Clouds | The Daily Post

Write a new post in response to today’s one-word prompt: Clouds.

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As the sun climbs, dew on the slopes evaporates and cloud form beneath you. From the summit of Mount Ngauruhoe.

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Early morning cloud rests in the low lands around Raurimu.

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Mount Ruapehu from the Desert Road

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Mounts Ngauruhoe and Tongariro taken from the beginning of the Taranaki Falls track in Whakapapa Village.

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Mount Ngauruhoe from the Chateau golf course.

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Cloud forms off the slopes of Mount Ngauruhoe. This is taken from the summit of Mount Tongariro: 15-20 minutes later we were greyed out.

Disaster | The Daily Post

Write a new post in response to today’s one-word prompt.

Source: Disaster | The Daily Post

…sometimes the measure of success is how well you respond…

That was my parting shot in The magnificent seven ride again…, the tale of a 2011 pub crawl against a backdrop of NATO’s Libyan ‘intervention’ and the  lone wolf terrorist attacks by Anders Behring Breivik in Norway in July 2011.

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Five years later, those are still true words although I see response from a different perspective now…once, response was force projection, rapid deployment, targeting; now response is something we manage every day…

Today’s prompt is disaster…the biggest disaster to hit this region in the last 2000 years was the Taupo eruption around 182-300AD, depending on whose book you read. Of course, if disaster strikes and there is no one there to suffer from it, is it really a disaster or just a large scale natural event..? I mean, we’re talking seriously large scale here: the biggest explosion that the world has experienced in the last two, possibly more, millenia.

When we talk eruptions here, it is always in the context of when, not if: we know that the three volcanoes – Ruapehu, Ngauruhoe and Tongariro – will erupt again. The iffy bits are when exactly and how much…questions that can only be answered after the fact. Predicting eruptions is much like predicting earthquakes: often we can see a shift from what’s considered normal, maybe an increase (or decrease) in gas emissions, a cooling (or warming) of a crater lake, more (or less) volcanic tremors: but what it means is very difficult to determine.

Because prediction is problematic, a lot of resource goes into response. The timelines are pretty tight. A lahar (big volcanic mudslidey thing) coming down the western side of Ruapehu will hit Whakapapa ski field in about 90 seconds…that’s not enough time to check your phone  for directions, call a friend or update your Facebook page about the big black shadow coming down the mountain…part of the disaster response on the ski field is to ensure that people know what to do beforehand…

Further down the the hill, residents of Whakapapa Village have a whole twenty minutes to evacuate everyone from the danger area along the Whakapapanui Stream, essentially the Holiday Park and the housing area across State Highway 48 from the Chateau. Twenty minutes doesn’t sound like much time but after a fortuitous (probably didn’t seem like it at the time) series of false alarms in 2015, Whakapapa residents know they can do this at nine at night, in winter, after dinner and maybe a few beers.

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There may be no warning. An eruption may occur on a beautiful blue sky day, or in the middle of a black, freezing, sleeting, icy night. Luck ran twice when the Te Maare craters erupted in August 2012. Lucky once because an eruption at 11-30PM meant there were no walkers on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing as rocks hammered down onto the track. The biggest of these weighed three tonnes, enough to hurt if it landed on your toes. Lucky twice because, even though it was night, the bunk room at Ketetahi Hut was unoccupied as a rock slammed through the roof.

It’s been many years since we have had a disaster in Ruapehu – some tragedies, yes – but the last real disaster in terms of loss of life and damage was probably Tangiwai in 1953. Once of the reasons that we haven’t had any real disasters since then is our ability to respond. The March 2007 lahar had potential – it was certainly much larger – to be as deadly as its 1953 predecessor : that potential was mitigated, some might say neutered, by a effective well-planned, well-practised response. In fact, between exercises and false alarms, the disaster response was so well-practised that when the main event event occurred, it all seemed a bit boring…

So, when  you visit our maunga, take a moment to read the signs and be aware of what’s happening, what might happen around you…if you’re here for your fifteen minutes of fame, don’t let it be in 5000 years when some alien archaeologist chips you out of the remnants of the great Whakapapa Lahar…

Earth | The Daily Post

Share your vision of our magnificent Earth through your lens.

