The moonlit Tongariro Crossing was intended to be something different, walking the iconic track by moonlight only. The trip was originally planning for October, but unfortunately the weather gods didn’t play ball. For such a trip you need not only a full moon at a weekend, but for the moon to rise at dusk and set at dawn, and for there to be no clouds and little wind (at the Red Crater). The next suitable date was late January and so trip leader Paul, Gerald, and Steve & Kate P were anxiously watching the forecast on YR and MetService in the preceding week. A week out the forecast was for partial cloud cover, however as each day passed the forecast improved and by Friday YR was showing no cloud all Saturday evening / night / Sunday morning. Steve and Kate were on holiday in Tauranga that week, so arranged to meet us at the start of the track, and also managed to entice a couple of friends from Tauranga to come too (Mark and Tony) so there were 6 of us who completed this, the latest of Paul’s intrepid journeys. I told Mark and Tony I was very pleased that they had decided to come, as none of my friends wanted to come – instead they all seemed to think I was mad!
The logistics of doing a trip that didn’t finish back at the start meant that we needed to arrange transport back to our cars. To facilitate this we decided to do the crossing backwards, from the Ketetahi Road end to the Mangatepopo Road end. Unfortunately this meant an extra 400m of elevation, but on the plus side when we finished (around breakfast time) we’d be able to back load on a shuttle bus (of which there would be plenty given the popularity of the track – up to 1000 people a day park at Ketetahi, take a shuttle bus Mangatepopo and walk back to their cars), and if necessary (i.e. we finished before the first bus arrived) there was a hut (Mangatepopo) we could have a rest in. Such were my clever plans – however with us having multiple cars (with 2/3 of the party coming from Tauranga) at the last moment we ditched the shuttle bus idea and parked a car at each end.
Another last minute change of plan saw Gerald and I (coming from Carterton) having a chauffeur, in the form of Gerald’s wife Chris. Chris was [rightly as it turned out] concerned about us driving home on the Sunday having not slept the previous night. So she came with us and stayed the night at a hotel in National Park.
We left Carterton at 4pm on a cloudy Saturday afternoon, and as we drove up kept optimistically thinking that it looked like the clouds were clearing. We stopped for dinner at Waiouru at 7pm and the mountains were still hidden in cloud. But much to our relief by the time we left the restaurant ¾ of an hour later the mountains were visible in their full glory. We dropped Chris off at her hotel and met up with the others at the Ketetahi car park shortly after 9:30pm. We then shuttled back to the Mangatepopo car park and started up the track at 10:30pm, just as the moon was rising. We used our torches for the first hour or so, but as soon as we got out of the bush it was torches off and we then travelled by moonlight thereon. There were lovely views back across lakes Rotoaira and Taupo to the lights of Taupo township, with the moon reflecting off the water. We had a short break at the site of the old Kehetahi Shelter, where there was still a little wind, but by the time we got to the Blue Lake there was no breeze at all. After a photo stop at the Emerald Lakes (Paul had brought a digital camera and had spent the previous day working out how to take long (15sec) exposure shots) we ascended to the Red Crater. There was a slight breeze there so we carried on until we dropped below the ridge then stopped for a 1:30am snack.
Then it was all down hill finally reaching the Mangatepopo end at 6am, just as the moon was setting and dawn approaching. Although we thought we would have had the track to ourselves, between the Soda Springs (4:30am) and the carpark we would have passed almost 100 people starting off on the crossing. So I hate to think how many people would have been on the track by mid-morning.
Gerald and I farewelled the rest of the team and headed back to National Park to pick up Chris. We had planned to meet her about 6:30am, so were at the hotel a wee bit early, so waited in the car. Chris said that when she came out to the car both Gerald and I were sitting in it fast asleep! Interestingly no one felt tired whilst walking, and the only time I yawned was when I was sitting at the top of the Red Crater (I ascended the screen slope faster than some of the party, so had a bit of a wait at the top). Gerald and I then dozed as Chris drove us home. We were back in Carterton by 11am on the Sunday morning, just under 19 hours after setting out. The trip was certainly something very different, not something to do every day, but equally something everyone should do at least once.