TA Day 47, Mangatepopo track to National Park – 30 km

The most famous sign in New Zealand, looking back at Mount Tongariro, Mount Ngauruhoe and thunderstorms.
The most famous sign in New Zealand, looking back at Mount Tongariro, Mount Ngauruhoe and thunderstorms.

I often wondered where I’d end up on December 14th while walking the Te Araroa. I’m so happy to wake up in the Tongariro National Park – and to be packed and moving right before the rain revved up again.

Last night’s spot was perfect to look up the valley and watch the thunderstorms. But I literally turn a corner and glacier-covered Ruapehu reveals herself in all her grandeur, a small trail of fog circling like a boa. I saw her flat top all the way from Mt. Puerora days and days ago. The snow is fresh, white, gleaming against the blue gray of her folds. She’s in my sights as I negotiate a severely eroded trail – an accident waiting to happen.

Richard sends me birthday greetings by GPS.
Richard sends me birthday greetings by GPS.
My first glimpse of Ruapehu from the Mangatepopo Track.
My first glimpse of Ruapehu from the Mangatepopo Track.
Perfect weather for my birthday in New Zealand.
Perfect weather for my birthday in New Zealand.

I pass dozens of tourists and arrive at Whakipapa village, and take a miss on the giant castle but grab a snack from the store served by an American on a working holiday. She mentions it rains here more than her home of Seattle. The track ahead will be real messy TA slogging – and with the added bonus of rain coming.

Tom is way ahead, but I think now about some of the things he says. He talks a lot about life and relationships and what he wants out of life. He even has a tattoo on his ribs – yes, he said it did hurt – that is a bit of a middle finger to his family and those who tried to steer him to a more conventional life. He quit his job and sold his house to travel, the marriage ended a year or so ago.

I, on the other hand, like my husband, house and job. I’d just like to figure out how I can do all the things I want to in life, to walk long walks and to keep the rest balanced. Richard and I are great. We scrimped and saved for me to come here. My job is a question as they make no guarantees when I took the leave. Here, alone, on the lower silica rapids track in Tongariro National Park, eating chips and having grapefruit juice on my fifty-fourth birthday, I think it was worth the risk just to see what I can do and to see something new too.

A manicured trail through a beech forest near Whakipapa.
A manicured trail through a beech forest near Whakipapa.
Ruapehu peaking out from the clouds.
Ruapehu peaking out from the clouds.
Blissful and Mount Doom.
Blissful and Mount Doom.

I come upon golden rapids made of iron deposits from lava flows cleaned out in bogs above, thankfully with a beautiful boardwalk for my feet.

Humid, moss covered forests give way to shattered open areas from the last eruption, all with catchy names like ‘slippery gully.’ I see clouds building, but so far no rain. The first part of the trail is decent, then I take a right turn straight into bog as thunder rumbles nearby.

Alpine flowers.
Alpine flowers.
Lower Silica Rapids.
Lower Silica Rapids.
Umbrella fern.
Umbrella fern.

It’s a spectacular view of the mountain as the sky turns black. All my rain gear is on plus sun hat. This is New Zealand afterall. A couple of DOC workers invite me to take a picture of one of the most famous signs in the world. Thunder cracks as I contemplate a hitch. They wish me a happy birthday, but alas, no beer on board.

The storm hits exactly where I was this afternoon with a vengeance, the mountains obliterated in a blueish-black funnel with a smidge of brick red highlight. My body, thankfully, marches towards blue sky. Only a few drops hit me.

The view from the bog walk. I wanted to get out of there before it hit, and I made it all the way to town.
The view from the bog walk. I wanted to get out of there before it hit, and I made it all the way to town.
Storms brewing.
Storms brewing.
Staying out of the elements at the Ski Haus in National Park.
Staying out of the elements at the Ski Haus in National Park.

And now I sit with a chocolate/caramel ‘thick’ shake – that means ice cream as opposed to only flavored milk. The mountains come back into view. I meet Tom later and we wash our muddy clothes together then meet the others for a birthday beer. The sun appears below heavy clouds for one last showing on the mountains in fanciful orange and pink.

A young man comes out with us. He’s spent a month in Borneo and now a couple in New Zealand. How do people manage this lifestyle, I’d like to know. There is so much to see and do. I’ll need to think more on how to design my life to take myself to these places.

On my birthday, in my mid-fifties now, I wonder if it’s too late.

Mount Doom and street lights.
Mount Doom and street lights.
Ruapehu in alpine glow from National Park.
Ruapehu in alpine glow from National Park.
After the storm.
After the storm.

Published by alison young

Alison Young is the Blissful Hiker, a voice artist and sometime saunterer. 📣🐥👣🎒

Reader Comments

  1. Happy Birthday, Alison. Glad you had some folk to have a birthday beer with! Spectacular photos – thanks for sharing these sights with us.

  2. Happy birthday! The only limit on how many times you can re-invent yourself is how much imagination you have–and being open to serendipity. You’re just warming up!

  3. I hope you had a great birthday. I surely hope that when you get back to Minnesota MPR will give you your 10-3 shift back… the others are good, but the kids and I miss your friendly and informative presence on the radio.

    Thank you for your wonderful writing. Several comments I have copied-n-pasted into my own journal for contemplation. You have given me much to think about as I ponder my life in my mid-fifties.

    Stay safe and treasure each step.

  4. Exceptionally gorgeous photos in this entry! You ARE living that life. We all have to make choices, to balance adventure with sustainability. In reading about your hike I often think that I’ve taken a too safe path in life, and yet everything is a trade-off.

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