Source: Earth | The Daily Post

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Red Crater, Tongariro National Park

Yes, I need a camera with a wider angle lens…!

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Tupapakurua Falls Lookout, Erua Forest

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Mounts Tongariro and Ngauruhoe, Tongariro National Park

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Native flax sunset, Tongariro National Park

 

Carry a big stick…

…or to paraphrase Theodore Roosevelt “Tread carefully and carry a big stick“…two concepts directly related to my summit of Mt Ngauruhoe yesterday…

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This is Stick. Stick is a little miffed that it missed out on going up Mt Tongariro last week, but that’s kinda what happens when you hide away in a dark corner of the garage. Stick is way more useful than lightweight aluminium walking poles which are too flimsy to brace your weight against. Stick is also really good as a counter-balance and a brace when descending scree slopes…

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Tuesday and yesterday offered the best weather windows for another go at Ngauruhoe; yesterday had the least wind and Tuesday was off the list when I remembered that I had to speak to a visiting Duke of Edinburgh group from Karamu School. The day opening with a beautifully clear sunset that boded well for the day’s adventure.

Mt Ngauruhoe (thrower of rocks) is technically ‘only’ a vent on Mt Tongariro but because it is now higher than its parent and such a prominent feature, it is counted as a mountain in its own right. Don’t be fooled however, it is still an active volcano and carries with it, its own unique hazards: it is very steep (a consistent 30 degrees), very smooth and covered in loose rock.

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It was pretty brisk at Mangatepopo car park with the normal number of Alpine Crossing walkers milling around. The sky was clear, and the sun beaming down but the temperature was barely above zero…the best way to keep warm: get moving…

Many walkers were way over-dressed and already shedding layers in the first couple of kilometres…a number, by Soda Springs, were already quite oblivious of their surroundings and had to be asked to allow faster walkers past…I don’t really see the point of doing a walk like the Crossing if you are going to zone out before the end of the first leg…

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A decent frost crisped up parts of the track lying in the shadow of Mt Tongariro, a good reminder that winter is drawing closer and with it, winter ground conditions. Although there was quite a bit of frost on the board-walks, they weren’t slippery but that won’t be too far away…DSCF9893

I made good time up to the top of the Devil’s Staircase, about 90 minutes. At this sign, turn right…in summer ground conditions, i.e. no snow on the ground, a trail has been worn from the sign towards the base of the volcano.

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We’re not kidding!!

Because the sides of Ngauruhoe are so steep and smooth, any rocks knocked loose – and many of the surfaces aren’t that stable to start with – can roll hundreds of metres, picking up a lot of speed along the way. On my way up, I saw two torso-sized boulders crashing down the scree slopes: if they collected anyone on their way down, the results would be serious injury and a free helicopter ride…

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As this peters out, a series of blue and orange track markers indicates the route to the beginning of the real climb…

The trick to a safe and successful ascent of Ngauruhoe is to work your way up the solid rock formations, avoiding the scree slopes as much as possible: they are really hard work going up and unstable to such a point that upwards motion, slipping and sliding, will generate lots of mini rock slides.

As a very young volcano, a lot of the rock on Ngauruhoe is very rough and sharp and this is more pronounced the closer to the summit that you get. Hard shell gloves are a good idea – your nice wool Icebreaker gloves will last about five minutes – and I’ll be digging out my leather shooting gloves before I come back up here.

Another incredibly highly recommended piece of kit for Ngauruhoe is a climbing helmet. Unless you are fortunate to strike a day when you have the mountain to yourself (unlikely to occur with decent weather conditions), there is a consistent trickle of small (and not so small) rocks coming down from climbers ahead of you. In addition some of the rock faces on the way up are quite steep with potential drops of a few metres: you may be the best rock scrambler in the world, the that mightn’t help you if you get wiped out by someone less experienced ahead of taking a tumble.

