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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 2, Issue 4 (August 1, 1927)

A Mountain Wonderland. — Winter At Ruapehu

page 10

A Mountain Wonderland.
Winter At Ruapehu

The train snorts and puffs its heavy way up the Spiral. The lights of Raurimu make little golden splashes in the ocean of darkness, showing first on one side of the line, then on the other, as we swing round the tortuous curves of the Spiral, and pass into and out of its two tunnels. Then at last the rhythmic clack-clack of the wheels as the train reaches the top, and swings into a swift, steady gait once more.

Nearly four o'sclock of a freezing winter morning; a carriage full of shrouded figures waking reluctantly to life.

Snow And Steam. Mt. Ngaruahoe from the Tama trail.

Snow And Steam.
Mt. Ngaruahoe from the Tama trail.

A truly frightful hour to be setting forth on a trip to the mountains! Someone sneezes heavily, someone else groans… The click of a switch, a sudden flood of light, and glances of hatred from rudely-awakened sleepers, who are not setting forth on a joy-trip to the mountain!

The train is pulling into National Park station now, and we are all busy reaching down from the racks the shapeless rucksacs, holdalls and other bundles that accompany every tripper to National Park. A few moments later we are crowding into a waiting motor car, and with our breath floating out in white clouds, we set forth on the first stage of our journey.

A few hours at the boarding-house, and in bright morning sunlight, we once more take the road to the mountains, gloriously white under the first thick coating of winter snow.

We are on the “roof of the North Island.” Around us, stretching far away to the horizon, lies a vast tract of land, over 150,000 acres in extent, containing some of the most wonderful scenery in all New Zealand. Here is Ruapehu, snow-crowned, laced with shining glaciers, towering in majesty over the golden leagues of the Waimarino Plains; Tongariro, brooding, quiescent, with its scarred, copper-red sides and burned-out fires. Right ahead is Ngaruahoe, sinister, awe-inspiring, nursing within its snow-bound heart a flaming inferno. Here are scenes that belong to a world in the making, ice and fire and water, working in the timeless page 11 processes by which Nature is ever moulding and remoulding the framework of the firmament…

Whakapapa Huts in Winter.

Whakapapa Huts in Winter.

The pioneering days of Tongariro National Park are swiftly passing. The first time we made our way to Whakapapa Huts we trudged four miles across the bog of the plains, through the awful morass of the birch forest. Then we crossed the Whakapapa River by a tree-trunk, and followed a snow-crusted track to the Huts. This time we ride all the way by motor, along the level miles of Bruce Road, past the Haunted Whare, over the traffic bridge, and so arrive in state, dry of foot and unwearied, at the very door of our hut.

Then a hasty unpacking. Off with our townclothes, and into jerseys, riding-pants and puttees as quickly as possible. There has been a wonderful fall of snow, and every inch of ground, every shrub and tree is thickly mantled. Out on the flat tongue of ground that runs up into the dark forest, the snow is over a foot deep, and the toboggan ground on the other side of the bush is white and shining.

In the shortest possible space of time, Whakapapa is invaded by an eager, booted, trousered crowd of boys and girls. Every snow stick, every pair of skis, is brought into the service of the holiday-makers, most of whom are novices. The flat stretch of snow looks very inviting; you take your first faltering steps on the skis… You do very nicely indeed for six steps. Then in some inexplicable way your feet fly skyward and you are flat on your back in a deep snow-drift with your feet waving in the air, and a seven-foot strip of timber tightly strapped to each foot… Somebody pulls you out—when everyone else has done laughing-and you try again.

And oh! the delight of it when you learn at last the knack of balance, the swift, easy glide down the snowy slope, the delicious sensation of flying! Here indeed is winter joy in full, a thrill that sends the blood coursing through the veins in quick, pulsating rush!

All day long the fun continues. Soon a vast, stout snow-man, with a hat perked over one ear and a pipe in his mouth, is grinning cheerily out over the frozen world. There are snow-fights, when the fun waxes fast and furious, and your fingers throb and become as fiery icicles within your snow-wet gloves, when you feel the crash of a well-aimed ball on the back of your neck and a shower of snow goes cascading down your spine.

Then, when the day is done, huge log-fires, a dance in the social hall, singing and laughter, strong tea brewed in blackened billies and drunk from stout enamel cups. And last of all, a snug cave of blankets, and the glimmer of fire-light in the quiet darkness, as Jack Frost comes striding down from the mountains to hang fresh icicles on the trees and etch his wonderful pictures on the window panes…

Tawhai Falls, National Park.

Tawhai Falls, National Park.