Hiking the Tongariro Alpine Crossing

Trip Start Oct 09, 2009
Trip End Oct 05, 2010

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In the campervan

Flag of New Zealand  , North Island,
Sunday, May 9, 2010

V: Turangi is a small town in the centre of the North Island and an entry point for the Tongariro National Park. The drive to Turangi took the best part of the rest of the day and we arrived at around 8pm. Our plans were to visit the Tongariro National Park and hike the famous Tongariro Alpine Crossing but we would have to wait a day as you have to start the hike at the crack of dawn. We booked in for the following day and contemplated what to do for the rest of the day as there was not much to do in Turangi. We spent some time visiting the hot springs dotted around the region, you could spot them from a distance by looking for steam rising into the air.

Ash took a walk along the river and ended up in a Maori village. He was keen to take a look around but did not receive a friendly welcome from the locals who started shouting abuse at him, swearing at him and telling him to get off their land.

The following morning we rose at 4.30am to head off on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, an 18.5km hike across the Tongariro National Park which is rich in Maori history and has dramatic scenery and unique land forms including several volcanoes. This was our first proper trek in New Zealand, we were supposed to have done several by now but had always been unable to do so because of the weather. Luckily for us the weather forecast for the day of our crossing was perfect.

We were dropped off at the car park at one end of the crossing at 6am and as the sun was rising we commenced our trek. The first section was fairly flat, the track was well formed and clearly marked. We passed around the edges of old lava flows and took in the silhouettes of the mountains in the eerie early morning light. This second section, known as the Devils staircase, was quite steep climbing from 1400m up to 1600m above sea level in a short distance. At this point we had an option of climbing to the summit of Mt Ngauruhoe (more famously known as Mt Doom in Lord of the Rings). Looking at the steep incline of the volcano we decided to give it a miss and we continued on to cross the South Crater. This was a massive flat expanse of land, still covered in ice from the previous night that was slowly thawing. We then had to clamber up some boulders before we reached the Red Crater where we had spectacular views over the valley below, the Rangipo Desert, and down to some emerald lakes. We stopped for a break to take in the views. I was a bit taken aback when my mobile phone started to ring - we were near the summit of a volcano miles from anywhere - it was Ash’s parents!! By this point other trekkers started to appear in groups, making a lot of noise and ruining our peaceful break. The descent from the Red Crater was quite scary as this part of the track is so steep and we were on loose rocks which just moved under foot. Ash managed to head down fairly quickly but I took my time and headed down on my bum - I was pleased to see several other inexperienced trekkers who also decided to adopt my approach!

To the right were two magnificent emerald lakes, the colour caused by minerals from the surrounding rock. There was a fair bit of thermal activity in the area and we saw several steam vents above the lake, which were responsible for the nasty sulphurous smell in the air.

Further ahead was the blue lake (A cold acidic lake). This lake is sacred to the Maoris and it is disrespectful to eat or drink around its shores. At this point we realised we were not hungry despite not having eaten anything since breakfast. We continued on past the blue lake before stopping to eat our sandwiches.

We then zigzagged our way down the track to a hut stopping to take in the spectacular views out over Lake Taupo. Instead of resting here we decided to make a dash for it and catch the earlier bus that was leaving at 3pm. We had an hour and a half to complete the final downhill stage. We had to maintain a very fast pace to make it to the bus on time and some parts of this track were quite steep. This for me was the hardest part of the trek as I was exhausted and my limbs were pretty sore. I told Ash to go on ahead and catch the bus as I was not sure if I’d make it by 3pm. It didn’t help that I was bursting for the loo!! Luckily I managed to make it just in the nick of time.

The 18.5km hike was thankfully not as challenging as I had originally expected but we were blessed with perfect weather for the trek. To be able to walk across active volcanoes was an incredible adventure and an unforgettable experience - we were so glad we had done it and so chuffed we had managed to go on such a clear day. We were very excited to get back to the van and take a look at our photos.
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