Time: 3 to 5 hours
Distance: 8.8 kms
My final day of the circuit was the relatively unscenic Whakapapa - Mangatepopo section of the circuit. A lot of trampers miss out this section with a road end so close to the Mangatepopo Hut, but of course then you haven't completed the circuit!
Rain was forecast for the day and that morning we could see the clouds coming in from the west. Amazingly a lenticular cloud formation appeared over Ngauruhoe and everyone watching fell into a hushed silence. We stared in awe at the cloud, what a great way to start the day! Unfortunately I forgot the first rule of outdoor photography - always take spare batteries!
Pretty soon after breakfast I was packed up and hit the track to Whakapapa which follows the route to the road-end for a short distance. The Whakapapa soons turns off and leads south-west towards the village. I was informed by the hut warden that the track is nicknamed 'The Ditch' and you can see why as in places it literally cuts its way through the tussocky scrubland.
Indeed DOC advise that in wet weather this track can take almost twice as long at 5 hours, as compared to the usual 3. Whilst the track is not as exciting as the other sections of the circuit, it makes a pleasant change and if the weather had been good, I'm sure there would have been stunning views of the volcanic range.
I took the day slow, and with a long lunch break I made it back to Whakapapa Village in just under six hours. A faster tramper would have easily completed it in three hours.
Towards the end of the section, you pass through some nice forest to cross the Wairere Stream and meet up with the Taranaki Falls track. From here it's about 30 minutes to the Village.
Despite my exhaustion over the last three days of this tramp, I throughly enjoyed the hike. The views were stunning and some of the landscape really was out of this world. I would definitely recommend to anyone thinking of doing a medium grade hike in the North Island.