Tongariro Alpine Crossing

Trip Start Aug 20, 2009
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of New Zealand  , North Island,
Monday, March 8, 2010

The Tongariro Alpine Crossing was a walk that we had wanted to do for quite some time.  We read about it the last time we were in New Zealand but obviously couldn't do it because of the children.  It came back to the fore front of our minds after seeing an article in the Herald newspaper about it being one of the top one day walks in the world.

After much discussion, we decided to try to combine it with a visit to the central North Island with Jeff's mum and dad.  After talking to our friends Jacquie and Scott, they were keen to give it a shot too.  A plan had been hatched!

After our long trip to Napier we only just managed to get back to the bach before Jacquie and Scott arrived from Auckland.  The original plan had been to complete the walk on the Saturday, then have Sunday in reserve if the weather was bad, or if it had all gone to plan, Sunday would be a chance to relax!  Unfortunately due to Jacquie and Scott's work commitments this plan had to change and they drove down on Saturday evening to do the trek on Sunday, before driving back to Auckland on Sunday night!  We on the other hand, had accomodation booked in Turangi up until Monday.  Everyone was telling us that the weather forecast for Sunday was bad, however, later on Saturday evening, it seemed to suddenly change!  Fingers and everything else crossed!

After consulting the every faithful Trip Advisor we had located the earliest bus on to the mountain - a shuttle bus from Discovery Lodge which left at 5.45am to have you on the mountain by 6am.  After further research we decided that staying at the lodge was not the best option for us, for many reasons.  This meant a very early start from Turangi to ensure that we were at the lodge by 5.30am at the very latest to have all of our kit checked.  We were told the bus would not wait if we were late!!  Anyone who knows us well, will understand my worry - we never seem to be able to get anywhere on time!!

However, on this occasion we managed it.  Probably due to the fact that we were travelling with another couple and we planned with military precision!! 

We arrived in the darkness and freezing cold, (yes you heard me right) it was only three degrees and there was a freezing wind that went straight through you.  The bus was full and we set off on the bumpy track towards the start of the walk.

Once the bus came to a halt, we were briefed on the expected weather conditions for the day.  We were told to take our time on the first ascent to ensure that the sun had had a chance to rise and burn off some of the cloud.  The expectation was for broken cloud for the day, so hopefully we would be able to see the views, however, we might have to wait around for the cloud to clear.  This was a far better forecast than any of us had imagined the previous day.

After a quick toilet stop in a drop toilet with no paper or light we set off with the rest of the group in the darkness.  Jeff and I couldn't believe how cold it was, the wind seemed to pierce through our clothes, even to a certain extent through our North Face down jackets and waterproofs.  The hats and gloves came out and we walked on. 

We quickly found out that our pace was quicker than that of Jacquie and Scott's.  To begin with we would walk for about half an hour and then wait for them to catch up.  However, it soon became clear that doing this was not an option as when we stopped we were cooling down and then starting to get cold.  We all decided that if we were going to complete the walk we would have to do it our own pace so we decided to split up into two pairs. 

As we walked further up the incline we started to get amazing views of the national park, and in particular the volcano known as Mt Ngauruhoe which was Mount Doom in the Lord of the Rings films.  The sun started to emerge from behind the volcano and the colour of the ash began to change colour.  At this point it was still particularly cold and we had to patiently wait until the clouds broke.  But the view that we got was certainly worth the brief wait!

The further up into the hike we got, the clearer the skies became, the gaps in the clouds became longer and longer.  It looked like we were going to have the perfect weather to get maximum views.

The terrain on the ascent was not as bad as I had expected and I found the steep bits a little easier than I had imagined.  As always Jeff seemed to skip up them, barely out of breath, I was usually puffing like a steam train on the way up but soon got my breath back once at the top.  The killer for me was the steps - they were the hardest part of the general climb up - thighs were certainly burning!  We trudged up and down, over rocks, gravel and ash and even over packed mud in one of the craters.  Once at the highest point of the whole day, we decided to do the additional walk to Mt Tongaririo.  It was only a one and a half hour detour and the views were meant to be exceptional, so it had to be worth it, particularly when the weather was so perfect.  This particular part of the day was quite hard as much of the climb was across bare boulders, pulling yourself up with your arms and there was a distinct stench of sulphur in the air.  However, the view at the top was worth every bit of pain - it was absolutely breath taking, as well as magnificent views of Mt Ngauruhoe again we could also see the snow topped Mt Ruapehu.  The sky at this point was completely clear of any clouds. Time for a sit down, some morning tea and a chance to enjoy what we had come to see.  We even managed to get our first mobile signal of the day, perched on the top of a volcano so we rang to check on the rest of the Parky clan, and ensured the children were behaving themselves and also booked the Taupo cruise for Monday morning!

