I wasn’t alone, as two other trampers, the German and Russian couple Fritz and Anastasia, decided to take a dip in the water as well. The water was frigid as I waded into one of the collecting pools above the falls. The water was just a little too cold for me, and as I was leaving the pool, I felt the first splatter of rain. The clouds have finally made it to the area. In the distance, thunder rumbled, and we hurried back to the hut. A child-like smile crept across my face; the second day of storms in a row! I thought to myself.
Over the next few hours, thunder and lightning rolled its way around the mountains. Since I was safely in the hut, I was able to relax and listen to the rain and thunder as it fell. The Auckland Siblings came in a short time later, and the last of the family left for their last three hours hike.
The Hut filled up throughout the afternoon, as the people from all areas of the park descended on this little patch of earth. There seemed to be even more Germans than before, now we had people from Poland, Quebec, the UK, Tonga, Japan, and more. Despite the rain, everyone seemed to be in good spirits, and when the Hut warden came to talk, the weather had begun to lift, and that heat had receded.
After the talk, there was a very chill atmosphere around the hut. The clouds from Ruapehu and Ngaruhoe were clearing, and an amazing Sunset was starting to unfold in front of us.
Soon, people were perched on the various boulders around the hut to watch the changing light and clouds around the mountains. The Auckland Siblings were taking photos and joking around. The Quebecois were laying on top of the largest boulder soaking in the last of the sunlight of the day. The Hut Warden was simply drinking some coffee and enjoying the sights.
As the light faded, the Mountain gave us one last show.
Looking back, I saw “the hells of Mount Doom” as the sun drenched the area in red light. The imagination ran wild as I saw the wisps of cloud stream into the darkness. As a traveler, I also try to see sunsets and sunrises as I often feel that these are some of the best times of day to see a place. At sunset, you have the world going into sleep, where the busy day is winding down and preparing for rest. The moon was out for a good part of the night, but despite the added light, the night was gorgeous and calm. I woke up again late and looked out at the stars. It was becoming my nightly ritual.
I took stock of where I was. I was halfway finished with the walk, I was feeling good, and good weather was with me. I figured I had done the toughest part of the trek. But I definitely had more in store for me in the next two days.