Australasia | New Zealand | North Island | Tongariro National Park – Tongariro Crossing
Onto our stop for the night – Turangi, a rather non descript trouting destination. Best located for going to the Tongariro Crossing. This is the most famous one day walk in New Zealand and with an incredible reputation for being grueling in parts but rewarding in most others with all the wonders that New Zealand can bring I decided to stay and attempt this famous tramp (that’s Kiwi for trek I wasn’t hitching a lift or hanging out with untoward smelly homeless men). Because the altitude is high, warm clothing (layers) are essential. How happy was I that I’d bought my new fleece? How p*&^ed off was I when I realized I’d left it in the last hostel in Rotorua? Nevermind it was picked up by the next day’s Magic bus driver leaving me, my Disney sweatshirt and cagoul to brave the altitudes of the crossing. Actually felt like a proper traveler in the morning as to attach my water pipe thingy to my rucksack I had to use my pen-knife and duck tape – hurrah!
Please note that I am not exaggerating the extremity of this hike. Completed successfully by thousands of people each year the organizers who shuttle us in still take the precaution of taking everybody’s number of next of kin, just in case they need to know where to ship the body! This fact should be noted for later but do not worry unnecessarily. The fact that I am sending this message should be the ultimate spoiler to any ominous thoughts!
Well what can I say? Well the look of the whole day was definitely Middle Earth. I just felt like I’d been through one of those hobbit battles by the end! Beginning with a mild gradient with gentle waterfalls running beside, it soon changed into volcanic rock (with foliage) and a gradient that ventolin was invented for. This lasted an hour and then onto the southern yellow crater (1600 ft alt I think?). After that, more climbing, another 200 ft, to the stunning red (more crimson actually) crater. It seems I was rewarded for my slower pace as I discovered later that quicker walkers had not seen the red crater as it was still surrounded by mist.
On and off during the day I found myself walking with a group of parent age types from Christchurch who attempt a different tramp every year. In between my wheezes and embarrassment that these 55 or so olds were doing as well as me we chatted and it came out where I was from (hence the ‘here’s Israel’ comment I got every time I caught up with them or vice versa). In case any of you were worrying that New Zealanders were too politically in touch with the Middle East I can put your minds at rest. One guy asked me if this hike was anything like Mount Sinai. When I said I didn’t know, as I hadn’t been there because it hadn’t been part of Israel since 1982 he seemed vaguely surprised. He later asked me about military service and conscription. He understood the three year thing but still asked whether those who were conscripted actually saw active service. Oh to have the luxury of not knowing about these things.
Back to the crossing: Just past the red crater one last climb signaled the top which was rather awe-inspiring. Through the clearing mist at that altitude I felt something so strong one could almost feel there goes G-d. Perhaps a bit OTT but its not often you get that close, so its only natural to get a bit overwhelmed!
After that it was all down hill (NB in this case this does not mean all easy, ok maybe easier). The rock face coming down was a bit tricky but the view was amazing as we went from moon like craters to literally emerald coloured thermal lakes. Stunning, beautiful, smelly – I left the Christchurch delegation to have a lunch stop and marched on.
I had always declared that my aim of visiting New Zealand was to see the blues and the greens. Far from disappointed I am just amazed by all the other colours I have seen as well. Rocks on the way up and down were covered with a down of tiny star red flowers and big green and yellow leafy plants together with lavender coloured and daisy like plants. We passed another thermal spring on the way down and the rocks in the water were blue and purple and green literally multi-coloured. There was a haze of blue over the hills and the lakes as viewed from the top of the pass, which made me think I was wearing blue tinted
glasses. My words can’t do all of this justice but unfortunately my camera can’t either as the battery run just as I got to the red crater. Luckily Peter and Myra of Victoria, Australia volunteered to send me copies of theirs (no I hadn’t been talking to them that’s just how nice people can be) so Mum and Dad if you get an envelope addressed to me in the next month or so, yes you can open it to check for photos!
On the way down, the path became greener and greener and alpine in nature. Stopping at a Department of Conservation hut (could have been Heidi’s) two hours before the end of the trail I met up with Jill and Karen my Canadian roommates from the hostel in Turangi. Hailing from Newfoundland (pronounce that as if someone has wired your jaws together) Jill actually works as a National Park Warden somewhere ‘in the boonies’ in Canada. While she was comparing notes with the Warden at the hut, Karen the physiotherapist was telling me how to deal with sudden cramps I was getting in my thighs. Oh well, its all good!
As well as the view the sounds were amazing too. When the wind wasn’t howling, the silence was perfect. Of course towards the end my own howling of better be home soon threatened that silence somewhat…
Last two hours was just as beautiful and the last 45mins to hour was even more surprising as it was through a forest complete with stream (don’t drink the water or risk nightmare stomachs for months) I probably would have enjoyed it more if I hadn’t felt by the end that I had nails in my feet, or more specifically my toes but like all these things it was worth it.
So I actually finished the track (with breaks) in just over 7 hours, which isn’t bad. That said I missed the 4pm bus but that was ok because there was one at 5:15 or so. I sat down on the grass, wrote a little but then as sure as I am I fell asleep. I woke up intermittently but wasn’t really worried because there were lots of people around and anyway surely they’d check our names off the body bag list and realize if someone was missing, no? 5:20 I wake up and realize something maybe up. I wait a bit more thinking the bus was at 5:30 then I borrow a mobile phone (oh my little orange phone I missed you then) and called up the company – get their ansaphone – great! Then I called the hostel. Eventually it was sorted out, they had left me behind but one of the drivers came to pick me up and we all lived happily ever after. Back at 7 (others back at 5:30) I gratefully took up the offer of a free spa given to all those who participated in the crossing.