I knew my current fitness levels were no up to a 7-8 hour walk and I was not prepared to risk a jarring fall on a loose scree slope so I decided the Tongariro Crossing was not for me, unfortunately.
Instead I drove from our accommodation across to Whakapapa Village where you will find Chateau Tongariro, the National Park information centre, much accommodation servicing the ski fields and summer visitors and the beginning of many walks of various lengths.
I spent a really interesting hour in the information centre reading about volcanos in general, the various volcanos in the area, the various eruptions of these over time and of course lots of information about native flora, trees and birds. There was also more information about trapping introduced species to ensure the survival of native flora and birds with the interesting added information that the NZ government has set a target of 2050 to eradicate all stoats, weasels, rats and possums. (Poor possums, protected in Australia but here doing immense damage to native flora.)
Our kayaking guide in Kaiteriteri had recommended the Taranaki Falls walk to me, a two hour loop walk from the village and back, so armed with a bottle of water and chocolate bar (a two hour walk being a good excuse to indulge) off I set.
This was a truly beautiful walk! It starts by heading across a grassy plain with views of Ngaurughoe, Rhuapehu and Tongariro mountains in the distance. Some early cloud was lifting as I walked, affording a better view of the mountains as I walked.
Very abruptly the track disappeared into a stand of trees with lichens and ferns all around. The transition was completely abrupt and quite amazing.
Emerging on the other side of this copse you were back into open ground with bridges over small creeks.
The walk then disappears once again into a forested area with small dense vegetation as well as small waterfalls through rapids.
About half way you come to the Taranaki Falls with a ribbon of water plunging about 100 metres from the top of the cliff to the pool below. A very pretty place to stop and eat said chocolate bar and watch other walkers go by. I was fascinated by the behaviour of all other walkers I saw pass. They arrived at the falls and took a selfie, some scrambled down to the pool for another selfie, then it was off again. No one else simply sat and took time out to enjoy the falls themselves, the sounds of water plunging into the pool and then running off through stones and down the creek, or watching the small birds flit in and out of the bushes and dip down to drink. So peaceful and beautiful, only interrupted by selfies!!
The track back to the village ran mostly along the stream fed by the waterfall. This track ran through quite dense foliage with, again, lichens growing on tree trunks and forming part of the undergrowth.
At one stage the track plunged down about a hundred stairs before meandering along the stream bank.
It then climbed back out of the river gorge to emerge once again in open grasslands and within sight of the Chateau.
I then visited the Chateau and treated myself to coffee, scone jam and cream for lunch! Absolutely delicious with an awe inspiring view of Ngaurughoe through the window.
I then drove up to the adjacent ski fields. Here the old lava flows are very evident and this is a desolate landscape in summer. It was a must to imagine the whole area covered in pristine, white snow!
A quick drive back to the beginning of a second shorter walk to other falls and then back to our accommodation.
On this second walk I came across a number of hebe plants. I have grown hebes at home but had no idea they are a native plant of NZ! It is always good to learn something new.
John’s walk was almost cancelled due to the closing down of NZ. It has been 10 days since the imposed 14 day self isolation rule came in and, as a result, the tourists are diminishing. Those that were booked have cancelled and those that were already here are leaving or cutting their holiday short. On our last night in Tongariro we went to the Snapps Bar for dinner and were greeted at the door by the owner – wait a minute please, we are limited to 100 guests and so we need these two people to leave and then we must sit you at a table distant from any other diners. Quite creepy actually! I would say that the Crossing will be abandoned shortly. The guiding group I went with usually has 6 guides and they are now down to one, and he is pessimistic.