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After selling their house in the United States in 2010, retired couple John and Jean Strother have been travelling full time. They love to hike and backpack and have had some amazing adventures around the world — including here in New Zealand.

We’re going to be sharing some of their stories (and incredible photos) over the next few weeks. 

We start with Jean and John’s experience on the Tongariro Northern Circuit…

John and Jean in the old Waihohonu Hut on Tongariro's Northern Circuit. © All rights reserved by panafoot.

John and Jean in the old Waihohonu Hut on Tongariro’s Northern Circuit

After more than two weeks of driving and sightseeing we were more than ready to see some mountains and do our first Great Walk, the Tongariro Northern Circuit in Tongariro National Park.

Looking across Central Crater at Mt Ngauruhoe and Red Crater. © All rights reserved by panafoot.

Looking across Central Crater at Mt Ngauruhoe and Red Crater

We had heard that in New Zealand it rains on average one day out of every three so it seemed inevitable that we would get wet at some point on every Great Walk. Our goal was to try to arrange it so we encountered the poorest weather on the least scenic part of the track. Apparently the weather in Tongariro is especially difficult to accurately predict.

After a couple of days of cloudy rain with “fine” weather in the forecast we booked our tramp. In order to increase our chances of seeing the “best parts” under better weather conditions we decided to do the track counterclockwise, opposite to how it is commonly done.

Our best view of Mt Ngauruhoe on our first day on Tongariro Northern Circuit. © All rights reserved by panafoot.

Our best view of Mt Ngauruhoe on our first day on the
Tongariro Northern Circuit

We left Whakapapa Village in cloudy drizzle and headed toward the Waihohonu Hut and campground. The trampers we encountered who were heading out stated that visibility had been less than 10 meters and that they had seen “nothing” during the previous three days on the track.

We consoled ourselves with the fact that this was the least scenic part and were grateful that it briefly stopped raining twice; once long enough for us to eat lunch and later to set up our tent.

This was our first experience with a DOC hut and while it is our preference to sleep in our tent we certainly appreciated being able to get out of the rain to cook and eat. However, we were happy to later leave the loud intensity and retreat to our tent. We were unaware at that point that at some huts tents campers are forbidden from using the hut facilities, but in those cases a cooking shelter has been provided.

Inside the Waihohonu Hut. © All rights reserved by panafoot.

Inside the Waihohonu Hut

The next day continued to be cloudy and drizzling and we had some trouble leaving the warm dry (and now quiet) hut. Once we got going the track first climbed up through a forest that looked as though we had been transported back into the North Cascade Mountains. However we got above the trees and the clouds began lifting so that by noon we began to get great views of the Rangipo Desert…

Jean following the track through the Rangipo Desert. © All rights reserved by panafoot.

Jean following the track through the Rangipo Desert

and the dramatic volcanic landscape of the Oturere Valley and Mt Ruapehu…

Mt Ruapehu, as seen on Tongariro Northern Circuit. © All rights reserved by panafoot.

Mt Ruapehu, as seen on Tongariro Northern Circuit

The clouds continued to lift and break up as the day went on and we climbed higher. It appeared that our late start worked in our favor as we were thrilled with our views of the lower Emerald Lake, views that those who passed through earlier in the day would have missed.

Lower Emerald Lake. Tongariro National Park. © All rights reserved by panafoot.

Lower Emerald Lake

The next morning the skies were only partly cloudy and we were treated to views of all three of the Emerald Lakes…

Emerald Lakes. © All rights reserved by panafoot.

Emerald Lakes

and of Mt Ngauruhoe…

Mt Ngauruhoe and the South Crater. © All rights reserved by panafoot.

Mt Ngauruhoe and the South Crater

and into Red Crater…

Red Crater. © All rights reserved by panafoot.

Red Crater

The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is purported to be the best day hike in New Zealand. It starts at the Mangatepopo car park, follows the same track as the Northern Circuit across the saddle before descending to the Ketetahi car park.

The 12 miles (19.4 kilometers) takes about 7-9 hours and is done by hundreds of people every day, some better prepared than others. A challenging part for the less skilled is descending the steep scree ***** from the saddle.

Tongariro Northern Circuit. © All rights reserved by panafoot.

Tongariro Northern Circuit

Read more on panafoot — Jean and John’s blog.

pan-a-foot (păn’ ũh fʊt) v. covering great distances to see more of the world under one’s own power

All of the photos used in this post were taken by John Strother © All rights reserved. See more of their Tongariro Northern Circuit photos on Flickr.

A big thanks to Jean and John for giving us permission for us to publish this on the Conservation Blog!

DOC Great Walks logo.

by Siobhan File

So like eager beavers (after some small packing issues), we headed down the road towards the start of the Abel Tasman Coastal Track, got a little bit lost in the DOC car park, and eventually found the National Park entrance.

Siobhan stands in front of the DOC sign on the Abel Tasman Coastal track before an 11.8km walk.

