Bench above the Mud Tunnel to Tongiriro Carpark
A late morning is nice; it finally feels like a bit of down time to make up for the not-rest day. We only need to cover 14 k to the carpark we will camp at for our early morning launch tomorrow onto the Tongiriro Crossing. Prana and I leave before everyone but Mike, and the standard, quietly charming tree tunnel continues out of camp. We can see clouds up high obscuring the Tongiriro peaks, and they appear to be moving at a fast clip, even though they never dissipate.
I’m glad we have it planned for tomorrow, and I hope the prediction of fair weather turns out to be accurate. At one point I am so lost in thought that I walk up on Prana in a bizarre frozen posture, and am right in front of him before noticing. “Aaaaach!” I yelp. Prana doubles over laughing. “Oh my gosh, I was going to pretend like I wanted to scare you, thinking there was no way you wouldn’t see me; once I realized you weren’t going to see me, I just tried to stay still until you were past me so I wouldn’t scare you!” We both laugh hard at the absurdity.
Prana and I reach the road without ever seeing a hint of the Pumice Caves, which are marked on our map as the trail going right through them. Strange. We join a road for a bit with excellent overlooks of the volcanic plateau before veering off into a gorse tunnel. After thrashing through the sticky and stickery pathway for awhile, it empties into a large quiet pleasant grassy area, where the earthwork foundations of an old Redoubt remain.
It’s a nice spot for a break, and we take a protracted lunch while the chilly wind challenges the hot sunshine.
Once on the highway, I plug in my headphones. The road is busy, but there is an adequate shoulder. We stop at the last water crossing for the day, the bridge at the Te Whaiau Stream, and find Mario and Peach breaking here as well.
We need to fill up from this creek with enough water to get to the Holiday Park tomorrow night, so we start Operation Filter 3 Gallons. While involved in this, a large work truck pulls off the highway, headed straight for Prana’s gear at the edge of the shade. He runs towards them waving, “Wait! Wait!” The truck driver is indignant. “This isn’t private property! I can be here!” I expect him to stomp the accelerator to punctuate his point. “No, no, that’s fine!” Prana calls. “I just don’t want you to run over my backpack!” Mollified, the driver instantly turns friendly. “Oh, well, uh, I don’t want to run over your backpack either.” Thank god. But the fun is just starting- two more flat bed trucks pulls over. They are here to do a musical hives bee box swap. The three drivers suit up in their hazmat beekeeper costumes, and warn us that we may want to get moving. I am inclined to agree. But we literally cannot leave until we have enough water. Is this seriously the only place this transaction can happen? They start slamming the boxes around and the bees start rising in ever more agitated waves. As they reach the area our gear is spread out, one flies into my hair and struggles angrily. I pull out the ponytail and step into the wind, which is now filled with bee confetti. “I’m heading down to the creek!” I call back to Prana. The bee in my hair is gone; I have no clue if I am now allergic to honeybees in my adult life the way I am newly allergic to hornets, but I haven’t found a convenient way to test this, and today is not convenient either. I manage to sit at the bee-free bottom of the creek for a whole four minutes before getting restless. I climb out enough just to see how the rest of the crew is faring, and just in time to see Prana start fighting with his hair. He goes through the same steps: ponytail free, shaking head, shaking chunks of hair. His fight ends with a sting behind the ear though. Dammit!
The hive swap has ended, and the concentration of dive bombing bees in the air has started to wane. I return to my flock, where most are shuttling belongings up a logging road farther from the truck still parked next to the break spot. I look at Prana’s head and remove the stinger still buried in the swelling sting site. “Better me than you,” he says. I appreciate the sentiment, and realize he would be just as inconvenienced as I would be if I were to get stung, but the irrational part of me chafes at anything I can’t do my fair share of, including taking my fair share of painful bee venom injections.
The water collected, we pack up and make one last dash down the bee gauntlet. Back on pavement, we push through to the carpark turnoff and up the long dusty driveway, arriving at the trailhead around 5:00 to find a sign that reads: No Camping.
The camping situation is one the most frustrating things about this trail. It’s like whoever is in charge of designing it is completely ignorant of the fact that people hiking it A) need to sleep. Every night. And B) are making savings stretch over almost half a year. There is no way we will walk back the 7 k to the expensive Holiday Park, the only camping option we have passed, mostly because that simply adds 7 k onto the already long day tomorrow; we have also heard multiple reports that they are particularly unfriendly to hikers, so I feel no desire to financially contribute to them. And there are no camping options up high on the Crossing we were able to book less than months out, which is virtually impossible to accurately pinpoint a date for. So, we wait for the busses to clear out, for the last stragglers to kiss the flat ground and leave in their shuttle cars. We cook dinner while role-playing appropriate reactions for a group of campers in which no one speak English when confronted by authority figures that hopefully only speak English. When it’s seems mostly quiet, we quickly set up our tents at the very back edge of the flat grassy area, as if that might help make them less conspicuous. I resolve to pick up all the trash I pass on the Crossing tomorrow to atone for my blatant criminality, and am drifting to sleep before 8:00.