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Oturere to Waihohonu – Day 3 on the Tongariro Northern Circuit

Day 3 on the Tongariro Northern Circuit (which I think was 31 Jan) was a much shorter day than the first two, of only a few hours’ walk.  Now that we’d left the main Tongariro Crossing track behind, there were less people around, and everyone we met was out tramping for several days.  Even then, the hut was busy overnight, but we were staying with some of the same people, and there were some by now friendly faces on the track.

This is Oturere Hut, complete with picnic table out front.  Mt Ngauruhoe is hidden by the cloud in the background, but otherwise would offer the perfect volcanic backdrop to this photo.  The hut is not quite as exposed in reality as this photo makes it appear.  With rainwater tanks, gas stoves installed, and mattresses provided on the bunks, New Zealand’s Department of Conservation (DOC) has put a great system in place on the main tramping tracks designated as “Great Walks”.

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The track south from Oturere is open across volcanic territory.  The Kiwis call this a desert, and it certainly looks like it in places.  It makes for spectacular scenery, particularly with Ngauruhoe in the background.  On the day we were there, the clouds covered the mountaintops for a lot of the time.

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The beech forest is slowly recolonising the area, by creeping up the gullies.  When we descending from a ridge down into a gully to cross the Waihohonu Stream, there was a pocket of beautiful beech forest to pass through.  When in the forest, the temperature dropped, the light decreased, and it felt like we were a long way away from the volcanic “desert” that we’d been trekking shortly before.  Not visible in the below photo, but the boundary of the pockets of forest is demarcated by an almost straight line, perhaps nature’s way of not allowing the trees to overstep progress of the forest by too much too soon.

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Here’s a short video of the bubbling brook at the footbridge crossing Waihohonu Stream.  Next to here is a small clearing that would make a nice campsite, although I’m not sure if DOC allows camping there.

After dropping our packs at Waihohonu Hut, we went for a walk along the track towards the southern Mt Ruapehu circuit, as there was a spring a few minutes’ walk from the hut.  Along the way, we came across this tree growing in the gravel of a creek plain.  It looked like an overgrown bonsai (if that’s not a contradiction in terms) in someone’s manicured garden.

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The river that passes Waihohonu Hut runs through a stretch of beech forest just downstream from the hut.  After three days on the track, I needed a wash, so headed through the bush downstream and around the bend to be out of sight of my fellow trampers.  This is the river (and thankfully for readers, not a photo of me having my wash).

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Waihohonu Hut sits on the side of the hill, with a view across to Mt Ruapehu from a clear patch above the hut’s roof.

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For our third night, there were only around 7 or 8 of us in the hut.  Most of us had been in Ketetahi and Oturere Huts over the past few nights, so we were talking about our tramping adventures like old friends by the end of the evening.  One story involved an epic tale of privation in Canada – a hiking trip when the food ran out, the black flies were biting, and the bears were prowling.  It made tramping in New Zealand, with no snakes and the most dangerous creature being feral possums, seem like a walk in the park!

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