Written by Keren D

Photo taken by Keren, Christine & Michiel

Participants: Anna, Michiel, Keren & Christine

Day 1: Christine kindly picked me up at 6:45 am from my place, and we drove to Anna and Michiel's place. We had a few detours due to unclear Google Map directions. Four of us, fully packed, left Hamilton with Anna and Michiel's car around 7:20 am. I slept all the way to Whakapapa village, and we stopped for the toilet a few times on the way. The weather looked nice in Hamilton, but it got cloudy on our way to Whakapapa village. The traffic was really bad, and it seemed like most people had the same idea of spending their long weekend on the mountain. We arrived at Chateau around 11:30 am. However, the weather didn't look very nice to us; it was windy and foggy.Anna and Michiel had a discussion and thought we wouldn't be able to follow the original plan of going to Waihohonu hut with full packs in 5.30 hours, especially in such bad weather. Moreover, it was my and Christine's first time attempting it. So, they came up with two options: one was going with Michiel to do an approximately 3-hour walk with full packs from the village to Mangatepopo hut, or going with Anna, sitting in the warm car, and walking 20-30 minutes with full packs to the hut.

In the end, Christine decided to take the challenge and went with Michiel, while I chose the easier option (because I had done the Tongariro crossing on a really bad day and didn't feel like walking in windy, foggy, and wet weather again). Anna and I watched them leave until they finished talking to some other hikers at the car park, and then we drove for about 30 minutes to the Mangatepopo car park. We arrived at the Mangatepopo hut around 12:30 pm, and the fire was nicely set by a couple who had stayed the night before. It was my first experience staying in a hut with a fireplace, which was really interesting.

We unpacked our stuff and reserved spaces for Michiel and Christine on the bunk bed. Anna suggested I take the top one if I'd like to be warmer. Around 1:00 pm, many people came to the warm hut for a lunch break. At around 2:00 pm, we assumed there would be another hour for them to come back, so we decided to walk in their direction and meet them on the way back. As soon as we came out, it started raining, and Anna kindly suggested I put on my rain pants. I felt glad that I did, as the walk took longer than we thought, and the rain was quite heavy at some stages. It took 1.5 hours for us to meet them. It turned out that they went to see the waterfalls, so it took longer than expected. We returned to the hut together, and arrived at the hut around 4:00 pm. There were two groups of people resting in the hut. Anna and Michiel kindly taught us many things about staying in a hut, such as how to prepare food, how to dry our wet clothes, how to pay for the hut ticket, etc. As newbies to this experience, we learned a lot and kept learning. We also had some good conversations and chats with other people in the hut. They all were friendly, including a young couple and three old friends, as well as two colleagues. The night was warm with the sleeping bag (borrowed from Kevin) and the thermal liner (suggested by Anna).

Day 2, we woke up around 7:30 am. The weather seemed promising as the clouds on the mountain were lifting. Anna and Michiel informed us about the new plan for the day, which was to stay in the same hut for another night. This meant we didn't need to carry our full packs (yay!). We would head to the Tongariro Crossing and see how far we could go based on the weather. It was an easy start with no rain, and we passed Soda Spring before Michiel led us to the old track called Devil's Staircase. I have to admit, it was the toughest part, but also the most fun, as we had to find our own way. The track marks were washed away, and we had to follow Michiel's phone to navigate the path on the map. After climbing, we finally saw the snow for this SNOW trip. It looked amazing, and Christine was completely enthralled by the view, taking photos constantly. After the Devil's Staircase, we returned to the normal track of the Tongariro Crossing. The snow on the track made walking difficult, so they advised us to walk on our heels rather than our toes, which made it easier. I was amazed by how pure the snow was; it looked so blue in the holes. We continued along the track but had to stop before reaching the Red Crater due to the strong wind and low visibility. Luckily, we caught a few seconds glimpse of the summit of Mount Ngauruhoe on the way back. We even had some super fun bump sliding on a smooth snow slope, and Michiel taught us how to use ice axes in certain situations. When we passed by a small waterfall, Anna and Michiel asked if we wanted to get closer and have a look. I hesitated for a few minutes, and then I remembered a saying in Chinese culture, "来都来了" which means "since we are here, why not?" So they took us to the waterfall, and Christine and I went behind it, taking some fun photos.

The sun came out as we were heading back to the hut. There were some familiar faces and new faces already in the hut. The males were watching Rugby games, and the females were sitting in front of the fireplace, chatting about life. It was a really nice and peaceful vibe.

Day 3, the weather was foggy and windy again. So, we decided to head back home straightaway after waking up. We packed all our belongings and tidied up the hut. By 9:00 am, we started our journey back. It took us about 20 minutes to walk to the car park, and we began driving at 9:30 am. We made a delightful lunch stop at Te Kuiti around 12:00 pm and safely arrived in Hamilton by 2:00 pm.

We are extremely grateful to Anna and Michiel for taking us on this wonderful trip and patiently answering and assisting with many of our concerns.

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