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Something like this…

…and, no, I didn’t wear a helmet myself…something that a. my school group from Karamu School called me on when I caught up with them at Soda Springs on my way back and b. that I intend to do something about before I return…I only saw one group up there with helmets but lots of near misses…

Stick was really useful as a brace on the ascent and there was only one time where I needed to use both hands for climbing…everybody that I saw with walking poles struggled with them: they are too flimsy to be used as a brace and, more often than not, tend to just get in the way: you do need at least one hand free for climbing. I carried a set of poles up for a young American lady who had come expecting a walk not a climb and who was reduced to throwing her poles ahead of her as she used both hands to climb…

This young lady had also been left behind by the rest of her group which is pretty untidy – if you start as a group, you go as a group and finish as a group – more so, when she did not have any water on her. I carry heaps and was happy to share, bolster her confidence and encourage her to the summit but she was not prepared for this sort of activity and was having a pretty miserable time – which defeats the whole point of doing things like this…

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It took me about two hours to the summit: spectacular views!! But all that rock is very hard and very sharp with a some big potential drops of the unwary or unsteady of foot..

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The top of the cloud was sitting around 1400 metres but all the good stuff was visible, looking here across Red Crater to Blue Lake; lower centre, you can see the Tongariro Alpine Crossing heading up towards its highest point of 1868 metres, and the trail to the summit of Mt Tongariro. climbing off to the left…

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There are active vents (fumaroles) on Mt Ngauruhoe and steam was clearly visible from this one on the summit: you can just make it out at four o’clock from the left-hand figure on the skyline…

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Without wanting to repeat myself, this volcanic rock is hard and sharp…about three steps into my descent, I slipped and slip a couple of metres and have some nice skin to grow back on my left wrist…slow and steady is the way…

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The easiest and safest way to descend Mt Ngauruhoe is down the scree slopes to the west of the rock that you climbed up on. Avoid the rocky surfaces: they are not very stable and you WILL set off rock slides!! Stick to the channels of already disturbed scree where there are less rocks.

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Stick was really useful for bracing myself on the scree…this is soft and loose…if you are wearing ankle boots or runners/trainers (really?), gaiters would be a good idea as you will be sinking into this stuff up to and over your ankles. Don’t be an idiot and leap your way down the scree slopes: not only are you kicking loose a lot of loose material that hazards those below you, but if you strike a fixed rock beneath the surface, you are likely to lose your balance and become your own rock slide…you can descend quickly and safely without being an idiot…

Be aware of your surroundings…I spent a lot of my descent time watching behind me for rocks knocked loose by other people…not everyone calls ‘rock’ when they set one loose…think a couple of steps ahead as to where you will go if a rock comes in your direction…

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…and finally back on the trail just before the junction with the Alpine Crossing…I was tempted to carry on up to Red Crater, across to Mt Tongariro and come back down the way I went up last week but I didn’t fancy descending down through that cloud on an unmarked trail…

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A final shot from just short of Mangatepopo car park…perversely the view was clear with that little cloud rolling in in the time it took me to get out my camera…

Total time was about 6 1/2 hours but that includes a decent break for lunch, assisting the young American lady and stopping to talk to groups along the way. My total walking time, with just breather breaks would have been in the region of 5 1/2 hours…

Insights

  • Gloves – a good set of well-fitting leather gloves will save you skin
  • Helmet – may save your life.
  • Decent sturdy footwear – not runners! Consider gaiters to keep the scree out of your boots/shoes.
  • If you must take walking poles: either take only one of have a backpack that will let you carry them if you don’t need them.
  • Tread carefully: be sure you are stepping onto firm ground before you transfer your weight…
  • Jeans make the climb – and it is a climb not a walk – hard work. I was comfortable in shorts and an Icebreaker T-shirt all day BUT I had good clothing for cold/wet weather on me if I needed it…

BE AWARE OF YOUR SURROUNDINGS – YOUR SAFETY IS YOUR RESPONSIBILITY!!!

It was disappointing to observe the number of people who were physically and psychologically unprepared for Mt Ngauruhoe…many thought it was just a walk and struggled with the climb and the height – one loud American complained the whole way up about his fear of falling – others got up all right but had no idea how to get down…here’s a hint: it’s easy to climb UP the rock; climbing down the same way is not nearly as easy and you’re making people still coming up work around you…

This, I think, puts a lot of the responsibility back onto us locals to ensure that we are setting visitor expectations appropriately in all our contact with them, and through our websites, and social media engagement…Mt Ngauruhoe is not a place where ‘just do it’ is a good or safe philosophy…

 

 

