Tongariro Crossing

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Flag of New Zealand  , North Island,
Saturday, February 12, 2011

Taupo 12th - 15th February

Arrived in Taupo to a beautiful day. The lake (the largest in NZ) was sparkling. Blackcurrent was a great backpackers with over exuberant but very helpful staff, free fresh coffee and tea and separate large annex bedroom for me (by chance) with double bed! It was also close to Pack'N Save so I was tempted to stay there a lot longer!

The first afternoon when I arrived it was scorching hot (sorry friends in London!) so myself and a couple of girls from the hostel walked to the Huka Falls (I had been dropped off from a bus last time). The walk was fabulous, along the river bank, taking in the natural scenery and cliff top bungy jumping. The water was a gorgeous aquamarine colour and very inviting in the heat, so we dived in to the water, which was around three or four meters at that point. It was fabulously cool! See pics. Huka Falls' water comes from Lake Taupo which incidenly is said to be the size of Singapore and doubly conincidently NZ has around the same population as Singapore! (Singapore 4.6m, NZ 4.2m), so quite a thought having them all crowded on the size of Taupo Lake! Anyway, you can hardly believe the amount of water falling through the falls which makes use of its hydroelectric power - the equivilant of two olympic sized swimming pools every second! On the way back we sat in a geothermally heated hot stream which fed into the river.

The first night I just chilled and updated the blog while listening to a guest playing guitar and singing quite well.

An early night was in order as we had an early start in the morning. We all woke at 5am to catch the bus for one of the most famous walks in New Zealand, The Tongariro Crossing, south of Taupo. This takes between six and eight hours depending upon how quickly you walk, breaks taken, and whether you do any of the side walks, such as up Ngauruhoe ('Mount Doom') or Tongariro Summit. As the hike itself was graded as 'challenging', the girls I was walking with just stuck to the main track. Others did venture up Mount Doom, which was all scree and no actual path. Most make it back without mishap, though one girl on this particular day fell and cut her head open, and slashed her arms and legs! The walk climbs to the Red Crater at 1886m, then drops down on thick sand like scree on a narrow path to the Emerald Lakes. After passing Blue Lake, the track descends around the northern slope of Tongariro, then descends further in a zig zag path to the Ketetahi Hut (a welcome toilet and lunch stop). From the hut, the track contined down the mountain through tussock grassy plains, then into native forest to the end of the track.

I was temporarily at risk of not making it after discovering a slumped body in the shower, while the shower was working. Apparently two of the girls in our dowm had come in drunk at 3am and taken showers! One had not got out and slept through the experience, despite me knocking on the shower to see if she was ok! When I opened the door, she nearly fell out and woke up! So luckily I made my bus to start the Tongariro Crossing. If we had clubed together for a car it would have been much cheaper. As it was, it cost us $55 each from Taupo ($25 from Turnagi) to be taken to 'base camp' (ha ha) to begin the walk. The bus then picked us up at the end to take us back to the Taupo and our hostel.

The walk was really great and we had fantastic weather (which many do not get). Weather up the volcanos can also be very different and changable to the valley, so walking days can be cancelled or go ahead with limited views. Ours was fantastic, with panaramic clear views all around the countryside (though not quite as impressive as those from my sky dive three years ago!). The hike was officially 19.5 km but many thought the final stretch was longer. The hike involved climbing up steep steps and rough paths, over boulders etc and then down scree and deep sand on the way down. The volcanos and landscape were beautiful in a rugged, lunar sort of way, with vivid colours at the top of 'Mount Doom' (for you Lord of the Rings fans) and the Emerald Lakes were a welcome blast of colour. The landscape was very beautiful and varied on the way down on the other side, as we passed through grasslands and native rain forest type paths along rough stony paths and nice broadwalks, with a fresh gushing brook beside the path, before arriving back for the bus.

My feet were a bit tired by the end of the hike, but everyone shared a great sense of achievement of the day and feeling lucky at our good fortune with the weather. Many wait for days for a good way or leave without being able to do the walk.

The next day my legs ached, but I managed to walk to two mile beach along lake.
If I come back to Taupo, I would hire a kayak from the marina/wharf or watersports rental at two mile beach and hire a bike and cycle further around the lake. There also looked like there was a large tennis club that I didn't have time to investigate on this trip. Orakei Korako, known as 'The Hidden Valley', 37km north of Taupo also looked well worth a visit for walking past hot springs and mud pools through tracks of native bushland.

 I had time to wander round a few shops before booking my bus to Napier and made another couple of small purchases to further increase my luggage weight!
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