Having stayed at Turangi at the South end of the lake close to the snow capped mountains of Tongariro National Park, it was by far our coldest night in the car so far; so much so that in the morning their was a layer of frost covering the car. It was far from being a pleasant nights sleep as the cold would wake us up on a regular basis throughout the night until around 7am when it was too uncomfortable and we turned on the car heating for a while. The morning view from the edge of the lake was some what of a consolation as we were able to watch the black swans paddle about in the freezing waters.
tongariro national park
Unluckily for us, due to the weather over the past couple of weeks, the famous Tongariro Alpine Crossing had been covered in snow and ice and so could no longer be done in the absence of a guide. Despite the hike usually being free of charge, it had suddenly become NZ$130 as a considerable amount of mountaineering equipment was required as well as a form of guide for safety purposes. The steep cost of the trip meant it was no longer feasible for us and so the Tama Lakes Trail was our only worthwhile alternative in the National Park.
With clear blue skies and the sun beginning to emerge from behind the mountains, we couldn’t have picked a better day to hike up the Tama Lakes Trail. A half an hours drive from the town of Turangi by the lake took us to Whakapapa Village which was where the 17km round trip trek began.
Scenic drive to Whakapapa Village
The trail began through a dense, green, wet forest along narrow muddy paths which then opened out onto well maintained gravel paths along the shallow graded plains of low lying shrubs which covered the entire area of the walk. Although it was the perfect day for hiking, with the temperature still at single figures, the paths from about halfway were soon covered in snow and so the winter guide poles were ideal for keeping on the track despite having to constantly dodge the frozen streams.
Along the way the trail was made slightly easier as we were directed along narrow elevated boardwalks over the thick snowy shrubs and across narrow rivers and streams. On a couple of occasions we had to to use a set of stepping stones in order to cross the freezing cold streams.
After a two hour walk, located on the Tama saddle between the two beautiful snow capped mountains, Mt Ngauruhoe and Mt Ruapehu (Whakapapa Ski Field) was the impressive Lower Tama Lake which was the first of the two lakes which occupy old explosion craters. The first sighting of the lake from the high vantage point was beautiful, however the overall picture of the lake became increasingly more impressive as we moved towards the Upper Tama Lake.
After a tiring 45minute climb up the steep face of the Tama Saddle, we reached the Upper Tama Lake which was equally as beautiful. From here we were also able to get stunning views of the Lower lake with an equally impressive backdrop of Mt Ruapehu. This then was the last point on the hike before heading back and was really not a bad spot to have our lunch. With it being such a nice day it wasn’t too cold, but after having been stopped for around half an hour it did start to get quite chilly.
Upper Tama Lake
Having to head back along the same route, the return journey only took us 2 hours to get back as we were not stopping as often to take photos. It really is a great walk to do and after getting the chance to witness such amazing scenery, we were not as half as disappointed in not being able to trek across the Tongariro Alpine crossing.
After a great day in Tongariro National Park, we headed for Wellington at around 4pm which took us around 5hours and so meant we were there for the evening. Unfortunately we were only able to enjoy the scenery for the first couple of hours before it got dark but it meant we were in the Capital for the start of the next day.