Waking up is consistently the hardest part of my day, made infinitely worse when waking up to a warm sleeping bag surrounded by a cold, unforgiving hut. Fortunately, my hiking partners and I only had a three hour walk ahead of us, so I was able to laze my way through the morning ritual.
With knowledge of yesterday’s clothing requirements, I stuck to two light layers and a wind shell for today’s hike. This turned out to be the right choice, and even a little much at times, since the weather was much calmer and the sun decided to stick around more permanently throughout the day.
Like the weather, the track section from the first to the second hut was much milder. We made our way up and over several dunes and valleys, all while under the distant, watchful eyes of Mt Ngauruhoe and Mt Ruapehu. The peaks of the sleeping giants were perfectly visible at last, making for stunning contrast against the scrubby volcanic desert below.
The last push is definitely the most difficult for this relatively short jaunt. The trail runs into one of the only two forests we encountered on the circuit and steadily climbs up and out of the forest for a good 30 minutes, emerging at the top of a hill from which the Waihohonu hut can be spotted down below. I descended carefully due to some knee pain that started about an hour before, and was glad to only have a three hour day.
Hut Day 2
The Waihohonu hut is practically a resort. Built in 2010, its common area is massive, with two clothes drying racks operated by pulley system, five 6-person tables, and two separate kitchen areas. With so much time to waste, Sydney, Averie and I spent time alternately napping (Averie), speculating how the pulley systems could be improved (Sydney), and sitting in the sun reading random New Yorkers left in the corner (me).
As afternoon turned to evening, other hikers started trickling in, leaving the entire common room completely filled. Our tiny group connected with two kiwi guys who shared their whiskey and chocolate with us, and we spent the night discussing travel plans and absurd American politics. It was almost enough to make us forget how miserable the forecast was for the following day…