When we woke up on the morning of our third day of hiking we were greeted by a bright shining sun and clear blue sky. The hike from the Outurere Hut to the Waihohonu Hut where we would be sleeping that night was only supposed to take about 3 hours, so at the hut warden’s recommendation we began our day backtracking up the crossing to see some of the views we missed out on yesterday.
It was a really different experience the second time around. First of all, we were able to leave our packs at the hut since we’d be passing by again later on in the day. So while this first part of our day was entirely uphill, our loads were considerably lighter. Secondly, the change in weather and increased visibility really cast the landscape in a new light *chortle chortle*. All of the ominous Mordor-esque terrain looked really beautiful in the sun, and we were able to take in the entirety of this unique and diverse landscape as we made our way back up to the Emerald Lakes.
We scrambled up to a smaller peak off to the right of the Blue Lake from where we had a great view of Lake Taupo on one side and the Red Crater/Mt. Ngauruhoe to the other. For some reason there were a lot more people out doing the crossing today. It was an almost constant stream of people (super weenies who not only did just the 1 day hike, but didn’t have the guts to do it in less than ideal conditions) making their way down the trail. Ok, I’m just venting my jealousy because I can only imagine how beautiful some of the worst sections we passed through the day before must have been, and we only had enough time to backtrack so far.
After a brief photo shoot with Mt. Doom we headed back down (also easier without a big pack) and had lunch at the hut. I wanted to stay and hang out for a little, but “restless legs” Alana insisted we depart for the next hut immediately after lunch.
We thought that after the steep up and down and terrible weather of the previous day that this day would be a breeze by comparison. It turned out to be a bit more challenging than we had anticipated. Most of the trail wound up and down through a series of seemingly never ending rocky valleys and wind swept crests. The landscape was barren, but in a different way than previous sections of trail had been. You could see lines in the gravel on the hills where the wind had been blowing. It created a really interesting pattern.
After more ups and downs than we could count we came to the top of a crest and saw a dense grove of trees ahead on the trail. Walking into the trees was like stepping through a doorway into another world. Everything before had been so rocky and barren, all in varying shades of grey and brown, but once we were in the shade of the trees we were surrounded by vibrant greens on every side. There didn’t seem to be anything that wasn’t covered in a layer of bright green moss or leaves. I’m not sure the pictures will do justice to how lush and bright everything seemed. Though perhaps it was just that I had grown accustomed to the more desert like terrain over the past two days. In any case it was really amazing to pass so quickly from one type of environment to another so completely different.
Much to our dismay the trail began a steep uphill climb. We were pretty tired by this point. They days hike had been a bit more difficult than we had anticipated and this unexpected last uphill slog seemed particularly brutal. What felt like hours, but was probable only 20-30 minutes later we emerged from the trees at the top of a hill. We took a moment to catch our breath and steep in our sweat soaked clothes. Fortunately we could see the Waihohonu Hut down in the valley below, so we took off again with that renewed vigor that can only come upon seeing your destination ahead.
This last hut was more like a lodge compared to the other two. The kitchen/common area was about as large as the entire Oturere Hut and there were two large bunk rooms on either side. After we dropped our stuff, the hut warden recommended we go take a dip in a stream that we had passed by on the way up to the hut. It was frigid. I was only in for a little while before I could feel my skin tingling, but afterwards I felt cleaner than I had since we started and quite refreshed after all the walking we had done.
Upon returning to the hut the refreshed feeling quickly began to fade as the tiredness was amplified by the warm and cozy atmosphere. We had another dinner of chickpeas, veggies, and rice, after which Alana forced me to stay up longer than I wanted because it was “still too early to go to bed.” It had been a very long day, but it was cool having seen two very different extremes of weather on the mountains.