A leisurely 11.8k stroll for the first day

I know there must be some decent synonyms for ‘golden’ and ‘sparkling turquoise’, but they’re actually the colours of the sands and waters that the track meanders through. Although they don’t do it justice. As we made our way into the bush and climbed a little bit higher, we got warmer and warmer, and all I wanted to do was jump into the sea and bask in the sun.

Instead, we started playing ‘who can guess how long DOC thinks it’ll take till we get to the hut?’ before reading each signpost, and making bets on who was closest. In the end we arrived around an hour sooner than DOC predicted we would.

Siobhan in front of a scenic view of Abel Tasman Coast.

Not a bad spot to spend a Friday arvo in

After about 2 hours in, we started getting pretty sore feet and felt a few blisters forming—despite wearing comfy shoes/boots that’d been fine previously. We figured the extra weight of the packs, and walking on the harder sandstone rather than mud were the causing factors. I had taken a 50 pack of sticking plasters with me. I definitely recommend others do the same. I returned with only 2 left.

After 3 hours walking, we arrived at Anchorage Hut. The sun was still out, there were people eating dinner on the beach and at picnic tables around the hut, and there were only 3 bunks left. We bagsed our beds, cranked out the wine and cheese and headed down to the shore. Bliss. As the sun went down, the sandflies came out so we headed back to the hut area to fire up the gas cooker. After dinner we went inside to play cards and realised we hadn’t brought any candles! We played by torch light for a while but headed to the bunk room shortly after. Ear plugs were a good thing with about 16 people in the room (lots of sleeping bag rustling and a few snorers).

Stopping at a beach along the Abel Tasman Coastal Track.

Making Sam’s pack half a bottle of wine lighter

The next day, Sam had an early morning swim (I wasn’t so brave) and we prepared our gourmet breakfast—squashed croissants with camembert, avocado and ham. Delish. Before we left, we got talking to a Mexican guy who was also walking to Awaroa Hut that day. One thing I noticed was that there were no other kiwis on the trip! Lots of Germans, some Austrians and Americans. But no locals.

The walk on the second day was amazing. There was only one difficult bit—a lengthy hill just after our lunch stop—but most of the time it was pretty flat. For this reason I reckon it’s the best Great Walk to go for if it’s your first time, or if you’re worried about your fitness levels. The track is really well maintained—there’s no figuring out where you’re going to put your foot next like in some tracks. You can also choose to break it up into just 3 or 4 hours of walking a day. We skipped Bark Bay hut on day 2, and as such, our feet were aaaaching. In the second half we actually took as long as DOC said we would because we were plodding along so slowly.

Siobhan on the famous swing bridge along the Abel Tasman Coastal track.

Hanging out on the famous swing bridge

We had taken the slightly longer route because we weren’t in tune with the low tide, but it didn’t matter. We crossed a few little streams, and I was lucky enough to be carried over a few by Sam, who took his pack, my pack, and me all at once (before you leap to conclusions about my wuss levels, I hadn’t whinged or made any complaints—I merely accepted the offer). Seeing Awaroa Hut in the distance as we turned the corner was the best sight ever, and even I was game for a swim after arriving.

Afterwards we got straight to work on the remaining wine, cheese and crackers, and had a yarn with the friendly DOC hut warden who lives in a house nearby for 7 months a year. What a great spot! After dinner we got chatting with the others, including our new Mexican friend who’d arrived late after walking the low tide route despite it being high tide. There were only 12 of us all up, and there was a more open, chatty atmosphere among us, compared to the first hut that was full. The sandflies here were like nothing I’ve experienced before. They took no notice of the fact I’d drenched myself in insect repellent. The only option was to cover up or go inside. One tramper said coconut butter kept them away, so I’ll have to try that next time.

Sam takes a break instantly upon arriving, but perks up enough to help prepare the nibbles.

Sam takes a break instantly upon arriving, but perks up enough to help prepare the nibbles

On Sunday morning we woke to rain on the roof. We’d had to change our plans to taxi back from Awaroa instead of Totaranui because of a slip, so we headed to the lodge where the taxi comes in (via the skyline route for one last view). The ride back was about an hour and a half long. Seeing the land from the sea highlighted how far we’d actually walked! Our taxi driver doubled as a tour guide and we learnt heaps about the area, and stopped to see some sunbathing seals on the islands.

Sergio and Ingrid head back from the Abel Tasman Coastal track on the boat.

Sergio and Ingrid enjoying the ride home

We arrived back in the Abel Tasman Aqua Taxi car park pretty exhausted but happy we’d made it back in time and in one piece—even if we both had limps from blister overload. I told Sam I didn’t think I could handle another day, and therefore some of the longer Great Walks, but actually, if I’d had better shoes it would’ve been fine. I think you can even hire them so that makes things easy. Since putting the photos of our trip on Facebook, I’ve had 4 different people tell me they now want to do the walk. I hope I’ve inspired some readers to get booking too! It’s definitely an amazing walk and now that I know what to expect, I’ll be getting a group of friends together early next year for the Waikaremoana Great Walk! Fun times ahead!

For info on all of the Great Walks, check out www.greatwalks.co.nz, and follow the Great Walks Facebook page.