Tongariro Crossing

Trip Start May 18, 2003
Trip End Ongoing

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Tuesday, October 25, 2005

It has been a while since I have slept in a dorm room, and compounded with going to bed unusually early I just could not get to sleep last night. The German guy in the room kept laughing in his sleep, and both he and the Austrian occasionally mumbled a phrase or two without waking up. About an hour before I was due to get up it I was starting to fall asleep and managed to get a good hour in at the cost of not having time to make breakfast.

The 7am weather report was good so I was on the shuttle bus for 7:30am. It filled up pretty quickly with various stops along the way. Once dropped off at the Mangatepopo car park there was an instant queue for the toilets as soon as the driver mentioned that the next toilet was over an hours walk along the track.

Top Tip: go before you get on the bus!

From the moment you start walking this famous track, the scenery is simply breathtaking. Mount Ngauruhoe rises on the right at 2291 metres and in every other direction there are snow covered peaks. You might recognise Ngauruhoe as Mount Doom from the LOTR movie, but I could not remember the scenes well enough to make the connection. One other hiker told me later that this area was also the setting for Mordor, where Frodo and Sam were filmed on their trek.

The Tongariro Crossing is a 17km one day trek, which usually takes people between six and seven hours to complete. It does not include the three hour return climb up Mount Ngauruhoe, which our driver told us not to attempt without grampions or ice walking picks. Neither of which I had so I tried it anyway. I got as far as three quarters of the way up before I could not get any more grip on the ice with my normal walking boots. A few photos later and it was time to carefully negotiate the extreme slope back down without tumbling to the bottom.

Two hours after leaving the track I was back on the official route and heading up towards the Red Crater. After the Ngauruhoe climb the rest of the climbs along the track seemed relatively light work.

At the Red Crater (official highest point on the track but lower than I had climbed up the side of Mount Ngauruhoe) I could smell that familiar sulphurous odour and then saw the rising steam from the rocks. They were warm to touch but not really hot; no one would be frying eggs on the rocks for lunch here.

During the crossing I was keen to photograph any interesting fauna and flora, and was quite taken by these tiny plants that formed silver mats in the pumice. They are called Raoulia Hookeri (Albosericea) and are really quite tiny (see photo). The only fauna I noticed were a couple of birds and an insect - it is really desolate up here.

Just past the Red Crater are the small Emerald Lakes, although they were not as vivid in colour as people describe them. Perhaps you need to view it at a certain time of day, with the sun at the optimum angle.

From this point onwards the trek descends all the way to the finish, but this is probably the least interesting part (especially once past the Ketetahi Hut). If you are making good time it is better to wait around at the Ketetahi Hut instead of waiting around at the car park for your pick up. The views are better at the Hut. I was impressed to see gas stoves installed at the hut, but multi day trampers are still required to bring their own pots & pans.

The signs along the track that estimate how many minutes/hours until the next stage are fairly consistent and about 20% over estimated. It would be useful to have a couple of extra signs towards the end of the track to ensure people aren't rushing to get to their pick up. I was keen to catch the earlier 4:15pm bus so was rock hoping the last couple of kms, not knowing how much further the car park was. I finished with plenty of time to spare.

So back to the Extreme Backpackers for another night before moving on. Somehow I know that I wont have any trouble sleeping tonight.
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