On the annual public holiday of Waitangi Day, 12 of Strathallan’s students and 2 teachers began their traverse of the Tongariro Northern Circuit. These twelve students are part of the 2020 World Challenge Team, heading to Nepal in the July holidays. Considering the alpine territory and length (9 days) at which the students will be tramping in July, the Northern Circuit (3 days) was a perfect training exercise.
On Wednesday afternoon, the students, Mr Laing and Dr Greenley loaded up a minivan and a car and began the journey down to National Park. After a restful afternoon and evening in a youth hostel, the team was rearing to go the next morning. Thankfully, we managed to hit the start of the track before the thousands of other trampers arrived. This allowed the team to begin their trek at a comfortable pace in the early morning condensation. After traversing the painful (and appropriately named), “Devil’s Staircase”, the team carried on making progress along the track, towards the Mangatepopo Saddle, Red Crater and eventually the iconic Emerald Lakes. It is fair to say that the downhill scree slope was the most difficult element of the first half of the day, due to the slippery, loose and unstable characteristics of scree. Funnily enough, the boys went skiing down the scree slope with much enthusiasm, leaving the rest of the team to catch up at the Emerald Lakes where we rested for lunch. After a severely underestimated length of time, the sore-legged team arrived at Oturere hut. A stunning night spent under the stars lead into a new day with new ground to be covered!
As the team woke up to a stunner of a sunrise, they also woke up to a scorcher of a day. By eight, we had eaten, packed up and were ready to go! The walk for that day was expected to be significantly shorter and easier, an estimated three hours compared to the previous day’s six hours. Sadly, the day didn’t turn out to be as easy as expected due to 28 sore legs and 14 sore, sunburnt and tired bodies. Despite the exhausted state of the team, we pushed through the pain. And man, was it worth it. On more than one occasion we had panoramic views displaying the Kaimanawa Ranges, Tongariro, Mt Ruapehu and Mt Ngauruhoe alongside native forest, volcanic rocks and desert. It was definitely worth the hard work. At around three in the afternoon, the team arrived at a manor, yes, a manor. The Waihohonu Hut is hands-down the most impressive hut I (an experienced tramper) have ever stayed in. With the capacity to sleep 30 and house another 20 on the empty floor-space, our team of 14 was rather comfortable. An afternoon spent relaxing, stretching and river swimming crept into our last night of the tramp.
Upon waking up to a windy, foggy morning at 5.30am, the team’s determination to reach Whakapapa Village had never been so strong. A quick and efficient breakfast and pack up routine was executed with precision, allowing the group to hit the tracks 20 minutes earlier than we had hoped for. A steadily fast pace set the team off well into the cloud and wind surrounding the Central Plateau. With minimal stops, the team made quick progress towards the village. The quick progress was heavily assisted by the prospect of coffee, hot food and showers. By 12.45pm the team was rejoicing whilst hobbling into the nearest café for lunch. I’ll tell you what, that first meal of non-dehydrated food was amazing! After indulging ourselves on hot chips and coffees, we headed back to the youth hostel for a quiet night before the journey home.
After 3 days and over 40km of walking, the team was physically and mentally exhausted. We saw some of New Zealand’s best sights, we ate some of New Zealand’s worst dehydrated food and we walked New Zealand’s most famous Great Walk, and man, did we have fun doing it!
– Written by Tegan Allan