Whakapapa HP to KM 1200.5 on The Fisher Bike Trail
It is cold this morning! Even after the protracted hiking day yesterday, I was still wide awake by 5:00am. Tristan comes back with the report that the breakfast cafe does adjust their ‘big breakfast’ to be vegetarian, so we waffle back and forth while we make coffee in the tent. The crispness of the air and the thought of packing the tent up in the cold pushes the vote over the edge, and we get up to join them in the little cafe.
The inside is polished wood and small tables, with one of my favorite Jason Mraz songs playing on the radio. Despite the great start, the breakfast is tragically cafeteria style, warmed out of cans and cartons from the looks of it. No love cooked in. After salivating over the vision of The Dome Cafe replicated, I can’t bring myself to order it. Prana and I get a chocolate croissant each to munch while sitting with the group, and make a big pot of cranberry apple porridge to fill up on when we return to the tent site. At least it has warmed up a bit for packing everything away.
I do a quick spot of abruptly necessary laundry- my period started this morning, hopefully both explaining and marking an end to my acute claustrophobia of people (even dear friends) and inability to sleep the last few nights. “It’s nature,” I remind myself. “It’s magical.” This is always my mantra to combat the irritation at the inconvenience.
The first bit of trail is gorgeous track through a beautiful forest, along an equally beautiful creek. I am tired today, and move slowly, letting everyone else pass. I like hiking fast, knowing I can hike fast, pushing myself, feeling capable, covering ground; but I also love being the last in line, lingering when I wish, taking pictures uninterrupted, or simply stopping to sit for a minute or two to look at something or listen to something without that being a cue for a group break. There are many boardwalks once the trail climbs away from the creek and starts sneaking through one of the many volcanic bogs surrounding Mt Ruapehu. The plants are low, dense and springy, and made up of a palette of greys, yellows, oranges, and rusts. A sign explains that these reddish hues are due to the high elevation and no protection from a canopy- the pigments are the plants’ sunscreen to protect them from the damaging intensity of the solar rays. How about that!
I catch up with Prana where he is reading at a small stream, and soon after we pass a gorgeous glacially fed river tumbling down off the flanks of Mt Ruapehu. It reminds me of the rivers of Mt Hood and Mt Rainer, and I wish now we had indeed planned in some extra days to do the Round the Mountain Track, a circumnavigation of Ruapehu. Another thing to put on the list for leftover time or a future season.
The boglands continue, although the TA turns and turns again off of the main track, a beautiful boardwalk continuing away to the left and our tread becoming lumpy and brushy. It is beautiful and strange, some of the bog holes going so deep they appear bottomless, stained dark red and maroon from the iron in the clay that forms them.
We agree to stop for a snack at the upcoming trees, and as we approach we notice something odd- a tent abandoned next to the trail. A few steps farther and we see some clothes abandoned as well. How weird. We recognize Bro’s belongings at the same time. But where is Bro? Fallen into a bog hole? Gone sun crazed from running out of water? Being torn apart by a predator? Being ravished by another hiker? We walk a little farther and he is buried in the shade of the trees, lunching while his laundry and tent dry. We join him and decide to simply have a snack and hold out for town, wishing for a pizza each that would fulfill both lunch and dinner for today, and minimize our grocery needs.
A few hot K’s after lunch bring us to the road, and 6 K’s on the road deposit us in town. I finish listening to my silly romance novel, in which a cranky food critic and struggling restauranteur fall in love without knowing the other’s job; there are lots of descriptions of complex gourmet food and showering and other things that you just can’t do on a hot, sweaty, sandfly-filled, long distance trail. There is a spectacular explosion from their conflict of interests, but apparently the sex is just too good, so all is forgiven in the end.
When we reach the convenience store, we see a promising sign at the dairy behind it: ‘Coffee & Pizza.’ Yeah!! We set up at the giant picnic table out front, and do our resupplies in shifts. Even though Prana and I only need one lunch, we end up also buying a few chocolate bakery treats, (support those local businesses!) some crazy-cheap dried shiitake mushrooms, an avocado, a block of on-sale chocolate to carry to the river to bolster that resupply (if it makes it that far), and a bag of rosemary sweet potato chips just because.
We each order a pizza; it is not the pizza of our dreams. This area on the west side of Tongariro seems to be a black hole for quality food. But it is adequately filling, tolerably tasty, and doesn’t require doing dishes after; therefore it is tallied as a bare win. Ah well.
We fill water off the side of the convenience store, and I purchase two ginger beers to smuggle and surprise Prana with in the river- We had splurged at the Canoe Hire on a bottle of wine to share with everyone over a dinner, but Prana has decided to stick to his original idea of not drinking alcohol on the whole trip, so now he will have some celebration bubbly as well. Mario is in on the surprise and hides them in his pack until I can transfer them to mine.
We follow our road out of town, which quickly turns to gravel, and then officially becomes a bike path, albeit one that is indistinguishable from what was just defined as a gravel road. Ellie and I walk in the back, discussing zombies and then beloved books, and then rereading the same book throughout your life, and how it can give you a baseline to see how you yourself have changed over time, as the words of course stay the same. And did JK Rowling expertly create a darker tone throughout the Harry Potter series, to illustrate the inevitable disillusionment of growing older? Or did she herself change as a writer, or fundamentally as a person? We reach no certain conclusion.
We pass several fine-looking campsites, and I start to wonder if Prana is too involved in talking to notice them, or if we are now going farther than I had mentally rationed myself for. I am tired and my guts hurt from aggressively wringing themselves out all day, and while I could keep walking, I simply don’t want to. When we all catch up, I try to find a way to ask what the plan for camping is without sounding too whiny; I’m not sure it works. We start heading downhill off the edge of the plateau into the system of bottoms and creeks that feed into our destination, the Whanganui, and I start to despair camp is a lost cause for the night. But no! Bro yodels from ahead that he has found something. There is a flat enough crescent on the outside bend in the road for us all to fit. Hallelujah. Super Mario manages to motivate/shame everyone into a round of Crazy Sevens, which is as hilarious as always and surprisingly satisfying. Up go the tents, and there is the domestic contentment of being inside. When Bro pokes his head up out of his tent to ask a question, the angle causes him to appear inexplicably like a snail, or a puppet. Delirium, sleep deprivation, or happiness magnified by friendship, what really causes it I am not sure, but we all become incapacitated with giddy laughter. Bro feigns indignation, and disappears back into his tent. “Where’s the water tomorrow?” he asks. “If you want to ask a question, you have to stick your head out!” responds Peach, and when he does, we all collapse in laughter again. I attempt to type a bit, as it is still relatively early, but I drift off after only a few sentences, replaying the beautiful images of the last two days on the back of my eyelids.