Day 44 – 59 | 1401km Taumanarui to Whanganui, from Mountains to Sea
The past couple of weeks have definitely been an adventure to the fullest, taking us through volcanoes on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing to canoeing a major river Whanganui for several days.
Before heading to the 42 Traverse and Tongariro Alpine crossing, hikers usually pre-organise their upcoming multi-day canoe section in Taumanarui. We camped at the canoe company, which is ran by a lovely family and at their home. We celebrated Hanukkah with our Israeli friend Noam and Dylan, and had a lot of fun preparing their traditional dish with camping utentils. We succeeded and the dessert was one of the best meals we’d had so far on the trail.
From Taumanarui, we continued on the trail to the 42 Traverse, which is known as one of the best adventure mountain bike rides in the North Island with steep ups and downs. For a tramper, it was a pleasant route to walk on with a few proper river crossing and spectacular views over the volcanic terrain ahead of us.
The 42 Traverse trail finishes right next to a Hillary Outdoors Adventure Center, which aims at enhancing youth leadership through adventure. As we got there, it started to rain heavily so we took a little break there and inquired about campsites ahead of us. A young man doing his internship adviced us to camp next to a shelter across the road. We were happy to have a shelter as the rain stayed with us the whole evening. We camped with local young hunters who had not been lucky with their deer hunt.
The next morning we took it slow and strolled down towards the start of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, but as we got to the junction, a thunder storm was pushing from behind. The weather conditions can change rapidly on the alpine crossing and good weather is needed to do the crossing safely. Having this in mind, we made a decision to head to the nearest town to take a day off. This proved to be a wise decision as the day after that the weather was sunny and beautiful.
The Alpine Crossing is one of New Zealand’s most popular Great Walks and it passes through three volcanoes and crater lakes with blue water. We started the hike at 6am to have a whole day to enjoy the crossing. The track climbed up steep and not too long after the start, we could smell the sulphur in the air from the volcanoes and see some snow on the top. On the way we ran into DOC staff who were busy taking down an old hut that was hit by rocks in 2012 eruption. At this moment, we could only humble ourselves in front of these powerful entities and admire their beauty but be aware of the hidden danger underneath. The higher we climbed, the stonger the wind got and once we crossed the ridge, it got suddenly very cold. Despite the coldness, we felt incredible grateful to be right there – we could see large gorgeous craters of deep dark red and grey colors, a massive blue lake and a volcano top covered with snow. On that spot, all the moments of sore feet, pain, exhaustion, home sickness, and all the feelings we’d gone through on the trail so far turned into a mere feeling of ‘this is why we are doing this!’
Not only do the volcanoes hold incredible beauty but also stories that paint a narrative of long Maori history.
"Ruapehu, the beautiful maid, was married to Taranaki. One day, while her husband was away hunting, she was wooed and won by Tongariro. When Taranaki returned at the end of the day he surprised the guilty pair. A titanic battle ensued in which Taranaki was defeated. He retreated towards the west coast, carving out the course of the Wanganui River as he went. When he reached the coast he moved northwards to the western extremity of the North Island, where he rested. There his great weight made the shallow depression which afterwards filled with water and became Te Ngaere swamp. Taranaki, or Egmont, as Cook named him, now sits in silence looking towards his wife and his rival. In spite of her infidelity, Ruapehu still loves her husband and sighs occasionally as she remembers him, while the mist, which drifts eastward from his head, is the visible sign of Taranaki’s love for her. For his part, Tongariro, who despairs of ever possessing her again, smokes and smoulders with anger. To this day travellers in the Tongariro National Park see the basin called Rua Taranaki, “the Pit of Taranaki”, which lies to the east of the Tama Saddle which was the original home of Taranaki.”
After the Tongariro Crossing, we tramped to a little village of Whakapapa, where we slept in a public shelter. There we figured out that we were so close to Mt. Ruapehu that we’d like to go up visit the ski resort and see if we could climb up the mountain. The next morning we headed off the trail on our own detour, and due to hard wind ended up leaving the summiting (we’ll definitely return one day!) but taking another trail next to the mountain that took us to a lovely hut next to a river that allowed us stare at the snowy mountain and its strong waterfalls the rest of the day while we washed our clothes in the river and kept the fireplace burning. That was another miraculous moment. As we walked down the mountain valley, We got emotional and felt grateful in front of the vast landscape. There is no way of putting the feelings into words, but everything was in its right place.
The rest of the trail, we had lovely weather as we hiked towards the National Park village and Fisher’s track which is another scenic bike track.
Our minds were already steered to our next section which was 154km of canoeing down the Whanganui river. The Whanganui river is a major river in the North Island. It is the country’s third-longest river, and has special status owing to its importance to the region’s Māori people. In March 2017 it became the world’s second natural resource to be given its own legal identity, with the rights, duties and liabilities of a legal person.
For a change, it felt so good not to carry a backpack and stand on our feet all day. The river flew through a deep gorge and was literally in the middle of nowhere. We could enjoy the quietness of the nature, listen to the birds and feel the stream pulling us through the rapids. On of the first rapids managed to flip Folkers into the river but luckily he survived without injuries.
The more we paddled with our group, the more ideas we started getting. On our second day, we had already invented how to build a sailboat with three canoes, a kayak, a ground and a tent sheet – and it worked! The wind blew our homemade catamaran down the river and through the notorious 50/50 rapid that flip most canoers. We had so much fun.
We spent Christmas at a campsite cooking a shared Christmas dinner and playing games. The owner had deers that ate our plums and he allowed us to caress them. Could Christmas get better than this? Well, apparently yes. On Christmas day we paddled to the historical town of Jerusalem where sister Suzanne Aubert from France had established a monastery in the 1800s. Sister Christina invited us to camp next to the church and held a private Christmas service for us the following morning. We enjoyed our stay so much that we decided to stay another day to avoid the rain on the river.
The further we got on the river, the slower the stream became and tougher to paddle. The last two days the wind was blowing against our faces and made it very exhausting to move on the river. We stayed in a DOC hut after a cold afternoon paddling and were grateful to have a fireplace for the night. We even caught a small eel from the river, which was an interesting tasting experience.
The last day we still had the strong wind from front but we were determined to paddle 46km to the town of Wanganui. On the river, we had a lunch break at a marae and met a local guy who invited us to camp at his property in town. These next few days with lots of road walk we’ll try to digest all that happened and get ready for the mountain ranges waiting ahead of us over the next 1600km.
“The river flows from the mountain to the sea. I am the river and the river is me.”
Happy new year to everyone, and let’s make the year of 2018 even more adventurous!