Tongariro – the back way

Wow! I haven’t had such a good day on my own for a long time…

I have two weeks off to consume accumulated public holidays and time in lieu…with three days of fine weather forecast this week, normally I’d be working on the Lodge but this week I’m letting my muse drive me…

Today – and I am trying to write this while the memories are fresh and before I face-plant the keyboard as I am  just a little jaded – to venture up the ‘alternate’ route up to Mt Tongariro from Mangatepopo, across to Red Crater and then back down the Crossing trail to Mangatepopo. It’s probably a by-product of my green journey and its muse that I feel attracted back to the outdoor environment; that, and wanting to get some me time away from people ( natural enough when you work with hundreds of visitors every day).

An early start to make sure I could get a park at or near the Mangatepopo car and I was legging it towards Mangatepopo Hut by 7-30. No pix of the car park: although it wasn’t nearly as chaotic as it can be there were still heaps of people milling around and I just wanted to get underway.

The hut is only about fifteen minuets from the car park. I made a quick stop there to enter my trip into the hut book – you can never be too careful – and away I went…

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Mangatepopo Hut

There is quite a well-formed track that heads off north-eastish from the hut down to the stream. Some parts of the track towards the stream are quite heavily eroded and you need to be a little careful especially when it is a bit damp/slippery, as some of gouges are a metre or so deep. I followed that across the stream and up the opposite slope where the track is still pretty clear. From the sign it is fairly well-used.

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Target for today: Mount Tongariro

The climb up is pretty easy but already the day was warming up well past the forecast 0-5 degrees.

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I had dressed for the the forecast and was already feeling a tad warm so converted my trousers into ‘shorts’ with some judicious folding. Much more comfortable.

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It looks pretty but…

Why do people persist in build cairns in the Park, especially things like that that are purely decorative? Do they not get that it is a national park and the whole is to do no harm. The environment here is very delicate and even moving one rock exposes fresh soil to the elements and leads to the erosion that already devastates parts of the Park.

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Oh, great, people!!!

I was looking forward to some quiet introspection time so the sight of a group following me up was not welcome. I stopped to let them pass me but we ended up pacing each other and then travelling together. They were a group of Duke of Edinburgh students from Thames High School whose objective this week was four summits in four days. They’d missed out on Ruapehu two days previously as the weather had closed in and they’d decided to pull the pin – good move – but had summitted Taranaki and Ngauruhoe successfully.

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The lava flows from the more recent eruptions on Mt Ngauruhoe are very clear from across the valley. When (not if) Ngauruhoe erupts again, the historical lava route has been down the north-western slopes and we’ll need an alternative route like the one I walked today to keep the Tongariro Alpine Crossing open.

You can also see cloud forming off Ngauruhoe as the morning sun evaporates dew off the rocks. The same thing was happening on the other side as we walked up. Many people are surprised by just how quickly cloud can form up here and how thick it can be. As people found once we were on the summit, when the cloud is so thick that you can see the trail properly, the best thing to do is just sit it out.

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How erosion starts 101

I encountered a number of gouges in the surface like this as I climbed further up. There were clearly man-made as some of them ran perpendicular to the flow of water off the slopes. Some of them looked like campers had carved out a little drain to divert water around their campsite; others looked like rocks had been rolled or dragged down the slope. The surface up here is that delicate that interference like this will channel rainwater and cause serious erosion in a very short time.

There is not a trail all the way to the summit but the route is fairly intuitive with only one significant scree slope just below the summit. The trick is to aim slightly left as you approach the peak and this will take to directly to the summit. The climb itself is pretty Goldilocks: not so long that you get into ‘are we there yet?’ syndrome but not so short that you don’t feel like you haven’t done any work. Cresting the summit is really “OMG, we’re here!!”

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Thames High DofE group

 

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The cloud closed in as soon as we reached the summit…

…restricting views to just the top of Ngauruhoe.

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Lunch

Lunch for me was one of my bannofee smoothies and a couple of Jen Rice’s chewy apple spiced cookies – Jen says that two of these cookies are a meal and she is absolutely right: even after walking for three hours, two were more than enough to fill me up. I would have brought one of her turmeric coconut and pineapple smoothies except I’m out of pineapple until my next trip to civilisation.

