Umukarikari Track Trail Run
Opposite from the main tourist hotspot of Tongariro National park and the towering volcanoes that dominate the landscape, are the Umukarikari Ranges. Scouring topomaps.nz looking for tracks that we could run we found the Umukarikari Track. The topo map pictured contour lines next to each other that almost made them merge into one. This could be a steep ascent until we reached the ridgeline! We figured this might be worth the effort if, once above the bush line we could look straight over the to the awesome sights of Ruapehu, Ngauruhoe and Tongariro volcanoes!
To get to the start of the track is easy. Along SH1, and rather than turning and heading to the main tourist draw, we turned towards the power station. Only a few clouds hovered in the deep blue sky and the sun shone down fiercely. Near the middle of summer however, and there was still a lot of snow on Ruapehu. Although feeling very hot and humid at the bottom of the track, it was looking like it could get chilly up top.
Only the last part of the road to the start of the track was gravel, and easy to get up in our little, underpowered Hiace. At the end of the road a nice secluded parking area is by the start of the track, and surprised to see a sign indicating self-contained campervans and motorhomes could park there for the night. Out the van, and the noise of bees, mosquitos and all sorts of other insects droned away. Not standing still for too long, we had a quick stretch and dodged the biting little critters and started the up the trail.
A nice gradual, fairly smooth start, with only a few small rocks dotted around to avoid. After a few hundred metres, our lungs had got going and hearts pumping faster. The nice gradual gradient suddenly turned to true kiwi forest; roots and steep slippery banks, a few fallen trees and a gradient similar to a wall. The first 4km were tough. We ran as much as we could, walked up some of the steep sections, scrambled up others and jumped and darted our way through the forest. We struggled to keep to the trail at one point as our eyes were firmly focused on anything that may trip us up and we missed the orange arrow marking the way.
Back on track, we finally emerged from the dark forest and out above the bush line. Taking a huge gulp of water from our bottles, we looked around and the scenery was stunning. 4km had taken us an age, but it seemed worth it for the view. Once we stopped for a breather anyway and wiped the sweat from our eyes.
The track then goes up a section of scree before it then starts to flow a lot more, still uphill but a smoother and more runnable trail. Sadly clouds had come in and covered the peaks of the volcanoes but the views across the Umukarikari range and over to Tongariro were spectacular nonetheless and it soon became a lot more enjoyable. The Umukarikari track flowed through a mixture of heather and wild flowers and we followed the ridgeline up and as far as we thought we could, knowing we still had to get back down. We stopped at about 1500m elevation and the wind was whipping across the mountain and was a hell of a lot colder than it was at the start of the track – about 800 metres below.
A few kilometres heading back, enjoying the open views and the joy of going a little bit faster than we had been going on the ascent, we soon got back into the dark cool forest. The descent was faster, but just as hard; steep drops, trees to jump over and roots to dart across soon have the knees feeling the pain and the legs cramping up.
After 13.95km we arrived back at the van absolutely knackered. But shy of 14km, we had to finish it off with a loop around the car park to get to 14km!
The Umukarikari Track was hard going for the first 4km, opening up to amazing mountain vistas was definitely worth all the effort – and our legs were thanking us for the workout, I think.