Here at Wilderlife, we’re collating Victoria’s diaries, photos and videos into a digest. Each post spans a section of Te Araroa between major towns and rest days.
Walking with her seven-year-old daughter Emilie, together they are raising funds for Federated Mountain Clubs and telling stories about the mental health benefits of time spent in the wild places of NZ, as well as the importance of protecting those areas for future generations to enjoy.
‘Round the Mountain – Day 1
27 October 2021
Whakapapaiti Hut – Mangatururu Hut (12 km, 7.5 hrs)
What an epic day of slipping, sliding and slogging through muddy ravines, rocks and river crossings!
Maybe all this Te Araroa trail walking has made us soft because this gnarly track had us shattered by the time we arrived at the beautiful Mangatururu Hut.
We had the place all to ourselves, lying in bed and gazing quietly up at that mountain . . . lulled to sleep by rain beating on the roof.
‘Round the Mountain – Day 2
28 October 2021
Mangatururu Hut – Blythe Hut (8 kms, 4 hrs)
We were ladies of leisure in the beautiful Mangatururu Hut until lunchtime, when we realised we’d probably just spend the afternoon eying up our food bag, so we decided to press on.
The sun was out and so were our strong little legs, climbing waterfalls and scrambling across scree slopes, pausing to gape at the scenery, pay our respects to the mountain and watch the weather swirl past.
We wandered down Okahune Mountain Road, descending into the mist and solid rain as we stomped through soggy beech forests to another hut – solid and welcoming – but not in the same league as Mangatururu.
Our bellies were growling and so were we. But there wasn’t much to put in them except a cup of lentil stew and some chocolate, so we did that and went to bed with dreams of waterfalls, up high, on top of the world.
‘Round the Mountain – Day 3
29 October 2021
Blythe Hut – Rangipo Hut (16 kms, 8 hrs)
Sitting here in the warm spring sunshine, you’d never guess that we spent the afternoon being pummelled by icy gusts of wind and lashed with rain, our bare legs red and burning from exposure to the elements.
There were moments when we first emerged from the stunted beech forest to observe pillars of cloud sweeping down to the valleys below, heard the rumble and boom of thunder, and watched the storm unfold itself.
For a while it felt as though we would move through relatively unscathed, until we mounted a ridge and the wind turned, unleashing its full wrath upon us.
The savageness took our breath away, heads bent against its fury.
The darkened sky hurled a million tiny icy raindrops at us. We scurried helplessly across the barren desert landscape of Mt Ruapehu’s eastern flanks, with its volcanic rock and wind-sculptured sands devoid of all shelter.
Freezing damp mist swirled around like smoke from a dragon’s breath. The moss-blackened rocks and red earth appeared scorched from ancient fiery battles of long ago.
It took all of my internal fortitude to keep going that day because at that stage, it was the best we could do. I wasn’t keen to set up our tent on the windswept, sloping ridgeline; and anyway, three kilometres on was the promise of the hut with its warmth and shelter.
And seemingly moments after we staggered up onto the porch, the sky cleared and sun came back out again, leaving us to marvel at the awesome views east to the Kaimanawa Mountains.
We climbed the rocky outcrop behind the hut to admire the sunset and pay our respects to the gleaming white head of Ruapehu, looming quietly amongst the clouds.
‘Round the Mountain – Day 4
30 October 2021
Rangipo Hut – Waihohonu Hut (12 kms, 6 hrs)
We awoke to the sunlight streaming through the window and jumped up to throw open the hut door and lounge around on the deck. Our sodden gear barely dried during the night, so we spread it out in the sunshine then clambered back up the rocks to peek at the mountain. He looked peaceful today — probably tired out after trying to annihilate us yesterday, but you never can tell!
We watched columns of mist rise up from the damp rocks and valley below, transforming into wafting clouds. Was it going to rain again? We hoped not. By 11am we decided to make a break for it and hoon over to Waihohonu Hut, as fast as one can hoon through desert sands, dried up lahar flows and volcanic rubble.
Our stomachs were driving us as much as anything and I was hungry, hungry, hungry! We scoffed our cheese and crackers, chewed slowly on our nuts and dates and drank big gulps of water to bulk it out. But my tummy was slowly eating itself and I wished for a big bowl of something warm with which to fill it.
Once we were out of the desert landscape, the alpine vegetation wowed us with stunning displays of red, yellow and orange. We stopped to explore the Ohinepango Stream and freeze our legs in its icy cold waters, reaching the hut just moments before the dark clouds unleashed their drizzle.
After four nights of glorious solitude in character-rich huts, the modern sprawl of Waihohonu Hut with its bunk rooms, open living/kitchen space, solar lights and rules such as no drying boots by the fire came as a bit of a shock.
I would have pitched my tent down by the river, except I couldn’t be arsed and so we settled down for a noisy night with snorers and rustling dorm-mates. All good things must come to an end and so it was for ‘Round the Mountain!
‘Round the Mountain – Day 5
31 October 2021
Waihohonu Hut – Whakapapa Village (15 kms, 5 hrs)
This shot of the historic Waihohonu Hut (built in 1904) is the only photo I have from today, which is fair enough because it was one of those awful days you don’t want to talk about.
But if I did, I’d probably start by saying we said goodbye to a bad night’s sleep and were on the track by 7:30am, with the cold rain gently kissing our sleepy faces and the soggy muesli barely touching the sides of our stomach.
So much for gentle kisses, as the wind soon whipped up a gale and pummeled us in the face for the next 4.5 hours, ceasing only once the turrets of Chateau Tongariro came into sight.
It was one of those days where you just had to retreat inside yourself and find a happy place while your feet did the walking, squinting up occasionally to find the next marker through the mist and gloom.
My happy place looked like a Mills and Boon book crossed with Bear Grylls, as I daydreamed about the perfect little hut (not unlike the one pictured, devoid of annoying solar lights, snoring hut mates and that person whose alarm went off at 5am with some awful faux cheery ring).
In my fantasy, that perfect little hut would emerge from the mist — solid, warm and cozy — and the door would swing open to reveal my lover standing with outstretched arms, ready to welcome me into a steaming warm bubble bath and feed me tasty morsels, while I scrubbed the black from under my fingernails.
In fact, you can keep your tasty morsels. He would have half a lamb roasting over an open fire and try not to look alarmed as I tore chunks off the bloody thing with my teeth, before flopping into that bath to wash off the dirt and the grease.
Afterwards, there’d be the softest of warm towels to dry my naked body, which we’d leave crumpled on the clean-swept floorboard of the hut as we . . . Ahem, children around! I forgot about her . . .
But bless her, Emilie had way more fun than me, surrendering to wet boots early on in the tramp. She slopped and sloshed through the riverlets and puddles with a smile on her face. “Wasn’t that a fun walk, Mummy?!” she said at the end.
Victoria and Emilie are walking the Te Araroa over the 21/22 summer season. They are raising funds and telling stories about the mental health benefits of time spent in the wild places of NZ, as well as the importance of protecting those areas for future generations to enjoy. To see all their stories, visit wilderlife.nz/adventures_with_emilie/ and follow them @adventures_with_emilie on Instagram and Facebook.
90% of the funds raised are donated evenly between the Mental Health Foundation and the Federated Mountain Clubs of NZ Mountain & Forest Charitable Trust. 10% is going towards some of the expenses of walking the trail.
If you’d like to help them out, please donate via their give a little page.