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As I finished my lunch the cloud closed right in…while we waited for it to clear as it usually does relatively soon, I enjoyed talking with other waiting walkers about the Park, Lord of the Rings – always a safe subject – and the volcanoes.

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A minute ago this was all cloud

Even quicker than it had appeared, the cloud disappeared and it was off down the marked trail to Red Crater

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Skirting around the rim of South Crater down to Red Crater…

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Looking down into Red Crater

Most Crossing walkers had already passed this point so I didn’t encounter too much traffic in the other direction heading down towards South Crater

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A late walker heading up to Red Crater…the route is quite steep and uneven but easily negotiable in either direction so long as walkers take care and watch their foot placement.DSCF9887

Looking back across South Crater: the route up to Red Crater runs about halfway up the ridge line that runs out the left edge of the image…

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Looking down from the top of the Devil’s Staircase, over Soda Springs to the beginning of the Crossing. Mangatepopo Hut can just be made out centre left. The route down the Staircase is quite windy but easily negotiated at speed over most of its distance.

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From Soda Springs to the hut is very flat with many ‘highway’ quality board walks. I always hate this leg as it is, IMHO, quite boring and rather administrative in nature.

Today was the first time that I have been out in the Park for a couple of months. Although the solitude was not as I expected, I enjoyed meeting and talking with other walkers and exploring a path less travelled.

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Target for tomorrow..?

That will probably depend on whether I can get out of bed in the morning…some joints are having a bit of a bitch tonight…

Ridge Track, Whakapapa Village

The Ridge Track is a nice short – about twenty minutes/1.2km each way – walk right in Whakapapa Village…great for a quick leg stretch at lunchtime…

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It starts here at the public shelter, just up the road from the DOC Visitor Centre, and opposite the Whakapapa Holiday Park. The trail itself is just up from the shelter , where you can see the DOC sign on the right of the picture…

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The trail winds behind the shelter…

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…across the bridge and into the forest…

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…past a nice resting spot about halfway up (the forested part)…

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…before you break out into the open and continue up through the tussock.

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Not all of the trail is in tiptop condition and sections like this can be a little more challenging, especially after a good downpour…

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…and your’re there…

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No one is quite sure why there is a big table here but there is…be nice ofr a picnic, better if there were seats…

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Further up the ridge line, on a clearish day, you can often see the very top of Mount Ruapehu…

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…to the north, there are often great views of Mount Ngauruhoe and Mount Tongariro…

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…and below, The Chateau and Whakapapa Village, with SH48 winding back down towards SH47 and civilisation…

Tea and Pikelets at Waihohonu

A change is as good as a holiday, so they say…and I leapt at the chance to get out of the office to check on internet connections in the huts on the Northern Circuit.

My day didn’t get off to the smoothest of starts…

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Naughty Meindls

…my trusty Meindls tossing a lace…already running a tad late, I grabbed…

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Good Meindls

…my spare never-before worn pair…the beauty of Meindls being that you really can wear them right out of the box…

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Looking east towards Red Crater, Mount Ngauruhoe on the right

It doesn’t look like the cheeriest of days but it was actually a great day for walking, a nice westerly to take the edge off and keep us cool, and just enough sun to be pleasant without being scorching…

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First stop was Mangatepopo, only about twenty minutes walk in from the car park…a nice cuppa with the ranger there…

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…before some comparative performance testing on laptops, tablets and phones…

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Lured by the promise of pikelets for smoko, we headed off for the other side of Mount Ngauruhoe and Waihohonu Hut…Parking up at the Waihohonu Road End park we made good time into the hut. The surface is mostly sandy, firm enough to walk on but not so compacted as to be uncomfortable…

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While we did our techo-geeky stuff…

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…the chef started on smoko…

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Who says you can’t have the comforts of home in a back country hut..?

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As you can guess from the pix, Waihohonu is quite new and very comfortable…

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Seeing the cloud spilling over Ngauruhoe, we decided on a more cracking pace back to the park, completing the last klick or so at an enjoyable jog…

I’m regretting not filling the spa a couple of weeks ago as a nice soak would go down pretty well at the moment…I suspect that I may be a little stiff in the morning…a most excellent day and one I hope to repeat next week as Oturere still needs testing….