IN THE CENTRE of the North Island,the sprawling Tongariro National Park area is hard to miss with its three volcanic peaks of Ruapehu, Tongariro and Ngāuruhoe jutting out of the bare high plains of the Central North Island, southwest of Lake Taupō.
Mount Ruapehu has two skifields, at Tūroa and Whakapapa, and is very popular with skiiers from Auckland. I’ve also done three snowcraft and climbing courses on Mount Ruapehu and climbed to the top.
The name Ruapehu means ‘exploding hole’, a testament to the fact that the volcano is occasionally active, and perpetually steaming.
I also did a stint as a volunteer DOC warden at the Whakapapaiti Hut for a week over Christmas one year. This hut is part of the Round-the-Mountain Track, a more remote alternative to the popular Northern Circuit. The Round-the-Mountain Track takes four to six days to complete and covers a loop of the mountain of just over 66 kilometres.
I have done the full track and also just the slightly more than ten kilometre walk between Whakapapaiti Hut and the next hut at Mangaturuturu, where there are beautiful views across to Mount Taranaki.
I was there for Christmas one time, and in the hut there was also fit-looking bus driver from Whangarei in his mid-sixties, who was planning to climb Mt Ruapehu. He stayed for four nights and, as we shared our food, he started telling me about how he used to work for DOC in their kiwi reserves. He would go around and trap rogue ferrets who had learnt how to kill adult kiwi birds and were threatening our already-rare native birds. However, he finished up at DOC ten years early because of personnel and management issues. I couldn’t believe that someone like him with that much knowledge could be let go.
He knew all about the native bird life and talked enthusiastically about the blue duck breeding programme on Mount Ruapehu. I was lucky enough to see some in one of the nearby rivers. I also got to video them. Blue ducks – also known as whio – are one of the world’s three species of torrent ducks, which means that they live in fast and unpolluted rivers in remote back-country and refuse to inhabit duckponds.The other two species of torrent duck live in New Guinea and South America respectively. I had no idea that there was such a thing as a duck that refuses to inhabit a pond, and of course this lifestyle has reduced the numbers of the whio relative to other sorts of ducks as New Zealand’s landscape has become more domesticated.
DOC has made a huge effort to bring blue ducks back by breeding them in sheltered concrete areas with netting over the top to keep them protected. There are successful breeding programmes in the South Island as well, but I was blown away by the blue duck programme I saw at Mount Ruapehu. They breed around a hundred of these birds every year – a substantial number that must be one of the biggest breeding programmes in the country.
The bus driver was great company and I spent all Christmas Day talking to him.
DOC has made a huge effort to bring blue ducks back by breeding them in sheltered concrete areas with netting over the top to keep them protected. There are successful breeding programmes in the South Island as well, but I was blown away by the blue duck programme I saw at Mount Ruapehu.They breed around a hundred of these birds every year – a substantial number that must be one of the biggest breeding programmes in the country.
Keep abreast of the snow reports and skifield cams on mtruapehu.com.There’s also a sightseeing gondola called the Sky Waka that runs between the Whakapapa skifield and a café on top of a cliff at Knoll Ridge (2020 metres) with great views both up and down the mountain, which you can book on the same website.
This post is referenced in my new book The Neglected North Island: New Zealand's other half.
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