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Ketetahi to Oturere – Day 2 on the Tongariro Northern Circuit

Day 2 on the Tongariro Northern Circuit  took us from Ketetahi Hut, and the very northern end of the Tongariro Cross, backwards to the top of the Devil’s Staircase, up to the summit of 2,287m Mt Ngauruhoe, then retracing our steps to the Emerald Lakes before dropping down to Oturere Hut.

Our night in Ketetahi Hut had seen the place overflowing.  There were some track workers staying in the front room, and more people arrived rather late.  I think that one group chose to lay out their sleeping mats on the front verandah, whilst another guy laid his out on the floor of the hut.  The bunks are slabs of four mattresses in a row, so it’s likely that you’ll be sleeping next to someone you didn’t know earlier!  Anyway, I’m pleased to report that there was no snoring, and no plastic bag crinkling in the wee hours.

Over dinner, there was some talk about going back to climb up Ngauruhoe.  Although Mark and Jen decided that they would trek to Oturere Hut directly, I had an offer from Bill and Julie, a father/daughter combination from Vermont (next to New Hampshire, not next to Boronia).  The three of us headed off not too early and climbed back up to the Blue Lake, retracing our steps from the previous afternoon.  What had taken quite some time the night before felt like only a short time.

Here’s a picture of me with the North Crater in the foreground, the Red Crater in the middle ground, and Ngauruhoe at the back.

Mt Ngauruhoe from the Blue Lake

After we dropped our packs behind some rocks near the track turn-off to Oturere Hut, the first of the day walkers come through in the other direction.  It seemed that the entire New Zealand army (well, 140 of them, we were told) was headed the other way.  These guys looked like recruits doing a fun walk before life got a bit more serious.  They were of all shapes and sizes, some running ahead, and some straggling behind.

We were soon ready to head up the scree slope of Mt Ngauruhoe.  Following the advice of others, we headed up a rocky spine to the left of the track towards the top, even though it was still slippery (to the left of the track in the below photo).

Beginning to climb Ngauruhoe

The volcanic rock under our feet moved around on each step, and not every footstep took us forwards!

Climbing Mt Ngauruhoe

After about 2 hours, we reached the rim of the outer crater.  The views on the way up had been getting better and better.  Our first view was back over the way we had just come – over the South Crater, the Red Crater, and Blue Lake, with Lake Taupo in the distant background.  We could also see the Mangetepopo Valley, and look down on the helicopters that were still flying up supplies for the track workers.

Here’s what it’s like to have your serenity up a mountain interrupted by helicopters at work.

Around the outer crater was a steam vent, which we went to inspect.  Then we circumnavigated the entire peak, with excellent views across to Mt Ruapehu and down on the two Lakes Tama.  Our lunch at the top,whilst peering into the central crater, was a great feeling of isolation.  This volcano last erupted in the 1970s, and the rock around the crater hollow still looked a bit freshly exposed.  Bill and I decided that today wasn’t the right day for throwing young maidens into the crater to please the volcano gods, so I guess it was Julie’s lucky break.

This is the steam vent on the rim.  It’s not that exciting, but it’s a good reminder that the whole place might go kaboom again one day.

Steam vent on Mt Ngauruhoe crater rim

Here’s the view from the summit.

Ngauruhoe to Ruepehu

This is the central crater, with scoria rock giving it a bright red colour.

Ngauruhoe Crater

View from Mt Ngauruhoe

Descending was far more fun.  It only took around 25 minutes compared to the 2 hour ascent.  On the main scree slope, if you lean back and dig your heels in, you can more or less slide all the way down in a controlled fashion.  It felt a bit like skiing without the skis.  You just end up with a bootful of volcanic dust, which I thought might be an interesting experience when coming back through Australian quarantine.

Sliding down Mt Ngauruhoe

If you missed it in my earlier post, here’s my attempt to slid down.

I found a video of some guys attempting to descend with real skis on their feet.  It doesn’t look like it was too successful.

It seems that many people have their own individual way of descending Mt Ngauruhoe.  YouTube is full of people’s antics, including this guy, who decided to backflip his way down!

Here’s a bit of a more sensible way to do it.

Descending Mt Ngauruhoe

After the descent, we had to traverse back over the Red Crater to pick up our packs (which were thankfully still there), and then head down a solidified lava flow to the valley in which Oturere Hut sits.  This steep descent was a bit tough after walking all day, but the valley floor finally greeted us.  It was really dry down here, and we were walking along old (perhaps quite new, in geological terms) lava flows and rock fields.

Oturere Hut sits out in the middle of it all, protected behind some small ridges.   Mark and Jen were eagerly awaiting my arrival, as I was carrying our dinner.  There’s a waterfall nearby, which we went down to for a wash in the cold water.

Waterfall near Oturere Hut

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