It was then the downward climb back to the main Tongariro track to continue with the hike.  At this point we were able to marvel at the Emerald Lakes below us, such a rich and mesmorizing colour. As well as the lakes, at this point we had fabulous views of the red crater, with rich, dark red ash and unusual lava formations.  We had to climb down the edge of the Red Crater, through ankle deep scree which provided a challenge for the both of us, but once again the views were amazing so any pain or discomfort was worth it.

By this point, Jacquie and Scott were in front of us and we managed to catch them up for a quick lunch.  We then split up again so that we could walk at our own pace.  In hind sight what we should have done at this point was get Scott's car keys - why will become apparent later!

The walk continued along side the Blue Lake which once again was stunning and a few last rock scrambles before the track started to descend down the other side of the mountains.  The views of Lake Taupo in the distance were amazing.  At first this descent was refreshing, we could concentrate on enjoying the view.  However, the further we went down the track, it became apparent that our hips and knees were definately going to take a hammering on this part of the track. 

The track snaked it's way around the folds in the mountain side.  We could see the Ketetahi hut far away in the distance and several hours later we finally reached it, desperate for the loo!  After a change of socks, a drink and snack stop we continued the downward trail towards the podocarp forest.  We had had the most fabulous day, however, the constant pounding on hips and knees for the last couple of hours was starting to take it's toll.  As we progressed further down into the forest, the climb down became steeper, lots and lots of steps to negotiate and to be honest by this point, I was struggling with my right knee.  I found the easiest way to get down the steps was to skip, so that I didn't have to bend my the joint.  I must have looked like a complete idiot, but frankly at this point I didn't care!

We continued further and further down this track, over bridges and by the side of picturesque streams and waterfalls.  We knew that we were close to the end and anticipated the finish around every corner!  We must have suddenly got a mobile signal as my mobile started to signal an answer phone message and a text.  We stopped, fearing the worst when we realised that the messages were from Scott.  After talking to them on the mountain, it became apparent that Jacquie was suffering with her feet on the savage descent and was having to take it very steady.  At this point it was looking very unlikely that they would be down in time for the last bus, hence the reason for needing Scott's keys!  We promised to speak to the bus drivers once at the finish and provided encouragement to keep going.   We felt so guilty being nearly at the end, but us turning around and going back to meet them was not an option, particularly with the state of my knee.  They needed to come down steadily at their pace, there was still plenty of day light left and the weather was good.  We continued towards the finish.  Eventually, we could hear the sound of vehicles moving over gravel and around the next corner we found the finish.

Wow what an amazing day we had had!  The next bus from Discovery Lodge was not expected for another half hour, so it was off with the walking boots and socks and a lay down in the summer sunshine to wait for Jacquie and Scott.  We kept ringing them to try to determine their ETA - sometimes we could get through, other times it went to answer phone.  It was clear, however, that there were still plenty of folk on the track so they were not alone.

Once the bus arrived, Jeff made his way over to talk to the driver.  As it turned out, we were the last Discovery Lodge group to pick up, so the driver was prepared to park up until 4.30pm which was when the last bus was planned to be - that gave them another hour or so.  We rang Jacquie and Scott to let them know; they sounded very distressed; once again we tried to provide encouragement to spur them on.  Jeff and I, sat and attempted to come up with a back up plan if they were not down off the mountain in time, involving going back to the centre, somehow getting back to Turangi and then bringing our rental car back to the end of the track to collect them!  We had every thing crossed that we wouldn't have to go there!

The time passed far too quickly, half past four came and they were still no where to be seen.  The bus driver promised that he would wait a little longer, so Jeff and I started the walk back through the forest to meet them.  Around every corner we expected to see them, but they were no where to be seen, another corner, then another, still nothing.  We stopped to take photographs of what we thought was a black robin (now we are unsure of the bird!) and then suddenly we could hear their familiar voices.  We turned the next corner, and there they were.  Scott carrying both back packs and Jacquie hobbling on her walking poles, her walking boots cut open at the toes.  In desperation to ease the pain on her feet, she had asked a chap on the mountainside to cut open her boots with his knife, which had then eased the pain some what. 

We grabbed Jacquie's pack and spurred them on for that last part of the walk, until we reached the bus.  What a relief all round!  Once sat down inside, they could relax and realise what they had accomplished - well done guys :-) Just not sure whether they will ever want to go anywhere with us ever again!!  Thank you so much to the owner of Discovery Lodge too - thank you for your patience :-)

Once back at the Lodge it was a quick change into Scott's car and we then headed back towards the bach in Turangi.  The sun was still shining, the sky was still blue and we were able to see amazing views of the national park, including the route that we had completed.

We had a fabulous day, Jeff and I enjoyed each other's company, appreciated the views, and rose to the challenge.  Jacquie and Scott had a great day too - as Jacquie said, she had achieved the hardest challenge of her life so far :-)  So it all had to be worth it.

It was made even more worth it, when we arrived back at the bach to be greeted by two very excited children, so happy that we had returned safely. 

Thank you Grandma and Papa for looking after them so that we could have this adventure.
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