“You’re spending all that time in Whakapapa?” asked Lyle, the driver of the overpriced shuttle bus.
It doesn’t bode well when the locals don’t speak enthusiastically of their home place.
My heart sank a little.
“I’m planning to do a few of the walks out of the village,” I said. “There seems to be more walks from Whakapapa than National Park.”
Lyle confirmed that was indeed true and proceeded to list several options plus recommend an art gallery. So, I wasn’t going to struggle to fill my time after all.
He also dropped me just outside the village allowing me to follow the Whakapapanui Path through the woodland.
And for those enjoying the pleasing alliteration of this post’s title, allow me to shatter that… Whakapapa is pronounced Fuk-a-papa. It has taken repeated attempts to get my head around that and my puerile sense of humour doesn’t understand why New Zealeanders don’t snigger whenever they say it.
The English would. Every. Single. Time.
The weather was too bad for the Tongariro Pass today so that was my reason for going down to the nearby village, more of a hamlet really, of Whakapapa.
There are several hiking routes that can be followed from the village, on foot without having to drive out, more than at National Park. The Department of Conservation provides advice here.
Over the course of the day, I’ve followed three of the routes, four, if you include the Nature Loop though that is more of a “blink and you’ve missed it” kind of trail.
The Whakapapanui Path leads from the road leading into the village alongside a river to the Golden Rapids, through the woods to Whakapapa itself, bringing you out by the Volunteer Fire Station.
Before reaching the Village, the path branches and gives the options of walking to the Whakapapa Hut or the Silica Rapids.
The Rapids were an hour’s walk from this point and I decided that, by the time I had reached these and returned to the Village I would have been walking for three hours, this extension would justify a coffee stop.
The two routes, the Path and the Rapids were along easily followed constructed paths. To some this may not seem like ‘proper’ hiking (no compasses or maps necessary) but as well as being idiot proof, it conserves the land with walkers being confined to a track where they can do limited damage.
The routes are signposted with information about the geology and the wildlife in the area, explaining why the rapids are golden and why the plant life all has a russet tinge.
There isn’t any gold in them thar hills.
The Silica Rapids are coloured by aluminium.
(Honestly, you can learn something at least twice a week on this blog. I’m still awaiting my share of pub quiz winnings).
While the Silica Rapids path is a ‘dead end’ track rather than a loop, I don’t mind this on short walks as you get a different view of the la d you return over, spotting things you missed on the way out.
Although these walks are at lower levels than the Tongariro Pass, visibility was affected by the weather and the low lying cloud made the woodland and alpine walks feel less like Greenwood and more like Tolkien’s ominous Mirkwood.
Sadly, I cannot confirm any sightings of Hobbits.
Coffee levels reinvigorated and a packed lunch eaten while reading the signs at the Nature Loop, I headed along the path to the Taranaki Falls.
The route starts just below the Village Visitor Centre – a must visit site in itself for information about the Tongariro Pass, weather conditions and other walks.
The Falls are quite spectacular and definitely worth following the gentle slope to get there.
I followed the Upper Track to the Falls rather than the Lower Track. I assumed that there would be a steep climb up the Falls if I followed the Lower Track.
This was exactly how it worked out but I was surprised by how many people I met who had followed the Lower Track. I seemed to be the only person on the Upper Track.
I did find myself wondering if they knew something I didn’t.
The route was very sheltered by what appeared to be heather growing over a metre high. I am no botanist so I doubt it was but there was a strong similarity.
At the Visitor Centre I learned that heather was just one of many invader species that was introduced to New Zealand and it has grown rampant across the countryside. The Department of Conservation is making strong efforts to eliminate the plants and wildlife that threaten the country’s native species.
It has its work cut out.
When I reached the top of the Falls, I thought the scenery was quite dramatic. Once I climbed down and saw them up close I was stunned.
So were the people having a quiet picnic when I let out a shocked exclamation. You’d have thought that the roar of the waterfall would have drowned me out.
No. Not at all.
Oh, well. With any luck, we won’t be bumping into each other again .
I skirted the bottom of the Falls and followed the river back through the woodland and over the scrub land again
The weather worsened suddenly and the cloud again hugged the ground. I couldn’t see much more than twenty metres in front of me though the track was clearly visible.
According to the signpost as I neared the Village the Tongariro Chateau was only 200m in front of me. I couldn’t see it… until it loomed out of the mist like the Overlook Hotel in ‘The Shining‘.
Unpleasant associations aside, I was going in for hot chocolate and a scone while I waited for Lyle to pick me up.
Incidentally, the Chateau looks nothing like the Overlook, it was just the weather making associations for me.