After hitting the road at 2:45am, we duly arrived at the roadend by 4:15am and with some final checking of gear, route, and securing of the poppet car, left at 4:30am. Much to our surprise the car park had another dozen or so cars -- we both wondered how many people we would come across that day and perhaps awake in the small hours. We set off encountering many zig zags gradually almost imperceptibly gaining elevation. We had come prepared with two forms of light each -- myself my trusty Petzl zoom and an AA Maglite, Louise a Kathmandu headlamp (with 1, 3 LED option or focussable ordinary beam) and rubber hand torch (Louise is a "daylight kind of girl"). At that time of the morning everything was so still and calm.
As we approached the hut the dawn was beginning to break, occasional birdsong was heard in the distance and the stars that had accompanied us disappeared. Suddenly upon turning a zag we were there, taking us both by surprise. Time had, in the darkness, become irrelevant. What a beautiful place. We'd made it in good time -- 6:15am. Five in the hut. Time for a sit down. We pressed on for another 15min up to Armstrong Saddle. Arriving here just as the sun broke above the low cloud which had blown in up the bay from the south, watching the darkness on the surrounding hillsides lift as the sun turned them a golden orange. Much to my surprise glancing to our right we saw the massifs of Mt Ngauruhoe first and then to its left the base of Mt Ruapehu. We walked another 10 min ending at the signpost for a hut another 40 min away. The cloud lifted to the west revealing both mountains in all their glory so far away but yet so close.
This had already been quite a morning and it was not yet normal waking time. We stayed, admired and were inspired by the view. Returning to the hut we scoffed macadamias, almonds, peanuts, chocolate, Lift Plus and water before returning later to the car park. The track seemed so different with each viewing point savoured, fresh and new now in the early morning light. Looking back at where we had been it was now shrowded in low cloud. We returned home to Napier by 11am. Time well spent.
Sunrise Hut (11 people), 1300m. Armstrong Saddle 1499m. Ruahine Forest Park Map 274-5